Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Getting your goat

Dasain Days
Bhrikutimandap, Kathmandu, Nepal

Finally, the weather cleared yesterday, after a weekend of seemingly interminable drizzle and rain and mud. Billowing white clouds now hang over the green hills that surround Kathmandu, and it's hot at mid-day.

On my way to Immigration, I passed an impromptu open-air goat market - the sidewalk was transformed into a musky-smelling barnyard, with all sizes and colours of goats nibbling at green fodder suspended from rope ties. They were adorable! But sadly, all are doomed. They have all been brought in from the surrounding villages to be bought as sacrificial offerings for the Dasain holiday. If all goes as planned, each and every one (all male goats) will have their throats slit and their blood offered to the goddess Taleju Bhavani, a manifestation of Durga. The unwanted goats will go back to the hills.

I had romantic notions of topi-wearing hill-dwellers herding the goats, on foot, over valley and dale into the big city for market - a sort of annual pilgrimage. Actually, the goat-keepers rent a mini-van (for about 500NRs a day,or $7.00 US) and load the goats inside; as many as 20 goats are crammed into the little vehicle. They pick up uncooperative goats by the horns (in one hand) and the back-scruff (in the other) and toss them in.

The hundreds of goats there were distinguished by some numerical system scrawled onto their horns, and sometimes, blotches of coloured dye on their shaggy coats. One shyster tried to sell me a goat for 3000NRs (about $50), but it turned out the correct price was 160NRS for 4 kg.

The goats are weighed (or as they say here, "weighted") across the road on a medieval-looking contraption that is a combination of a seesaw and swingset. The balances are big enough for a couple of humans to stand in - in fact, it looks like the thing they use to weigh the accused with in Monty Python & the Holy Grail ("I am NOT a witch, and this is not my nose, it's a false one!"). There were a few regulation weights there to balance the goats, but they also used a chunk of cinder block.

If the goats had any inkling of their fate, they seemed pretty resigned to it.

On the other side of the road were an especially handsome looking gaggle of goats, with long shaggy coats, twisted ornamental horns, and an extra swatch of shag hanging between their eyes like overgrown bangs. They seemed like the cool, laid-back hippy goats. Turned out they are a special kind of mountain goat called "Changra," but they don't cost any more than the other goats. I scratched them behind the ears, ruffled their fringed bangs and said a silent prayer for them to be reborn as humans (hopefully, vegetarian humans).

Immigrant Song
At Immigration, they told me that in order to stay in the country on a three-month student visa, I need the following things:
-$750 deposited in my name in a Nepali bank account. This is to prove I have $250 a month to cover my expenses for the three months's time;
-a receipt of fees paid and enrollment from the dance academy in Bhaktapur (which means I have to pay the teacher in advance, usually not a good idea);
-Letter of recommendation from the Nepali Ministry of Education (this is known to take a month or more - sometimes tourist visas run out just waiting for it);
-Various copies of my passport, visa and application itself (not a big deal).
-After the initial submission of the bank statement, you then have to show another just to prove you still have the money (that you didn't just borrow it in order to make a false statement).

$250 a month is quite reasonable for living expenses in Nepal; the problem is, getting it all together at the same time (plus the school fees).

They give you a nicely printed list of all these things (guidelines for foreign researchers and students)... in Nepali script! Talk about missing the point.

All this has to be accomplished within the next 30 days, and about 10 of them are official holidays. Nepal maa, din din ne, ek naya mela aunchhu (in Nepal, every day a new festival is coming).

1 comment:

tiregroove said...

sad about the goats. I think sacrifice is a completely barbaric and byzantine ritual. And obviously it's working, since India just seems so prosperous and functional. [/end sarcasm]

I'd have you send me a goat but they smell and they're ornery!~ I can get all of my goat-jones on at the central park petting zoo. (I know, real authentic, right?)