Thursday, June 30, 2016

Momgolia Part 3: Assault with a Deadly Weapon

We returned to Chinggis from Dadal late on the 5th of June. On the morning of the 6th we relaxed and recovered from our long journey. Later that afternoon, we went out to town and did a little bit of souvenir shopping in some of the stores that sell Mongolian products. Linda was interested in some of the traditional Buddhist relics that Mongolians use: xадагs, prayer wheels, beads, etc. These could be easily bought in Chinggis at a much lower price than UB. After purchasing a number of goods to take home, Linda finished her day at the best restaurant in town, Negdelchin, enjoying Chinese that is similar to American Chinese.
Chinggis Town from the Steppe
The 7th marked another big adventure in the Momgolia chronicles. It was the day of the Хорхог. (Khorkhog—literally translates to poison garbage, but is actually one of the best dishes Mongolia has to offer. It consist a slaughtered goat or sheep that is pressure cooked using hot rocks in a large metal container.) Sally and I had long ago decided that one of the best ways for Linda to meet all of our coworkers was to through a traditional Mongolian party. In the weeks prior to her visit, I slowly transferred the responsibility of this party onto my English teachers who were excited to plan the details. Linda would provide the funds for the food and our teachers would do everything else. In a meeting with my teachers, we decided that the best way to give Linda a full cultural experience would be to buy a live goat to slaughter, prep and eat. I quickly vocalized to my teachers that I would love to be involved in the slaughter of said goat, because it seemed like a really awesome cultural experience.

On the morning of the 7th, I left Linda and Sally to help my teachers procure and prepare the food. I met some of my teachers at the school and in typical Mongolian fashion waited for about an hour for some other teachers. A couple of my English teachers took care of purchasing everything except the goat. While they did this I embarked on an adventure with one of my biology teachers (it was his family that the goat was to be bought from) and my one male English teacher, Цолмонбаатар (Tsolmonbaatar), who goes by Tommy for short.
Girl and Dog
We set off bouncing through the Mongolian steppe in a Prius on a quest for the family herds. Several times we actually stopped and a monocular was trained on the horizon. Eventually the family gers were found. It was obvious that this family was more nomadic and only stayed in a ger during the summer, since it lacked some of the articles of a more stationary dwelling. The first ger that we entered seemed to be dedicated to slaughtering livestock and cooking. An old shirtless Mongolian sat outside the ger with a wicked looking knife that he used to remove the skin of a sheep. Inside the ger, in the center of the room was a metal cauldron of not recently cooked гэдэс (Gidis—comprises of much of the internal organs of the abdominal/pelvic cavity: liver, stomach, intestine, colon, kidney ). The meat was cold, so I knew it had not been cooked that day. I could only hope that it had been prepared the day before, as I took a slice of small intestine and chewed quickly. One does not enter a traditional Mongolian countryside ger without sampling all of the food that is left for visitors. It is just part of the engrained culture of hospitality.

The second ger was more dedicated to family living. On the table inside the ger was a large bowl of “cream”. It is hard to describe this particular aspect of a Mongolian breakfast. It is sort of like butter, but not. I believe it is the thick cream that comes to the top of boiling milk, separated and eaten as a spread on bread with copious amounts of sugar. Once we had dined on this, we left the ger, climbed back into the Prius, and followed a herder on a motorcycle to where the family herds were grazing. The herder used the motorcycle to group the herd into one large circle. We got out of the car and took stations at a couple of the corners of the herd to help keep the livestock together.  The sheep and goats were not comfortable with our presence, but they still seemed to accept it as the natural course of events. Soon one of their number would be separated for imminent death.

Using a long stick with a rope attached to the end, the herder darted in amongst the fleeing sheep and tried to slip the rope around a goat’s neck. We had set aside about thirty dollars (60,000) of the fifty that were to be used for this event for the purpose of purchasing a goat. There was some debate between my biology teacher and the herder as to what size goat this would purchase. What was finally captured in the lasso was a smallish goat between one and two years of age. I helped my biology teacher grab the goat by the horns and drag it to the trunk of the Prius, where it was hog-tied and tossed unceremoniously into the wheel well.

