An Unexpected Morning of Learning and Discovery

By Ping Showalter (PCV in La Libertad)
Feb. 14, 2024

In the most literal sense, I witness the entrails spilling out of the cabrito. As a child, immersed in fantasy literature, I never encountered descriptions of such visceral scenes. Authors, with their tales of ill-fated knights and vanquished enemies, never alluded to the rapidity of such gut-spilling. Observing the lifeless kid (and by "kid," I mean baby goat), there's a detached fluidity to it. Intestines ripple from the open cavity of the carcass into the metal pan: first, the fleshy, white-marbled tubes, then the pillowy sack of the stomach flopping in after. These are things I never learned to identify in English, much less in Spanish. It's a lesson in language, I muse. In the things I mistook for metaphors but are stark reality.

This morning's learning experience is voyeuristic. I sip my coffee (crystallized instant mixed with sugary syrup masquerading as honey) and observe my host uncle extracting body parts from the strangely bloodless corpse. It's the preparatory work for tomorrow’s quinceañera, oddly clean and sterile. The textbook-perfect examples of hígado, huevos, estómago, pulmones. Memories of college International Relations courses on food security flood back. I recall preaching the importance of local over organic, and my astonishment at the sheer quantity of food wasted by America each year. The knife slices through sinew and reverie, deepening my appreciation for this backyard-sourced meal, with its complete understanding of anatomy and utility, and utter lack of waste.

Rustic Kitchen

I watch as the cabrito slowly diminishes. Smaller body parts are tossed into the pot simmering over the open fire, larger cuts to the pan for the machete to separate, and any remnants flung to the eagerly carnivorous chickens and dogs. Thick, oozing blood pools at the cavity's base, while the head and hooves lie in their own sticky pool to the left. It's a remarkably efficient evisceration and dissection. I find myself annotating the scene like I did with my college texts. Yet, I know these moments will stick differently than any paragraph did. This is a weightier kind of knowledge, one that seems to travel through the heart and bones first.

An hour later, the goat’s carcass no longer hangs from the tree. The precise ferocity of the machete—thwack, rip, throw—has reduced the familiar animal into piles of edible hunks. My host aunt jolts me from my observer stupor, instructing me to fetch a pato from my abuelita’s house. I follow her and am soon surrounded by quacking and a flurry of wings. "Can you show me how to pick it up first? I don’t know what to do!" My aunt laughs, and suddenly my left hand is clenched around the duck's neck, my right hand tightly clamping its wings together. It's unnerving, being this close to a hissing duck, feeling the wing muscles fighting. Half stumbling, half running back to my house, the duck grows heavier in my arms. With strained, almost shaking muscles, I ask as casually as possible for the back door to be opened, the pen unlatched. I unceremoniously deposit the duck into the pen, silently apologizing for the rough treatment, for bringing this duck to await its fate in a new home. Suddenly, I hear my host mom summoning me to the table. "Here," she says, "have some huevos." Perfect, I think. Some fried egg, some bread, queso, some papaya juice. Standard breakfast fare.

Instead, she presents what looks like a smooth, light-brown matzah ball on a plate. "Huevos," she says triumphantly, "de cabrito." I reach for my week-one bravado, when I promised myself that I would try everything new at least once. My host mom tears off a small piece of the goat testicle, garnishing it with a bit of salt and lime. Nervously, I accept the offering, stealing a glance at the clock above the table. It's 8:37 AM. I smile briefly to myself, filled with an undefinable delight for this unexpected morning. And then, I chew the goat testicle.