Note to readers: If you’re enjoying these tales from Nepal, you might also want to check out my Facebook page, where I’m putting most of my photos and different “takes” on our trip. (In other words, I don’t duplicate.) In any case, please keep the prayers and the comments coming.
Trekking through the rice fields on our way to the Hindu temple to Ganesh last week, I slipped in the mud and fell – not once, not twice, but three times. I blamed it on the fact that I was wearing Keen sandals and didn’t have walking sticks, assuming that if I were wearing the proper hiking boots and using sticks, I would be as sure-footed as … well … the umpteen children around me wearing flip flops and flimsy sandals, galloping up and gamboling down the hills like, well … mountain goats.
Goats. Jesus said something about sheep being better than goats, but it has never made much sense to me. Sheep are dull, stupid and self-centered. With sheep, it’s all about me. Bleat, bleat, bleat.
Goats are different – a big improvement over sheep. First of all, we owe a debt of gratitude to the goatish Pan, Greek god of music, nature, sex, and general merriment. Second, most of us would rather be a “kid” than a “lamb.” (In fact, as I approach senior status, I want to stay a kid for the rest of my life.) Lambs are for eating; kids are for playing. Yes, I’d much rather be a kid.
But that’s just the beginning. Several years ago, I was on a study trip led by a friend who is a brilliant and passionate woman whom we’ll call Aurora. Also joining us were twenty students and another close friend of Aurora’s whom we’ll call Linda. At one point, when Aurora was getting rather stressed about the various activities that weren’t quite falling into place, I asked Linda how she – being Aurora’s helpmate – remained unflappable. She answered, “Well, I’m just her goat.”
Linda was Aurora’s “goat”? – I must have frowned, so she explained that there is a long history of putting a goat in a stable as a calming influence for a racehorse. In fact, the term “get your goat” refers to the practice of trying to sabotage a rival’s horse by stealing his goat the night before a race, leaving the opponent’s horse nervous and less likely to win. Getting his goat would upset the rival horse’s owner, so the phrase has evolved into modern day language meaning to upset someone. The point is that goats are calming influences, good for Type A folks of all species. I was impressed by Linda’s insight, and realized that it was an apt analogy for much of the pastoral care required of therapists and pastors.
And, in Nepal this week, trekking here and there with the various children from the two orphanages we have been visiting, I realize that all of them have served as my “goats,” calmly leading me here, waiting for me there, happy, unflappable, sensible, wise, warning me when the path was slippery and reassuring me that I didn’t need to rush. Ranging in age from 10-20, each one of them has functioned as sherpa and encourager – in short, as goat. (Having said that, please don’t presume that I think of myself as a racehorse! An old gray mare – perhaps; a racehorse – not hardly…)
Today Carla, Kymri, and I joined Kent Rogers, his 2½ year-old son Evan, and his four Nepali-born teenagers on a long trek that climbed steeply up 1700 feet along slippery paths. I watched as the four young men took turns helping the three women and also carrying Evan on their backs. Several times, as they glided effortlessly down thin slippery paths with young Evan on their backs, my heart skipped a beat knowing how prone I was to slipping and winding up on my arse. But none of them had a false step or even a close call. Mountain goats for sure!
And so, it seems to me that being a goat is what the Nepali people are all about – calm, caring, and sure-footed companions on the journey we call life. If I had my druthers, I would take a dozen or so of the children we have met and weave them into a safety net that would surround me wherever I go.
For the truth is that all of the Nepali people we have met – old and young, male and female – are genuinely solicitous and protective of us and each other – even the children who decide not to scamper up the long stairs to the temple, choosing instead to trudge slowly up each long-hard-sweaty-stop-to-catch-your-breath step until we reach the top. The Nepali people are among the most loving and most caring people on earth. And watching their calm sure-footedness, I’m sure that all of the nicest people in the world have at least one gene evolved from mountain goats. (It appears that the people of Nepal have “got my goat.”)
Thus I am surprised that one of the highlights of Dashain (the chief festival of Nepal, equivalent to Christmas in the excitement it brings) is the ritual slaughter and happy eating of, yes, goats. All along the roads are large groups of goats (they’re not herds, because they’re too smart to be herded) collected for selling, slaughter, and sacrifice. In our various walks during the last week, we’ve seen too much of the dark side of the goat’s life. It had all the symbolism of the long road to Calvary and the surrender of Jesus.
Which makes me wonder: considering the origins of the many children at the orphanages we have visited, perhaps the goat/Nepali child analogy is more apt than I would wish. Too much slaughter; too much sacrifice. When will we ever learn?
At Loving Arms Children’s Home, we had a delicious goat curry for dinner today, but there was no sacrifice or blood. Instead of a ritual slaughter, Kent’s sister Nadine created a goat piñata filled with candy. As the children (of all ages) enjoyed the happy beating and scrambling for candy, it brought out the kid in us all.
For which we thank God!
The following pictures show the leading of castrated male goats to sacrifice. (Females are not used for the obvious reason, and non-castrated males are nasty tasting — no surprise…) After being ritually beheaded, they are placed in a vat of water, cleaned, and shaven.
We were fortunate that our pinata goat was beaten, but not ritually sacrificed. Also, I’m guessing it was a female, because lots of goodies came out of her.