On the Merits of Eating Raw Goat Spleens
by Justin Parmenter (Albania 1995–97)
YESTERDAY I WALKED TO KUTAL, a nearby village, with my friend Ali. There we sat for a time with a friend of his, knocked back a few rakis and talked goats. Cute little animals, they are. So much cleaner than sheep and, though it may seem a strange word to describe them, so much more intellectual. I love animals, and it pains me to see the malicious way in which they are sometimes treated here. But for some reason, I thought of these goats as Albanians do. As a luxury. After all, May 1st only happens once a year. That little black goat I carried back to Permet was Ali’s Dom Perignon, if you know what I mean.
When we arrived back in Permet, we found an expert knife wielder who agreed to do the honors. I don’t need or want to go into details, but what followed conjured up memories of playing surgeon on a fetal pig in seventh grade biology.
I’m sure many of you have encountered this mentality in your various sites around the country: Albanians see Americans as “ahead” in many aspects of life. They know, for example, that we are used to drive-thrus, to TV dinners, to buying our pre-weighed hamburger shrink-wrapped in plastic. But I think that many of the Albanians I live and work with see that as a weakness of sorts and expect me to be taken aback by the more gritty nature of Albanian life. Over the last year I’ve found myself countering that view more and more. I like to show my new friends that while Americans may be accustomed to what some people might call a more “developed” lifestyle, this American still has a very active sense of adventure.
A crowd of spectators gathered around to watch the goat meet his maker — there’s not really much else to do in Permet on a Saturday afternoon. The carcass was hung by its legs over a tree branch and the entrails were removed to make soup. Suddenly, to my shock, my friend Fatmir reached inside the still-warm goat, plucked out an organ, and chucked it into his mouth. He explained that the shpretka (spleen) was very good for your blood — and best eaten fresh. Half joking, he asked if I’d like to eat the spleen of the next goat. The audience laughed, expecting the American to be horrified by the prospect. While the butcher worked, the aforementioned phenomenon flashed through my mind, that cushy American life vs. the gritty reality of my new home. And when the moment of truth arrived, I grabbed the spleen, popped it in my mouth, and tried not to think about what I was doing.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you. I’d take a Chicken McNugget over a warm, raw goat spleen any day. But when I finally forced it down and turned to show the stunned audience my empty mouth, the smiles on their faces told me that I had made the right choice. I had shown them that although I may be American, I am also one of them.
Justin Parmenter served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Albania from 1995 to 1997. He then spent time teaching in Istanbul and on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona before settling down in Charlotte, NC at the foreign language immersion school Waddell Language Academy. In 2016 he was a finalist for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools’ Teacher of the Year. You can reach him on Twitter at @JustinParmenter