countin' the days

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Dead Meat

This weekend is cause for huge celebration: the baptism of both Sayani and Apauki, the two youngest children in my family. Preparations have been underway all week long, the majority of which involve an abundance of dead animals. In these parts, there is no butcher or deli, no convenient little shop where you can buy your neat packages of pre-sliced meat. No, sir. Around here, dinner amounts to the slaughter of that cute little creature that´s been running around in front of the house all week, and the long, complicated process invovled to turn it into food. Never have I been happier to be a vegetarian.

I returned home from volunteering on Thursday to find the entire family out by the stream, gathered around a pig that had just been slaughtered a few hours before. They had its intestines in their hands, and were slowly and patiently moving along the, ahem, debris trapped inside. Yummy. Nearby was a huge cooking pot filled with blood and various organs. They made sure to point out the other pig chowing down a few feet away, who was doomed for the same fate the very next day. In true Ecuadorian fashion, later on the pig was strung up in the middle of the house, right next to kitchen. It has remained there for the last two days, draining blood and getting stuff full of herbs and whatnot to prepare for the grand all-day roasting.

The next animals in line after the pigs were the guinea pigs. That´s right, those cute little fuzzy creatures you had as a pet when you were a kid. They are called ´cuy´ (for the sound they make), and are an Ecuadorian delicacy. I knew this one was coming, but was thoroughly shocked to see a pot full of sixteen of these little guys, throats slit and skinned, looking like scary little rodents. Just doesn´t seem right, but that´s the way the coookie crumbles around here. They get roasted whole, and according to some friends of mine who´ve tried them, they´re actually almost as gross as they sound. I will say, there was some comedy involved when I walked into the kitchen with my camera: Maria and her sister-in-law went to great lengths setting up this shot, arranging the guinea pigs to face the camera as best as possible, laughing heartily all the while.

Next up were 20-something chickens, and a dozen rabbits. Yesterday from morning ´til night, my casa became a slaughterhouse.

In all fairness, there have been plenty of other preparations for this giant fiesta. For example, I went to the market with María to buy lace for the new blouse she´s making for Sayani. And there have been dozens of relatives around the house to help with some construction, clean-up, and all kinds of cooking that doesn´t involve slicing the throats of innocent little animals. But for some reason, that action has sure seemed to stick out.

Truth be told, I´ve been kind of fascinated by the whole process. Of course, I have less than no desire to eat any of these creatures. But I mean, if you´re gonna eat meat, this is the way to do it. Raise the animal right in your backyard, slaughter it yourself, put in all the legwork it takes to deal with the carcass, and then eat every last thing except the head and bones. I´ve been a source of much comedy this week, what with my crazy questions and facial expressions which have ranged from shock to horror to astonishment. The best of all was when Apauki ran into dinner one night squealing and wearing the pig´s toenails on his own fingers. I couldn´t hide my expression of horrific disgust, but it quickly turned into nothing but pure smiles as everyone in the room burst into laughter (mostly at my reaction) for the next couple of minutes. Ahhh, life in the campo.

Alternate titles for this post included:
A Vegetarian in Carnewonderland
Lessons in Death
Adventures in Slaughter
Waste Not, Starve Not
Your Cute Furry Pet = Dinner!

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