A few days ago, some goats appeared outside our kitchen window. Tied up to the water tank tower, these mysterious visitors munched on the long grass, eyeing me up with caution each time our paths would cross. Days passed, the goats got fatter, I became more comfortable with their gawky stares... and that was about it.
Now before I get to the next part, you must listen to the mental noise they make. During the night I thought the noise might be screaming children or the ghost of Babati-past. I have NEVER heard a goat make this type of noise in New Zealand. Tell me what you think:
Anyway, neither our landlord, nor any of the workers who live in our compound, had said anything about our new four-legged flatties. Then one unremarkable, sunny village day, I noticed that one of my bleating mates was gone. Nowhere to be seen. Just a chunk of dead grass left in the spot that he had once marked out as his own.
Perhaps he's done a runner, I thought. Broken free from the chains (rope) of goat slavery, and gone in search of his destiny. So I left it at that.
But the next day, another goat was missing. And the next day, another. One by one, the goats disappeared, until from the six original musketeers, just one remained.
Sadly, and as blight on my detective skills, it didn't take long to find an answer. Less than fifty metres from our doorstep, I found a tree with a well worn rope, complete with noose guiltily slung over its lowest branch. Below it, a pool of dried blood.
It should be no surprise really, given that goat meat is a completely normal meal in Tanzania. It's barbecued for special occasions, known by locals as Nyoma Choma. As it turned out, the boss of the factory by our house had been putting on "work shouts" over the course of the week in the lead-up to a Muslim holiday on Friday. The goats were a thanks to his staff for their long hours. They had been enjoying my kitchen window friends for days.
I felt a little sick, truth be known. The dried blood was confronting, and the noose felt vulgar. But the more I thought about it, the more I concluded that really I have no right to be shocked. Animals are food, whether we agree with it or not. We all know that. It's just I'm so accustomed to seeing meat in little cling-wrapped packages, in bright and clean supermarket aisles, looking so un-animal like, that I never really thought about it.
But it makes sense to know where your food comes from, right? To know what went into getting it to your table?
I remember covering a story once in Te Puke, where, unrelated to the story, I met a family of tourists who were about to take a tour of a kiwifruit orchard. One of the children, about six years old, told me that before coming to New Zealand he had no idea that kiwifruit (or apples, he added) grew on trees. I was aghast. Brought up in a concrete world, between subways and apartment blocks, takeout and convenience everything, he had no idea.
Life here is so connected to the land and livestock, it's inescapable. In some ways it's like going back 50years. But, even as I mourn the loss of my kitchen window friends, I think it's good for me.
I'm sure some of you who've grown up on farms will have something to say about this one... what do you think? Are we in New Zealand too far removed from the realities of living off the land?