A TASTE |
November 06, 2006
Name: 1ST LT Will Mangham
Posting date: 11/6/2006
Stationed in: Hawaii
Hometown: Mobile, Alabama
I'm at the bookstore, and the woman at the table to my left has just finished rambling on to some poor guy about trying to find a 2006 Infiniti something or other because "it's the only one with a navigation system that works in Hawaii." And she wants the rear-facing camera when she backs up, because she hates the beeping, and you can only get the rear-facing camera if you have the navigation system. But the only one with a navigation system that works is a 2006 and she can't find a 2006. And my mind jumps back to a day in March of this year. I went out with a friend's platoon, and we hiked about two hours from our company patrol base uphill to a small village.
This is the kind of village that's so remote that there's no possible way for the kids to get to school, and no way to get outside help for injuries. There's just no access. A central government has little influence on a place like this.
As we were approaching the village, an old man with crazy eyes and a white beard ran down the mountain to greet us. This was a welcome sign, because it signified that he was taking us in, that we were under his care. After you are greeted in this way and guided into the village, there is basically no chance that you'll get attacked, because the Pashtun notion of hospitality is very powerful.
As soon as we entered the village, the whole place was mobilized for our visit. A group of us were led onto a porch that had an incredible view of the valley. We talked for a while and let some of the old men and kids play around with some of our equipment, while our Corpsman looked at and tended to some ailing villagers. Then tea was brought out to us, along with fresh bread.
The elders insisted we have lunch with them, and we agreed. The crazy-eyed man then made a stabbing motion with his right hand, and I realized that he was going to slaughter a goat for us. After almost three months in this country, it was the first time this had happened. One of the Marines loaned the old man his bayonet, with which the man was much impressed, then two younger men held down the goat while the old man cut its throat to bleed it. If you want meat in Afghanistan, chances are you're going to have to kill something. There are no grocery stores in the mountains.
After the goat was bled came the skinning and the gutting. The old man casually disposed of the unwanted entrails, and suddenly a dark red piece of organ was thrust into my face: the liver. You want me to eat that? But I could not refuse. I had never refused any food that was offered to me, including a hunk of very bad cheese. The old man cut off a rectangle of goat liver and threw it back like it was candy. He cut off four more chunks. One went to the platoon commander, one went to a squad leader, one to our interpreter, and one to me. I held the liver up, considered it, and put it in my mouth. It had the same texture as raw fish. Somewhere between that and a gummy bear. The flavor was actually appetizing. The only thing that threw me off was the warmth. The goat had been alive fifteen minutes ago, and here we were eating its insides with a seventy-year-old Afghan. I thought about that for a few seconds while I was chewing, then swallowed it down.
I noticed that even our interpreter wouldn't eat his liver raw. He was from the city and these were country people. We must have all had the same strange look on our faces, because the old man laughed at us, and went back to tending the fire. I can only guess at the reason behind his laughter, but I think he knew that we live a very different life in America from the one he lives in the middle of the mountains. The sun rises in the morning, he starts his fire, he makes tea for the people he loves. I have no idea what he must be thinking at such a moment, but we had been given a taste of an entire reality, of a whole different consciousness.