If you are traveling with a Mongolian man, it may happen that he turns the car off the road and drives straight into the steppe. “A shortcut maybe,” you think and stay quiet. Then he stops at several yurts and seems to ask the farmers for directions. At that point, you start to wonder what the actual purpose of this mission is. Since you don’t speak Mongolian and the English of your counterpart is not good, either, the information you are getting is limited: “I buy a sheep for eat.” Ok, makes sense. The prices in the country are lower than in the city, and the man has to feed his family. You are alright with the detour and imagine that he wants to buy meat somewhere.
At the next yurt, he gets out of the car and briefly chats with the farmer who soon runs to get his motorcycle and a long stick with a loop at the end. The Mongolian takes this “fishing pole” , gets on the bike and they drive off. While you are waiting, it slowly dawns on you that the meat will probably be quite fresh. After about half an hour they come back. The Mongolian has a living sheep on his lap.
When they are tying up the sheep for transport, there suddenly is a problem. The Mongolian looks at the sheep’s teeth and shakes his head: “Two years old, too young to eat” Mongolians never eat young animals because they believe that all living things have the right for a good life. This idea comes from their religion, Buddhism. When people hear that we slaughter young animals in Europe, they squinch up their faces in disgust.
This particular sheep is lucky. It stays behind at the yurt. The farmer jumps on his horse and rides to the flock. From the distance, you can see the sheep running in all directions. After some time the next sheep is being delivered on the motorbike. This time it fits the requirements. They tie its legs and it disappears in the rear of the minivan.
On the way home you can only feel sorry for the animal: four hours on the Mongolian mogul roads. When we get home, it is already dark. The wife knew about the sheep, but had also imagined a dead one. Today is Monday, on Tuesdays they don’t slaughter animals. Therefore, it needs to happen today.
They quickly spread a few plastic bags in front of the house. The sheep is lying backwards on top of them. I stand next to it and light the scene with my headlamp. I wonder, how he plans to kill the sheep. He only holds a Swiss Army knife in his hand. “Hold tight,” he says, pointing at the sheep’s hind legs. I squat and grab the sheep legs. What I see next takes my breath away. I’m from the country, but this is something I ‘ve never seen in my life:
With the pocket knife, he makes a small incision below the sternum. Then he puts his arm into the chest of the sheep – up to the elbow. He feels around until he finds what he seeks. His muscles tense as he squeezes. The sheep remains silent. Then it begins to twitch. That’s it.
It went surprisingly fast. The man seems to know, what he’s doing. What exactly he has done in the chest of the sheep, if he killed the aorta or the whole heart, I cannot say. For this, the translation didn’t suffice.
The rest happened just as quickly. The sheep is skinned and gutted. The organs are taken out and wander into different bowls, nothing gets thrown away. Even the blood is scooped out with a cup and collected in a jug. I assist and have to hold here or press there. In the end, we cut the animal into two pieces and hang them in the closet for maturation. There is no fridge here.
Inside, the women process the innards. They clean the bowels for making blood sausage the next day. Along with the other entrails, we have them for breakfast. In the past weeks, I have eaten a lot of things, I wouldn’t quite order in the restaurant. But here I draw a line. Even at the thought, I get nauseous. The children, however, are excited and eagerly gobble the rumen.
After eating, they light a candle for the sheep on the family’s altar.