One of the constant struggles that I face here (and that really all Peace Corps volunteers probably face) is how to negotiate the boundaries between cultural customs and who you are as a person. The big question is how do I stay true to who I am while also successfully integrating into my community? It can be really difficult to anticipate when saying no to something can hurt a relationship and meat is a really delicate situation since it is pretty expensive and it is a big deal to have someone serve it to you. I wrote this little piece one night after eating some exceptionally questionable (undercooked to the point it was practically still alive) goat meat because I was sure that refusing it would harm a valuable relationship. If reading about gross goat meat is not your thing then I would skip this one. It also talks briefly about vomiting goat meat so it’s not really an ideal story to read around meal times.
How to Hide Pre-Chewed Chunks of Fatty Goat Meat
You are chewing- and chewing- and despite the vigorous movements of your aching jaw the fatty glob of meat has yet to dissolve into anything that you are willing to swallow. What is one to do? The cultural implications of spitting out your food will lead to a catastrophic disaster you cannot even begin to imagine. Do you see that adorable old woman? The one watching you take every bite with a ridiculously joyful grin plastered across her wrinkled face? She has been slaving over this meal all morning, hunched over on a small wooden stool with the black smoke from the charcoal wrapped around her like a soiled cloak and the wild flames licking her fingers with every gesture as she manipulates pots on the open stove. Do you still feel like spitting that meat out onto your plate?
Because should you do this you might as well go on out to the kitchen, grab the sharpest knife you can find (you will really have to hunt for this and possibly sharpen it yourself on a rock), then return to the sitting room and stab that adorable little old woman in the heart. Because that is how she will feel if she sees that you do not enjoy the meat, the rare delicacy, she has prepared for you. Never mind the fact that when you agreed to eat meat you imagined someone would have trimmed the glistening layer of fat off before throwing it into a pot of sizzling oil- you agreed to share a meal and now you have to buck up. You never specified that you didn’t want to feast on the fatty entrails of a slaughtered goat- you really must learn to be more specific when you respond to an invitation.
Should you find yourself chewing for more than five minutes, and a feeling of utter desperation begins to overwhelm you, it is time to turn to God. Regardless of your religion or even lack of belief, God is perhaps the one solution to this conundrum. Just when your jaw is at the peak of exhaustion and you cannot take one more second of chewing that salty chunk of fatty goat meat, you point to the picture of Jesus on the wall (you are in Rwanda- there will always be a picture of Jesus on the wall) and you ask that adorable old woman if she likes to pray. She will of course follow your gaze to the picture and provide a lengthy and energetic response and this is your opening- move quickly- there is no time to be wasted.
Reach up and evacuate that half-masticated morsel of meat from your poor mouth and use your best judgment to evaluate your disposal options. Do you have a napkin? This is your best choice but not always provided in rural areas. Do you have a pile of other food to hide the meat under? If you have exhausted both of these methods then it is time to ask yourself an important question: just how desperate am I to keep this piece of meat out of my mouth? If you are truly in a time of need then you must forget normal conventions of visiting and look for unique alternatives. Are you wearing socks that you can shove the meat into? Are you wearing clothing with pockets? Can you find a place to hide the meat under your chair until you have the privacy to properly dispose of it? If you cannot bring yourself to initiate any of these alternative game plans then it is time to put that hunk of goat back into your mouth and finish the job.
The choice is yours- but know that should you choose to muscle it down and that slimy chunk of fat slithering down your throat is too much for your body to handle then this goat will visit your plate once again in a rather disgusting and most unwelcome manner. This is graphic- but true. Fatty goat chunks might taste bad going down but they are even worse coming up again. Does this make it sound more palatable to hide pre-chewed meat in your socks? I am only looking out for you- and keeping your best interests in mind, you really should have just told her that you were a vegetarian.