Around holidays, sheep are like to the streets of Addis as tinsel to a fir tree. Being in the city during Ethiopian Christmas for the
first time since ’91, I have watched with practically new fascination and from the safety of my car and predator status as, throughout the city, said sheep are singled out from the pack, strung up, dragged and loaded for the final sacrifice. It put me in mind of my childhood ritual of watching the end days of the life-cycle of the animal, from final price to my dinner plate; a spectacle of blood guts and onions that was better than any tv show or movie. They say that your early years are the most formative, and what you see and experience in that period is what makes up the core of who you are. Well thank the Fetari that I have writing to reprocess this stuff otherwise I might have turned out to be a sadistic butcher with a penchant for wool coats. So, in the name of fond childhood memories and escaped fates, I offer here an excerpt from an early draft of a short story that I’m still working on/submitting: ‘Animals in the Garden’. The context is a diaspora habesha who returns to visit her childhood home in Addis and finds three house pets lounging unconcerned in the garden.
“…Of the three (animals), none seem to know or care that, in the old days, all animals that entered the yard were slaughtered and eaten. Their presence was short-lived. One, two nights at most. Once a month, Ida’s mother would phone the sheep trader and by that afternoon or the next his herders would arrive outside the gate with the whole pack, like the shepherds of Bethlehem. After a respectable amount of haggling with Ida’s father, one of the herders would escort the chosen sheep past the pedestrian entryway that opened in the main gate. The animal would strain against the rope tied around its neck, hooves scraping the gravel in all directions except toward the ditch in the back garden. There, it would be pinned to the ground by the herder’s knees, its jaw cupped and neck arched to the limit by his left hand, its throat sliced open with a smiley-mouth shaped knife he holds in his right, and bled out in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit Holy. Chickens came in docile, in the trunk of the white family car. By the time the cook lifted them out upside down by their feet, they were so disoriented from the dark ride that they wouldn’t get active again until, too late, they were thumping headless against the slick red inside of an inverted plastic tub or chasing their head around the yard, spraying blood everywhere. […] When (the grass-cutter) finished, the lawn would look bigger and a deeper shade of green. The air would be thick with the smell of fresh-cut grass: sweet, unlike smell of the sheep-stomach grass that jumped out when the herder held up the sheep’s stomach over the coffee trees in the back garden and tore it open with the tip of his happy blade to let the green inside fall softly around the base of the coffee trees. That part came after he had skinned and cut apart the animal and put the pieces on a tray for the cook – a show which always ended too quickly for little Ida, who loved to crouch nearby drinking it up with her eyes from beginning to end.”