Saturday, March 09, 2013

Steak for Breakfast

Warning: Graphic content. Viewer discretion is advised.

A simple morning stroll to find breakfast in our neighbourhood came with an exciting surprise. A beaten up taxi with a half-disintegrated couch tied to the roof racks above caught our attention, even before we realized what lay inside. A small, beige cow was flipped helplessly and awkwardly on its side, crammed in the back seat.

We asked permission to document the cow, always careful now when taking photos in the city after our previous encounter with the secret police.

“OUI, OUI!” they said, waving an open hand towards the scene.
When the men started to tear him out of the back seat by the horns, Kees suggested, “C’mon sweet, let’s go. We don’t want them to take him out of the car for our photo.”

When traveling, the locals tend to want to do everything to please you. They often go over the top to do things you didn’t even want to begin with, much like in India when venders pull their entire fabric shop apart to show you something you were only looking at. 

Despite our insistence that we didn’t need the cow to come out, they continued to tug at his horns and legs. Dropping him on his back they began unraveling the ropes around his ankles. Once he was free from the vehicle, they whacked him until he righted himself and they shooed him through metal doors into a walled compound. Curiosity getting the better of us, we followed them into a dusty enclosure in the middle of the city. I immediately knew what we were about to witness and how I was going to react.

It was a big yard, where another cow of the same kind was tied up on the ground. I couldn’t help but wonder if this cow #1 had just come out of the same little taxi. I wouldn’t put it past them to stack two cows on top of each other. I couldn’t imagine the hours of suffering these poor cows had already been put through before they came to this inevitable end. I knew for sure cow #2, that had just stumbled into the compound, had been shoved and pulled into a tiny car upside down with the blood flowing into his brain, the pressure behind his eyeballs forcing them out of their sockets. Sheer terror showed in the bulging whites of his eyes as he desperately tried to see what was happening. After spending who knows how long upside down and overheating in the car, even his pink anus was bulging out from the strain. Perhaps the weight of cow #1 being on top of him would explain that! They were both in the worst position a cow could possibly find himself in. Not even a Hollywood film could invent a way to get them out of this one.

They stretched and twisted #1’s neck unnaturally to use his horns as an anchor to keep the skin tight. My stomach started to twist in the same fashion. Even with horns dug into the earth, he kept watching with those terrified eyes. Clouds of dirt formed around his nostrils as he exhaled his last laboured breaths. An African boy sharpened two small knives before repetitively slapping the tightly stretched neck. Two men braced the cow for the deep, lethal incision.

Kees was only a few feet away on his knees filming every move while I kept my distance and turned my head before the killing, only allowing a few glances.

I couldn’t watch as they made the first slice, opening the thick skin and persistently sawing back and forth. The cow let out a loud “MOO!” and continued to groan as the knife cut through the flesh. Even without watching, purposely directing my focus downwards to the trash strewn earth I could hear the blood gushing out in a strong, steady stream.
As much as I tried to overpower my mind and be in control, I had no chance. I felt both lightheaded and sick, the putrid smells around me, empty stomach and smouldering heat, weren’t on my side. I didn’t know if puking or fainting would come first.

While the first was still gurgling and dying, they turned their attention towards cow #2. After just witnessing what was about to happen to him, they pulled him by horn and tail, not hesitating a second before slitting his throat too.

I hoped that as soon as we left the scene I would instantly recover but the smells and sounds were still so fresh and the edges of my vision started to go, forcing me to admit, “Kees, I feel really dizzy,” and reach for his arm to gain support.

“Sweet, what’s happening? Is it the heat? Or the cow? Or both?”

“I just feel dizzy,” I said, ashamed to admit I was really fainting over this. He held me securely, making sure I didn’t wander into traffic. I focussed in on a big, old tree in the centre of the sidewalk which had burst through the concrete years ago and made a break for it. I immediately turned, slid with my back against it and dropped to the ground.

So stupid! I’m so stupid, stupid, stupid.

I felt completely embarrassed that I wasn’t able to control this reaction but knew if I hadn’t stopped I would’ve passed out. I just cannot get over the fact that I was already prepared for it, yet it made absolutely no difference. It’s incredible that something visual and audible can make you react so physically.

Naturally this silly, little white girl dropping in the street drew a crowd. I could hear the alarm of the French voices anxious to help. My right ear was humming, making the voices sound distant. As Kees tried to explain everything was alright, they brought chairs and water for me but I insisted on staying put in the dirt with my back firm against the tree.

So stupid!

After a quick, cold Sprite, I gained some strength back and we made it to breakfast. I decided to eat French fries and salad that day and left out the chicken. It took a few hours before I felt perfectly okay again and a bit longer before I was inclined to eat meat. It doesn’t give me a good feeling that I consume it every day and yet can’t stomach the necessary act of slaughter. It made me question if I am even worthy of eating meat.


P.S. Later in the day we passed by the yard again and saw that they had cut the cows down into a few buckets of meat and two wet, slimy skins.

To veiw the very graphic video of this story click here.


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