Birthday Festivities

On Thursday night/Friday morning, I stayed up again for a bonfire and for the 2:30 AM Giants game. It would be a wonderful way to welcome in my 18th birthday, I thought, and I could sleep on the way to Safari on Saturday. But the world had other plans… I got sick during about the fourth inning of the game. By morning, I didn’t feel any better, and could not imagine braving an eight-hour car ride on rough Kenyan roads. So I stayed home from Safari, and my hope that my sickness would be a sacrifice for Giants victory fell through too. I spent the majority of my birthday sleeping, since I assumed that my two almost all-nighters in a row to watch the Giants could be contributing to my not feeling well. So no safari, but hopefully I can go when the November group of Danes go.

However, there was much on campus that I would have regretted missing, so it turned out to be a blessing. By Friday afternoon, I felt 100 percent, so Andy (the volunteer coordinator), Sean (a volunteer from Marin), and Chelsea (Jason’s niece and a volunteer) took me out to dinner at a nice place in town. We spent hours talking about good books (especially Harry Potter!) and ate delicious food… so I really couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend my birthday night.

Yesterday night, Chelsea and the girls put on “Daraja Idol,” where many of the girls prepared incredible songs, dances, and skits in front of the Daraja community. The acts included an incredible traditional coastal Kenyan dance called “Kalamashaka” performed by all of the girls, “I Will Remember You” sung and played on guitar (by Chelsea’s teaching) by Benny, a Masai tribal dance, and a song that I definitely know the name of and that you would know but I’m forgetting right now sung with beautiful harmonies by Mercy and Relina. One girl, Catherine, directed a hysterical skit about a woman with multiple lovers. In the end, all the lovers end up hiding in the house when the woman’s husband (a minister) comes home and getting caught sneaking out of the house. I would not have wanted to miss the night.

Then today, it’s Chelsea’s birthday, so her grandpa (Jason’s dad, who is also here) asked some of the Masai men to come down and slaughter an animal in celebration, then to continue the festivities with dancing tonight. (Note: don’t read this if you get grossed out by blood or gore.) With a handful of the Daraja girls who ranged from having seen this many times before and being totally nonplussed to girls who were as apprehensive and terrified as Chelsea and I, I stood nervously waiting for the Masai men to bring the sheep over. Four men herded the sheep over with a rope cinched tightly around its neck. It kept bleating violently and thrashing until it flipped over, and the men would roughly yank it back up and keep pulling it over. The sheep stood with legs splayed with the four men, surrounded by a semicircle of cringing girls all holding each other. I hid protected behind Lillian with a death grip on Chelsea’s hand. The sheep reared up and jumped around every once a while, tightening the rope on its neck. It finally stood quietly, rear in the air and head hung low to the ground, submitting to its fate. The men grabbed it and flipped it over, holding its pairs of legs together and keeping it wrestled to the ground. Internally, it felt, as Chelsea put it, as if we were going up the incline of a rollercoaster and wanted to get off before reaching the top and dropping down in freefall again.

We didn’t get off, though; Chelsea bravely held the back legs of the sheep as the Daraja girls and I kept our eyes glued to the ritual. One of the men pulled the sheep’s head back towards the ground, exposing the throat, and sliced it cleanly and deeply. Blood squirted out of two perceptible arteries, and the men held a dish underneath the throat to catch it. We could hear the raw, grating attempts by the sheep at breath, and the man performing the butchering sliced deeper into the throat. It lay still. I sighed of relief, the sheep, as dead things tend to do for me, having become more of a scientific interest instead of seeming so tragically alive.

“It’s okay now,” I said aloud, a little bit too soon. The sheep started twitching violently and gasping again. But our attention was drawn away from this by one of the Masai men offering a baby blue plastic mug out towards Chelsea filled with blood.

“If we watch it, we’re supposed to drink the blood!” Lillian whispered to me, both of us still holding each other in fear. Before she had time to think too much about it, Chelsea tipped the cup back and drank the blood. Without throwing up or spitting it out. She then passed the cup to me, since it was close enough to my birthday to be in my honor too. I looked down at the blue mug filled with thick, deep-red liquid, took a deep breath, and sipped it. It tasted warm and salty, and not too animal-like at first. Not so bad… I wasn’t going to throw up. However, the aftertaste on my tongue had the distinct flavor of blood – like I had sucked on a papercut to stop the bleeding – and that combined with the knowledge that I had just drunk blood out of a freshly slaughtered animal grossed me out a little bit.

The taste of sheep’s blood stuck around in my mouth during the entire half-hour ride into town, giving me lots of time to think about it. It certainly was the closest I have ever come to the slaughter of something so clearly living. Bugs, crabs, fish, I have watched die, but nothing as connected to a human as another mammal. Similar to the cremations in Kathmandu, it made death seem like so much more of a simple reality. And it makes life, too, seem so much more (I know I have used this word before, and I can’t find any that fits better) RAW to me. In Kenya, similar to Nepal, I have felt more connected to what living is on the most basic level. To living to survive. To living unobstructed by ideology, consumerism, and those goals like progress, or success in a career – so important in the US – that are only tangentially related to the pure scientific quality of life.

Tonight, everyone else gets to eat the meat from the sheep, while I might be to grossed out to even drink milk for the next 24 hours. Actually, I doubt that… but the image is still in my mind (and on my camera memory card – I got Mary K to take pictures, since she wouldn’t be hiding behind someone for the entire slaughter). When I lick my lips, too, it tastes as if they were chapped and bleeding. But it was a cool experience, and even worth postponing my safari and having a sick day for it. Hopefully the Masai dancing tonight adds to that too!

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3 Responses to Birthday Festivities

  1. Aunt Belle says:

    Happy Birthday,Cora! I was thinking of you on the right day,but couldn’t figure out how to put my wish on your blog. (I’m very computer illiterate!). So Patty called and instructed me–a real tutorial.
    I am really enjoying your entries. The Nepal trip sounded fascinating. Daraja also sounds great. The description of the lamb prep was awful! It reminded me of what Joanne,Dick and I witnessed in Masai Mara when the locals were preparing a feast. We didn’t have to drink the blood tho, thank God!
    Take care. Keep well. Lots of love, Aunt Belle

  2. Grandma says:

    It’s hard to comment on the slaughtering of a sheep and drinking blood. You are getting the “full Kenya” experience! One of my friends who reads this says you have a book in here! I have to agree! Can’t wait to see more pictures!

    Grandma and Grandpa

  3. marjorie says:

    Cora,
    I just can’t get over your description of this experience. I guess watching sheep get slaughtered is part of the family heritage, but you are very brave to drink the fresh blood. I hope you are all healthy now.
    Love you!

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