by Anson K. Lihosit (Panama, 2015-17)
At breakfast, the family I stayed with told me that the goat was already tied up outside. They gave me an extra plate of rice and a bucket. “Now that it is here, you’ll have to feed it and give it water twice a day,” they said as they glanced at each other, grinning. I walked up the hill in between my host family’s home and their son’s home. As I approached, the goat ran as far as the short leash permitted trying to avoid me. I got as close as possible, dumped the rice and left the bucket of water. The goat, tied to a tree in a strange place with strangers, kept jerking that rope.
The next morning, three American friends awaited me at my host family’s restaurant. After breakfast, we lugged wooden tables, chairs and cooking utensils up the hill past the goat. The goat let me place the food and bucket down and then ate calmly once I distanced myself. By ten that morning eleven more Peace Corps Volunteers had arrived.
The regional leader called us together around him. He held a baseball cap as he said, “If anyone doesn’t want to kill it, don’t put your name in.”
I reluctantly dropped a folded paper with my name into the hat. As he chose, I gritted my teeth. The girl next to me had her name chosen. Her mouth dropped and her eyes widened. She shook her head silently. Two of the group went down the hill to fetch the goat. We heard one yell, “The goat is loose! Catch the goat!”
The goat ran to the back of the property and ducked through the barbed wire fence. Half of the group chased the goat into the neighboring property as two of us waited behind in case it doubled back. The barrel-chested Volunteer with me scraped cow dung from his boot as I laughed and asked, “If it gets away, it deserves to live, right?”
“Hell no! We already paid $100 for it. That’s our food today.”
The goat posse screamed across the fields, “It’s coming back around! Grab it!”
The goat ran straight at me, then turned back towards the house. My host family laughed and shouted instructions as they watched from the house. The goat doubled back towards me to avoid the family’s dog and the larger Volunteer. I pushed it into the barbed wire fence as I fell face forward into the mud. Jumping up, I grabbed its leash. The regional leader ran up. He was also covered with mud. As I stroked the goat’s wool, he first pulled the legs out from under it and put his knee on top, then grabbed its leash from me and led the goat back up the hill.
Near the house, the goat was forced to the ground again with a leg on its body and several Volunteers surrounded it. The chosen female volunteer was handed a knife and told where to cut its throat. She knelt behind the goat’s head as it made noise and tried to jerk out. She cut shallowly as if to show mercy.
“Cut deeper! And cut the other side of its neck.”
She followed the instructions, as red flowed onto the dirt ground around our feet. The goat gasped for breath as more blood spurted from its neck. The body eventually ceased to move. The girl looked on with a morbid face as the goat was strung to two trees by its legs. I watched as they carefully cut the skin and removed the organs from the stomach. These were dropped into a large bucket to be sorted. The skin was separated from the meat using Gillette razor blades. I assisted with the torso area, shoving my hand as a blade between the skin and the meat around the ribs. The head and the legs were taken off with hacks of a machete.
A crack of thunder shook as large drops of rain engulfed us. We scurried around to begin cooking. We were already running late. We tied tarps to nearby trees and started an outdoor fire below. Under the protection of my host brother’s patio, the meat was cut into sections as the organs were sorted through. The lungs, heart and liver were taken to be boiled and cooked in the kitchen. The meat was put into a larger pot on the fire below the dripping tarp. While everything cooked, we rested under the patio’s zinc roof. Clothes damp and splattered with blood, we drank beer and began to play music. Guitars, ukuleles and a banjo appeared.
The next day Peace Corps staff arrived and we began our actual meeting, discussing new rules and our own progress as Volunteers in isolated villages. By the evening, the rain stopped after the sun had set. We ate pulled goat sandwiches. We spent the day talking and working together with live music and cold drinks.
During my two years of service, I took part in four goat roasts. The new RegionaI Leader finally called my name at the last.
I chose my knife as the goat was led past me. It jerked at the rope and tried to escape the grip of the two men holding it. The Volunteers told me that we would try to cut its neck standing up this time. This sounded more difficult without holding it down on its side.
“I have to straddle it?”
He smiled and nodded to me. I stepped over its rear and clenched my knees tight around its stomach. It tried to jerk around as the two of us held it in place. I placed the knife low on its neck and verified that was where to cut.
“Anywhere on the neck will work. Just cut deep.”
I cut into the skin and saw red gush onto the knife blade. I went deeper and cut across the neck to sever both sides of the gullet. I felt the goat buck from under me. It yelped and continued to try to fight itself free as blood fell onto the dirt and leaves below it. I tightened my knees and put my free hand on its back. I stroked its fur as it gasped for breath. When it slowed its breath, I loosened my knees and let it down to the ground. Thick and bubbling blood ran down the ground below its body. I washed the blood off of my hands, feet and knife. The smell of goat and some its hairs were stuck on my clothes. I poured another cup of hot black coffee and lit a cigarette watching the motionless body being strung up.
Anson Lihosit (Panama, 2015-17) just returned home to Madera, California where he has been very busy eating and lifting weights. He has been accepted to the University of Arizona in Tucson Master’s Program in Urban Planning for the Fall, 2017. This is a personal experience essay about life as a Volunteer in Panama.