After purchasing two sheep carcasses for his family and loading them on top of the goat, the biology teacher took us back to school where we met up with everyone else that was to come to the party and proceeded to the site of the khorkhog. This turned out to be a ger camp about 7km (4.37 miles) outside of town. The camp was owned by one of my teacher’s father. It consisted of a row of gers and a row of small wooden houses. We decided to cook the goat in the first ger, and proceeded to slaughter it there.
Site of the khorkhog
It turns out that the Mongolian method of slaughtering a goat is a two step process. My job would be to whack the goat between the horns with a heavy metal mallet. This step is used to kill or knock the goat unconscious and can be skipped when slaughtering sheep, because sheep are quieter and don’t scream the way goats do. The second step of the process is to slit the goat below the rib cage, reach inside the animal, and pinch the aorta causing quick death.
Taking off long-sleeved shirt pre-goat thumping
I approached the task of goat thumping with nervous enthusiasm. Sally and Linda watched from a distance. For me the act of slaughtering an animal to eat felt natural, I desired to have this experience to connect with death that surrounds the meat we eat. In America, we are so distant from the meat we eat. We rarely realize that the animal we are eating was once alive. There was also a touch of testosterone in this act. I wanted to kill to eat, because I was a man who had never done this. It was an act to prove to myself that I could and would.

One of the Mongolian men tasked with preparing the meat held the goat between his legs. I took up the metal mallet, grabbed hold of a horn, and prepared to swing. When I felt the aim was accurate, I brought the mallet down on the spot directly between the horns with what felt like a considerable amount of force. The goat screamed, but was not unconscious, so I quickly rapped it a second time into momentary silence. Caught up in the act, I prepped to strike it a third time, but Tommy, who was helping, waved me away. We flipped the goat onto its side and a Mongolian quickly slit it’s abdomen with a sharp knife. The animal was not dead or close to dead. It began to “meeeeeh” in a pitiful manner. Three of us held it on the ground with its mouth muffled to cut off the screams. The man with the knife reached inside the animal and pinched its aorta. After a minute or so, it was all over. The eye no longer responded.
Immediately after the assault
I had been so caught up in having this experience for myself that I had forgotten about my Mongolian friends. Many of them follow a Buddhist version of faith and hate to see an animal suffer. While the animal dies, a prayer is whispered under the breath of the killers, because all life is sacred even that which is to be eaten. To them it is a bad thing to strike the goat more than once, and also to not successfully knock it out. I stood up from my knees by the corpse of the animal I had assaulted and realized that many of the Mongolians where having trouble looking me in the eye. While I had not lacked bravery or persistence, I still had not done a good job. The fact that the animal had to suffer more than it needed left a bad taste in their mouths. They were not so much angry at me, as just saddened by the event. Fortunately, there was beer, and with a couple of beers and some vodka shots all was forgiven. For this is the cruel fact of life, is it not? All living beings must die, while we may hope to give the animal we kill a “good” death, the reality is that it is still death.

In retrospect, the event of assaulting the goat may uproot the lady in the wheelchair, as my most embarrassing blunder. The embarrassment comes not from bludgeoning the kill, that is to be expected, but from realizing that I had forgotten to take into account the cultural perspective of the people I work with.  I do not regret the experience of thumping the goat, only my lapse of cultural awareness. If the opportunity presented itself, I would do it again with better accuracy and more power. It takes a lot of power to knock out an animal that bangs heads with its fellows.

After the animal is slaughtered, the гэдэс is removed, and a blow torch is used to burn the hair off. Then the meat is cut into pieces and placed into a large pot with seasonings, potatoes, and carrots. Hot rocks are placed on and buried in the food to cook from within. Then the lid is sealed for an hour or so until all is cooked tenderly.
Meat and veggies going into the pot
While the meat was cooking, the party began to take off. There were the drinks that I have already mentioned as well as a ger dedicated to karaoke. Linda, Sally, Kyra, and Feebee quickly demonstrated their singing and dancing skills. Soon more of our teachers arrived, and Linda had the opportunity to meet all of the people that work directly with Sally and me.
Meal Ger
Karaoke Ger

Carrying khorkhog to meal ger
When the khorkhog was done, we gathered in another ger and dined on our feast. It was very good; however, I think I like sheep khorkhog better. Sometimes it is difficult to work around the skin that is left on the goat khorkhog. The party was merry and festive. After we had eaten our fill, the senior English teacher stood up to give a speech. Our Mongolian friends were excited and honored to meet Linda. They presented her with a gift of jewelry, with traditional Mongolian symbols weaved into the pendants of the rings and necklace. Linda accepted the gift admirably and was faced with the same problem that most foreigners have with Mongolian ear-rings. The studs are much thicker than western studs, but this is something that can be fixed stateside.
Finished product
Linda drinking the khorkhog sauce 
Linda getting jewelry 
The khorkhog concluded with a quick visit to the river where we waded in the cool waters. I was proud of Sally and I’s teachers for organizing such an fine party. It was really a grand time. I also really enjoyed being a part of the entire process from goat selection to eating. 
Friends and Family
On the 8th, we concluded our last day at Chinggis by wandering around and seeing some of the sites and statues. Both the museum and the monastery were closed, but it was still a nice trip. Later that evening we dined at home and prepared to return the next day to the metropolis of UB.


No comments:

Post a Comment