Often I would walk down the road from the resort we were staying at in Zanzibar, Ras Nungwi, away from the splendid ocean toward the village. Ras Nungwi was a remarkably beautiful and quiet place with small thatched roof cottages and well-kept green flowering tropical landscapes leading down to the blue ocean. The road lacked all verdant landscape. It was prickly dry brush and sand. Occasional three-sided concrete structures, roaming goats and bone thin cows with a large hump like ancient portraits from India were visible. Turning right to walk into the dusty village of Nungwi itself, I passed a concrete structure with a large hand-painted sign: BUTCHER. I saw it several times before it struck me that this was the slaughterhouse. This was the place where goats and cows were killed to feed the village that I was so entranced by. It was beside two shops that seemed to be open twenty-four hours a day. Tanzanian textiles of wildly vivid colors and zany patterns. Each cloth was a fashion meeting ground for India, Arabia and Africa, hung neatly together in a modern art collage. I was allured by the brilliant cloths, and disturbed by the sign. Two potently different emotions arose simultaneously.
One evening, returning by taxi to the hotel, I saw a man dragging a goat on a string down a narrow path toward the butcher shop. We were moving slowly in the dark where there were no lights and many people were standing on the sides of the road. I was tired from having walked in the heat along the beach to the village, which took over an hour, tired still from an even longer walk through the village and had resorted to a taxi. I stared at the man and the goat as the driver was telling me his forlorn love story in poor English. He had come to Nungwi in hopes of marrying a woman who left him for a younger man. My mind was active trying to map out the narrow path that led to the butcher shop, wondering about the sound of the goat and if the goat knew he was going to slaughter. We came upon another concrete structure that was a local restaurant with radio music pouring out, drowning out the taxi driver’s tale of love and my own thoughts.
On Sunday evening, back in New York, I told stories as part of an Interfaith Gathering uptown in Manhattan. The evening began with lovely Daisy Khan, director of American Society for Muslims Advancement. She riveted us with her true life experience of ordering the sacrifice of a goat on Staten Island for a Muslim celebration that was interrupted by the hurricane. The goat had to be kept for days until their was transportation. She described she and her husband carrying the four parts of the animals in bags on subways home, since the electric meat cutter could not be used. There was no power. It was a remarkable story of faith and natural disaster. It was also about sacrifice in the name of religious faith and the zaniness of carrying pieces of an animal corpse on a new york train. She told us this to share with us the origin of the meat that was part of the great pot luck feast we were about to share. I loved the telling, uncontrived, generous and actually daring. I wondered what others thought of the story that demanded our tolerance. I was also amazed that goats were sacrificed today. It brought back images of the goat on the rope on the road in Zanzibar.
Yesterday, I told a storyteller friend, lovely Loren Niemi, at a lunch we had at JACK’s on University Place in Manhattan, about the story. I told it since he asked if I was disturbed by his eating a hamburger. I revealed that although I rarely eat meat, I ate some of the cooked goat that Daisy had spoken about and offered, to honor the Muslim holiday that had been interrupted because of the hurricane. In response he told me a story that he had heard over twenty years ago. It was told by a Jewish storyteller named Reuven Gold, who has been deceased for many years. He did not remember if it was a tale from the Baal Shem Tov, he said. It was a story whose affect allowed me to bring together the multitude of feelings I’d had seeing the goat on the rope in Zanzibar.
A new butcher replaced the old butcher in a village in Poland. An old man sat beside him and observed. As the new butcher killed each animal, the old man, who had witnessed the other butcher, nodded his head constantly in disapproval or disappointment. The new butcher kept wondering what he was doing wrong. Perhaps he had not sharpened the blade of his knife enough. If he had a sharper blade the animal would not suffer. So each day he sharpened the blade. And each day the old man continued to move his head back and forth in dismay. Finally, the new butcher asked about his reaction. The old man explained that the old butcher before him was a holy man. “He too had sharpened the blade well, But after each slaughter, he washed the blade with his tears.”