I've been in East Java for a couple days now and temporarily find myself with a reliable Internet connection. Time for an update.
We're off for the rest of the week as my temporary school and wider Gresik celebrate Eid al-Adha, a sacrificial holiday in which families who can afford it buy and kill goats or cows and then give the meat away to friends, family and the local poor.
For weeks, farmers have been setting up stalls in cities throughout Java--I meant to write about this before I was pulled out of Magelang--advertising kambing (goats) and sapi (cows) for sale. In Magelang, one spot was selling animals that were clearly sheep and advertising them as goats. The wool was thick on their backs and their bleating unmistakable and yet the guys manning the tent and passing out the feed insisted they were goats. Hey, OK. I wasn't buying, anyway.
But from Magelang to Semarang, then out in Jakarta, and back here in Surabaya up into Gresik, my path of retreat and resettlement has taken me past probably 100 goat/cow stands in the last couple weeks. Some in empty fields, others crammed into city gangways. Cows tied to spindly little city trees, goats tethered to rope fences strung up between lamp posts. Country cousins come fully into the city. Around the corner from where Obama gave his speech last week, it looked like a makeshift rodeo, just hundreds of farm animals crowded onto a roadside patch in South Jakarta.
The going rate for a goat is something like the equivalent of $100 and a cow can go for upward of $500 a head. My colleagues in Magelang make less than $500 per month, so you'd have to be a serious potentate, an exceedingly generous holiday celebrant or maybe a small kampung collective to kill a cow. As I understand it, cows are more of an institutional offering. Schools buy them, corporations buy them. Maybe a mall or two buys them.
But for a neighborhood project, it's goats. I stayed the night at a friend's house in Surabaya yesterday and woke to the pock-pock sounds of hollow hacking just outside the front door. We peeked out and my buddy's neighbors were in the last stages of butchering a lop-eared goat they'd had tied up out front the night before. It wasn't that late in the morning; they'd clearly started early and worked fast.
We walked outside and were waved over: A family affair. Several generations were sitting in the front courtyard working meat and gristle off the few bones that remained. A small, square hole in the walkway held a pool of bright red blood. To the right, a pile of pelt and horn, what would not be eaten from the animal's head and shoulders. We were waiting for a cab and it pulled up as the family invited to stay for satay.
Ma kasih, bu. Tapi lain kali. Thanks, ma'am. But another time.