You Must Get a Sheep:
Then You Must Sharpen Your Knives:
Then You Must Bind Its Feet:
Then You Must Slit Its Throat:
Then You Must Drain the Blood:
Then You Must Remove the Head and Feet:
Then You Must Skin It:
Then You Must Dismember It:
Then You Must Clean Its Innards:
Then You Must Impale Its Head and Feet:
And Roast them:
Then You Must Wash Up:
Then It is Done:
There is much these pictures don’t tell. They don’t let you hear the short prayer my grandmother said before we slaughtered the sheep, not that it lent any more dignity to its death. It died the same as it ever would have, quickly and in all probability painfully.
They don’t communicate the wet sucking sound, like a drain intermittently gurgling, as the sheep’s heart pumps its own lifeblood out through its neck and into a shallow pan. They don’t show how, when the pan is taken away only minutes later, the blood has congealed into a thick jello like consistency.
They don’t show the atmosphere of easy constancy and routine. The knowledge that this has happened a thousand times before in a thousand different locales, and will happen again.
My family laughs and jokes as they cut apart the carcass in an easy and relaxed manner. I hate to make the obvious analogy, but it’s as if they’re a pack of wolves, a very relaxed pack of wolves. They bend over the skinned carcass and cut open its abdomen to take out the organs. The liver is some wet indescribable maroon. The intestines are gray white, like wet drum skin. Everything inside is wet, varying degrees of wet. But not with blood. Their’s surprisingly little blood after the initial death.
They divvy up the organs. One aunt cleans the intestines by running her hand along its 20 meters and looping it around her arm like a garden hose. Then she runs hot water through its length three or four more times to wash it all out. Another aunt minces the liver, heart, and kidneys together with spices and rice. Once this bloody salad is deemed suitable by my mother it is stuffed into the intestines and made into sausage.
The head and feet are impaled on a stake and four tined pitchfork, respectively. Chingiz and I roast them over a small, low fire. Every few minutes we must take them out of the heat and shave off any wool that is left. I laugh and joke as I roast the head and they eyeballs pop from the heat.
We will eat the sheep tomorrow I am told. Tonight we eat ‘tok shaashlik’, or barbecue chicken. One uncle man’s the barbecue while the other men sit and drink beer. The woman put the final touches on tomorrow’s feast. One dish appears to be braided intestine; the small intestine and large intestine are twined round one another and roasted. After all the preparations are done the meat is salted and left to sit in the kitchen overnight. I worry about the copious flies circling and landing on the meat, but Chingiz assures me they’re harmless. After all, “We salted the meat, that means it’s safe.”
The sheep did not give it’s life so that I may live. We took it. I saw my cousin slide a knife through it’s throat, and then a minute later he sawed through the remaining tendons and esophageal cartilage. The only reason the sheep did not struggle was because we had tied its legs together.
It was odd eating breakfast this morning, knowing that the animal I ate had been alive not 24 hours before. I’d roasted it’s head on a spit and now I gnawed its bones. I wasn’t saddened or disgusted, as I know some would be. It was more like an interesting puzzle. We’d killed a four hoofed fleshy sack of meat and bones, then eaten its remains. I am a two legged fleshy sack of meat and bones. My insides and the sheep’s insides were the same insides. Food for thought I thought as I swallowed.
It gave me a renewed respect for death. I don’t mean in the overwrought Shakespearean way of ‘Poor Yorick’. The realization that I will die did not punch me in the gut and leave me breathless. I did not shy away from holding the leg stump when it was my turn to help butcher the remains. I did not gag or retch or sit down to write my last will and testament. It was simply another thing I did, another thing I have now done. And in the grand scheme of things it’s probably rarer that a man my age hasn’t yet seen an animal being slaughtered.
In the next two years I will see a myriad of animals killed I am sure. Chickens, more sheep, cows, maybe even a horse. I’ve already eaten all of those animals here, why not see how they’re butchered. In fact, at one point I may be the hand on the knife, sawing through flesh and into bone. I will not shy away from it. My stomach did not churn or flip as I watched the blood poor and heard the animal gasp, heard the artery wetly open and close until it no longer did. The barnyardy smell of the hide and later the barnyardy taste of the braided intestine. There was no bile in my throat, nor disgust in my heart at the killers, murderers, around me.
Because I am a murderer. Have been all my life. And I’ll continue to be for at least the next two years…but I won’t lie about it.