Sir, Your Goat is Here.


January 2009  Kabul, Afghanistan

Fair warning: Vegetarians and PETA-types should probably scurry along and not loiter here.

I had an Afghan moment tonight.  I am teaching a class tomorrow to security contractors about emergency medical procedures for chest trauma.  My employer is a start-up, and we do not have one of the $1500 airway dummies needed for hands-on training, so I asked Shafiq the guard to get me a goat torso from the butcher, with lungs, heart, and hide intact.  I was very specific.  He returned to the house that night and called out to me, “Sir, your goat is here. You come and see if it is right.”

I stepped to the hallway, and in walked the goat.  Damn.  I did not intend to go eye-to-eye with the warm brown farm animal before slaughtering him for a demonstration.  Was Shafiq trying to pull one over on me?  I would not give him that satisfaction, so I grabbed the goat by the neck, lifted his chin, and showed exactly where I wanted him decapitated.  A hand-chop to the spine marked the bottom of the rib-cage.  I accepted that the butcher sold me these useless parts at the whole-animal price, then would sell the rest of the meat again.  Yes, I got fleeced by a goat.

The power was out again when Shafiq came back, with the steaming carcass draped over his shoulder and the still-attached hide swinging in the freezing night air.  A flashlight revealed some internal organs still in place  – I did not need any viscera, it would only distract.  I went off to find a plastic bag in which to discard the innards, while Shafiq walked past me into the cold, dark house and flopped the remains of this filthy, matted, garbage-fed animal onto the kitchen table.  You know, the one where we eat.

I let this visual and olfactory treat wash over me, eventually exhaled, and resolved that he would have to work a little harder to get a rise out of me.  This whole idea was playing out differently than I had imagined.  The filth was already in place, everything was deeply contaminated now and my coarse houseman was waiting for direction, so I said “Go to it, man, just start cutting!”  I went to get the bag again, and returned to see him smeared in blood, a steaming liver in one hand, rummaging in the cabinet and drawers for a plate and utensils, joyously planning to cook the organs.  “We’ll make a kebab!” he blurted, as if this equalled a case of bacon to me.

I politely declined the local delicacy, and listened as he gestured to the mess on the kitchen table and insisted, “Sir, this is not a problem.  This blood is clean for some week.”  Mentally, I ticked off minor threats such as E. coli, tuberculosis, brucellosis, typhoid, hepatitis, mange, ringworm, lice, anthrax, scrapie, rabies, scabies, wasting disease, bubonic plague, and any other afflictions I could imagine my body hosting in this fecal country.  I supervised the clean-up, and thanked Shafiq for getting the job done at a reasonable price.  Now we could proceed with class.  He and the goat could potentially help save a few lives if my students’ helicopter makes a rough unscheduled landing out in Taliban land.

This little episode demonstrates what I mean when I say that hygiene is a foreign concept in these parts, explains why our septic tank is placed next to the well, and why the life expectancy is so low.  Well, that and the culturally entrenched inbreeding.

Somehow the peaceful evening ended up in the Afghan way:  sudden pointless violence.  Our white dog grew up ill-tempered and aggressive, and we really should get rid of him before he eats any children.  I finally named him “Leslie,” out of mutual disrespect.  I am not sure what fired him up tonight  – maybe the smell of a musky animal on the hoof, within our walls.  It could have been the liver kebab.  It could have been his name.

I walked out to open the shed where we would stash the goat torso until the morning (next to the live Soviet rocket,) when Leslie charged out of the dark to attack Grupp, our black german shepherd.  He had Grupp down and by the throat, then turned to attack me as I pulled them apart.  Oh, really?  This aggression will not stand, Leslie.  Letting a young dog get away with attacking people leads to trouble, so we squared off.  The vicious little bastard would not back down, and I accidentally punched poor Grupp pretty hard in the head when Leslie dodged it.  Sorry about that!  We fought to a draw I guess, but the next time I need fresh healthy body parts for the advancement of science and medicine, Leslie had better not turn his back on my butler, my butcher, my biohazard: Shafiq.


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