Goats in Nepal

Why I wished I was a vegetarian in Nepal

शाकाहारी [shaakaahaarii] – vegetarian
गार्इ [gaaii] – cow
बाख्रा [baakhraa] – goat
कुखुरा [kukhuraa] – chicken

These days at the age of 33, I am finally really on the verge of becoming a vegetarian, if not a vegan for real. I haven’t taken the step yet, but I can sense myself inching closer and closer. I always knew that the most likely pathway for me to reach that stage was compassion for the animals, which I kind of had shut out of my mind so far. Growing up in Germany you learn to think of cows, pigs and कुखुरा [kukhuraa] as „future meat“. Thinking of a living being as food, most likely will lead you to disconnect from these beings on an emotional level: We relate on a very personal level with horses (think of all the horse stories you are fed especially when you are a teenage girl), but we don’t at all with cows – cows are kind of just „there“. Dogs are often regarded as someone’s best friend – pigs are kind of just „there“.

What kinds of meat do Nepali eat?

Anyways when I came to Nepal the first time in 2001, I had read about the cow thing. गार्इ माता जी [ gaaii maataa jii] – Lady Mother Cow, they refer to her. Slaughtering a cow in Nepal is a penal offence. But despite the sacredness of the cow, the surprisingly live a very similar life to the stray dogs in the city. Roaming the streets at night, eating from garbage left behind during the days. Cows in the villages are kept as livestock, though, for milk production.

Cows on the street of Kathmandu
Stressed out mother cow with baby calf in the crowded market area of the old city quarters.

So I knew I was not going to get to eat any beef in Nepal. Apparently the main meat diet in Nepal is chicken and goat. You get fish sometimes – even though the Nepali are usually not great fish eaters. Buffalo meat (which basically is like beef anyways) is also available, even though it is kind of frowned upon a bit, because – well – there is a certain perceived „Kinship“ between cows and buffaloes. Another meat that is frowned upon is pork, but for totally different reasons: Just because they are regarded as a particularly spiritual unclean animal – this is a similar logic as you might have heard it in the Islamic context.

Meat obviously is more expensive than just rice and vegetables and therefore is treated especially in village life as a delicacy. You cook with meat for special guests or for special occasions.

On the other hand though, the Hindu as well as the Buddhist dharma („the prescriptions for a good spiritual life“), both teach their followers to refrain from eating ANY meat at all. As far as I know the Hindu point at the spiritual uncleanness of eating meat, the Buddhist make a similar point, but stress the importance of compassion a bit more.

The Nepali style of meat preparation

So when I arrived in Rampur Bajaar (Chitwan district) and was introduced to my host family, they asked me pretty early on if I was a vegetarian. Since I have this horrible personality trait of spontanous honesty, I said „No“ and proclaimed that I was willing to eat any meat they had to offer. Well, I learned to regret this statement very soon: Probably the first meat that I was offered was some kind of chicken curry (of course alongside the obligatory rice and lentils). And I did not suspect anything bad – at least not until I dipped my hand into the curry (eating with my right hand) to fish out the first piece of meat: It turned out that the Nepali style of preparing any meat, was using basically anything that an animal is (except feathers and fur maybe). I just thank God even now, that never once my fingers fished out a chicken head from the curry (I am pretty sure though that they dont use that in the cooking, or at least I hope). My host brother whom I was eating next to an this little bench staring at the wall of the porch, would just stuff all the pieces that were a mixture of flesh, bones, fat, sinews, organs into his mouth and chew happily away. He never spit anything out again – once! Everything was chewed and swallowed.

My host brother and sister in Rampur.
My host sister Suryakala and her husband Dipak. And behind them the porch where Dipak and I would have lunch and dinner on.

I was desperately scared of offending my host family, so I really tried my best, to eat the „meat“ – still though they could tell by my face that I never really was into it. And soon they had figured that despite my early-on declaration, I was not that much into „meat“ after all.

One of the first Bollywood movies I have ever watched, was „Lagaan“ with Amir Khan. And there is a scene, where the rude and unmannered Brit (obviously), brings the local Raja some meat as a present. And then there is shocked silence, and then the Raja says in the most affronted voice: मैं शाकाहारी हूँ (Hindi!) After I had learned what शाकाहारी meant, and that the word also existed in Nepali. And that even more a person who is शाकाहारी is revered and respected, I so much regreted for the second time, telling my host family that I was not a vegetarian.

Eating my friend

The sadest moment of my first stay was the fatal ending of a newly spawned friendship between me and my host families little black baby बाख्रा [baakhraa]. We bonded a little (which means mainly I bonded and she just ignored this tall human who made some noise sometimes while staring at her) – the goat shed was just next to my room – which was used as a storage room when I was not there. And in some of my lonely moments in this foreign country, that was so full of horrible „meat“ and an endless stream of lentils and rice, I imagined that little black goat to be a friend, who understood who alien I felt sometimes in this lovely peaceful village (except at night when the Maoists, tigers and rhinos would roam the street – and sometimes the occasional group of young drunk foreign volunteers – the Nepali word for „drunk“ was not surprisingly one of the early words I learned). Anyways when the time of my departure from Rampur arrived (because of my back problems etc.), the day before my departure, suddenly the little goat was gone. I didn’t think that much of it, since the buffalo was also sometimes gone to get milked or sheared. And in the evening – of course – I was treated to one last supper next to my host brother. And of course they fed me meat. And this time it was goat, which was a little easier to digest, since the bones are bigger and therefore easier to be seperated from the flesh with my teeth. There were some suspect peaces of inner organs in there, but I still prefer to avoid the thought of that. Anyways after dinner was over, I was sitting on the porch conversing with my host sister Suryakala and since we had a good look a the goat shed, I remembered to ask about the whereabouts of my little black goat friend. Yeah, and that was the lovely moment I found out, that I had just eaten her. I don’t remember that much anymore how I felt back then. Maybe the bonding with the goat had not been that deep, or maybe I have just forgotten. Still, though I remember thinking how my departure had let to her final departure.

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