Bender the pet goat
I’m used to standing on my porch and greeting people as they walk by. But today, Mr. Emma came running up to me, sweat beaded across his forehead and a worried look on his face.
“Mr. Patrick’s goat, Bender. He is down and he is not getting up.”
Since our teammates and their four children are in Kampala, I went to assess the situation. I followed Mr. Emma to our neighbor’s backyard, both my girls following close behind. There was our favorite caramel colored goat, lying on its side in a patch of weeds.
Strangely enough, the last time they went to Kampala their pregnant goat Domino died.
And just a few days ago, another goat in their yard died as well. They texted us, “Not sure how, but us leaving district sure is a bad omen for goats…”
And now we had to tell them about Bender.
Bender is everyone’s favorite goat. Her sister Dixie is stubborn and aggressive and always does the opposite of what you try to get her to do. But Bender is loving and friendly and fun to be around. When we first moved here my kids spent a lot of time with the goats. In an attempt to reach my children’s hearts in disciplinary issues, our family made up a catchy little phrase that we often just sing to them when the time calls for it…
“Dooooooon’t be a Dixieeeee! Be a Bennnder!”
As is the case here when tragedies are in the making, groups of people start to appear. Some are curious. Others are helpful. I was a little of both as I stood there with my girls.
Gilbert the veterinarian had already been called and rushed right over on his motorcycle. He went straight to Bender and thought out loud for a minute or two. Then he made the goat try to stand up, which she was uncapable of doing. He palpated her abdomen and asked for gloves. He was going to digitally extract whatever he could from her bottom.
I went home, grabbed some disposable gloves, and returned.
Piper was standing near Bender the entire time and crept closer and closer as the extraction was performed.
“Stinky.” She said.
I’m starting to see a pattern develop since we’ve moved here. My child likes gross things.
Later, when Gilbert plunged an IV into the goat’s neck vein to administer some fluids, and blood slowly dripped out of the end, Piper again moved her head around to get the best view. I let her watch because I could see it was fascinating to her. She turned and looked at me and said, “the blood is pretty”.
When I mentioned later to Mike, “maybe she’ll be a mortician when she grows up” he cringed.
“Or a doctor?” he said.
So there we were, attempting to see if these efforts would save our neighbors favorite goat. But after some time in the hot afternoon sun, I went back home to rest with my napping son. “Come and get me if you need anything”.
At some point Mr. Emma had knocked on my door, but I didn’t hear him. So I went back over there an hour later and saw everyone had moved to a far corner of the yard.
Gilbert came over and said, “Bender had an intestinal blockage, so rather than dying on her own I recommended her for slaughter.”
I walked to the far corner of the yard and saw a few men, one kitchen knife, and a goat put out of its misery. The man in charge of the slaughter was being very careful and precise with his knife. When I looked around at everyone’s faces I could see they weren’t looking at someone’s beloved pet, they were looking at dinner.
Piper was begging to come over and see everything, but I wouldn’t let her. The goat was sectioned into pieces, and I figured her four-year-old self would already have enough to process from the day.
I walked back up to talk to Gilbert, realizing the death of this goat was walking us into a potentially big cultural misunderstanding.
“Gilbert” I said. “This is not my goat so I cannot say what we can or cannot do with it. I will have to call the owners and ask them whether they want to use it as goat meat, or they would prefer to bury it.”
“Of course.” He said. “That is not our decision.”
I called Patrick and Alexis. They needed a little time to think about it and would call me back.
At first it seemed obvious. The goat was dead. Let people eat it.
But as time went on, I gave it more thought.
Who gets to eat it? How do you decide which people get a piece of highly cherished meat and which don’t? Or which ones get the best cuts? Are we 100% certain this goat didn’t die of poisoning? What if the meat was split up and people got sick too? What if the missionaries goat ended up poisoning people? Or what if there was a person involved in Bender’s death? What if passing out her remains incentivized misconduct towards future animals? Or how would I feel if my childhood pet was eaten by my neighborhood while I was away?
The longer the time went, the more nuanced and complicated everything became. Which could also just be my life motto right now.
Thankfully, I didn’t need to make this decision. They texted back and said, “We want her buried, and not slaughtered.”
Which was a little bit of a problem because she had already been slaughtered. But either way, she was not going to be eaten. And now, I had to relay a message that would be incomprehensible to a culture that lives in scarcity and doesn’t consider goats, pets. It'd be like emptying your fridge of filet mignon and sticking it in a sandbox. It makes no sense.
I decided to approach this in a very formal way, and to call out the awkwardness we were about to embark on. The group of men gathered around.
“I have just talked with Mr. Patrick and Mrs. Alexis. They have decided to have their goat buried.”
I let the news settle a bit before I continued.
“First I want to say, I know it is not within your culture to slaughter a goat and then to bury it. For this, I apologize. I can see standing here we have two worlds, a Ugandan world and an American world, and they seem to be colliding.”
A lot of smiles and a lot of nods.
“The McClures considered Bender, not as an animal to be eaten, but as a pet to be enjoyed. Americans honor our pets when they die by burying them. It is an American custom that may seem very strange, I know. It is difficult to understand other cultures sometimes, I think we can all agree that this is one of those situations.”
Gilbert then repeated everything in his own way and stressed the importance of being respectful of the wishes of the person who owns the goat.
“I want to thank everyone here for what they have done for Bender today.” I said. “Thank you, Gilbert, for attending to the goat. And thank you…” I pointed to the man in the corner “for digging this hole. Thank you, Owen,…” I pointed to another guy “for riding your motorcycle to get the fluids and needles, and thank you Mr. Emma for caring for this goat for her entire life.”
This small moment of acknowledgment and appreciation seemed to meld us all together, despite our differences.
Someone expertly dug a grave with a hoe, and they carefully wrapped Benders parts in leaves from a banana tree and put her in the hole. I was aware of a person present that had a history of theft. I then started to worry that the neat placement would entice someone to later dig her up, so I asked for them to remove the banana leaves and put her directly in the soil.
“We were burying her respectfully, as you have said you care for your animals, we are giving her a proper burial.” Kapu said.
At first I thought I was being wise by asking them to unwrap her, and now I just felt distrustful and controlling. I regretted doing it as I watched it happen. I wondered what would be their interpretation of this event.
After the goat was completely buried, someone put a stick in the ground per the family’s request.
“We are putting a cross there?” one of the younger guys asked.
Gilbert said “No, no, no. We can go. The goat is buried and the stick is there. It will not be getting a cross because she wasn’t baptized.”
There were a few laughs as we walked up the hill away from it all.
Just another day attempting to navigate the many parts of life that require everyone to extend beyond their own worlds and give one another the benefit of the doubt, even when our values may differ from one another. It isn't easy, there is much to consider, and I'm sure I often mess it up- but we are here and trying our best.