The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


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.



Cool story. Thank you for eating still-throbbing goat liver so I don't have to. :-)

I don't want to freak you out or anything but, you may want to find out if you have contracted any parasites from your snack. Goats can harbor liver flukes and any number of other creep crawlies that you do not want infesting your brain or any where else. Good luck. And thank you for your service for the US.

Obviously, the scene where raw goat liver is shared with the locals was edited out of the recruitment ads. I bet nobody else in the village would touch it either; did you see a line forming when the goat was slaughtered? Gramps is probably is re-telling the story to a howling crowd at this very moment. You have paid your dues toward U.S. public relations. Bless you!

I'm shocked at the narrow mindedness of Bronco and Zelma - no wonder America appears so terrified of the outside world if the majority of you have such a paranoid view of what life is like for most people on the planet - both now and how it was until very very recently.

LT Mangham - well done you have seen how life can be so very different from waking up in the morning, being worried about the mortgage, the HP payments on the car that becomes more and more expensive to run as fuel costs rise, the decision over which school to send your children to - all these distractions that take us away from what life is all about for the vast majority of people.

Bronco - Zelma - in the words of the late great Bill Hicks - "Go back to bed America!"

thanks for sharing, i read all of your entries and find them all interesting. i'm glad you're able to find things to take with you from all of the shit you must see. thanks again.

The F.D.A. recommends that goat liver be first batter dipped, deep fried, covered in melted cheese, run twice through the Ronco de-flavorizer (it really, really works) and served with a side order of hot dogs and spam for a truly healthy American meal, like mom used to make (if mom worked at Hooters.) I hope you're enjoying a double helping of mahi and local rice real soon. Mahalo.

Thanks for the very real and unordinary aspect of what we know in American culture. It helps to realize there are differences within cultures across the world which we can not expect to ever realize. You took a great leap of expectation and respect by doing what you did. You have managed to bring our worlds closer for even a second. Thank you so much by sharing this with us.

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