On Wednesday Eric took me to buy water and run errands after dropping Bob at a meeting at the nearby Guinness plant. Our first order of business was to mail a postcard and letter to the States. Bob said there was a post office near the abattoir on down the road from Guinness so we went to find it.
Unfortunately Eric was having trouble finding the Post Office so we parked and had to walk past the slaughterhouse. It was a heavy business day. There were trucks all over the place full of cattle, sheep and goats. Some were being unloaded. Huge Brahman cattle with their beautiful big eyes, laying calmly bound in the backs of little pick ups. Goats being dragged across the street by ropes around their necks. Protesting, digging in their feet, not used to being on a leash, bawling.
I told myself not to look. As soon as we stepped from the car my stomach was churning and I could feel tears welling up. “Don’t fall apart here,” I warned myself. Now we were crossing the congested four lane street, winding our way between trucks and foot traffic, animals… I had to look where I was going and try to keep up with Eric. Which was a blessing because he walks fast, with purpose and so there was no lingering. He patted a couple of cows on their heads. They are laying, bound in the back of a small truck, their hip bones protruding. These aren’t the fat cattle I’m used to seeing at the county fairs and stock shows in the U.S.
It was awful. On the other side of the street outside the gates to the abattoir, vendors were roasting fresh offal. I saw an enormous liver on a charcoal grill. I used to like liver and I didn’t mind if I’d seen the animal die a few hours earlier. Now, I’ve gone soft. I looked away, thankful that we did not have to go inside the gate. A cow lay on the ground, legs splayed. Several men stood around it in discussion. Andreas’ words came to mind from that day he took us on his rounds. “Here is the slaughter house,” he said, “ I’ve been inside this. It is horrible.”
I kept my eyes on Eric’s back and hurried along, trying to think only of the post office somewhere up ahead. Letting myself get distracted by the sight of a heavily leafed tree with feet dangling from the bottom branch. A cool resting spot for some people who had brought animals to market or play place for some kids.
We made it to the Post Office and were surprised to see a large several-storied building with only one car in the ample parking lot. It was as big as the downtown Post Office and Eric had never noticed it before! There was one man sitting at a table inside the cavernous facility. We greeted each other and he walked back to the working area behind the windows to sell me some stamps. I told him it must be a lonely job for him. I mailed my cards and was happy for the distraction.
On the way back to the car, I confided to Eric that the sights I was seeing today were hard for me to look at. He nodded and kept us moving, pushing past the throng of farmers and vendors. He knows we don’t eat meat. The longer I choose vegetable over animal, the more compassion I have for the soon-to-be slain. I’d read testimonials from vegetarians who stopped eating meat for environmental reasons and found compassion for our animal brothers. Now I realize this has happened to me.
Jane Goodall wrote: “And if we dare to look into those eyes, then we shall feel their suffering in our hearts. More and more people have seen that appeal and felt it in their hearts. All around the world there is an awakening of understanding and compassion, and understanding that reaches out to help the suffering animals in their vanishing homelands. That embraces hungry, sick, and desperate human beings, people who are starving while the fortunate among us have so much more than we need. And if, one by one, we help them, the hurting animals, the desperate humans, then together we shall alleviate so much of the hunger, fear, and pain in the world. Together we can bring change to the world, gradually replacing fear and hatred with compassion and love. Love for all living beings.”
Seeing so many animals at death’s door was upsetting and I’m sure I’ll see more. The meat dogs I saw in our neighborhood at the beginning of the month come to mind. But I believe my exposure to the realities of animal protein will have a positive impact. Hopefully in the form of increased compassion and a better understanding of what motivates me to embrace a plant-based diet. I won’t soon forget my year in Africa!