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Friday, 06 February 2009

Goat Grabbing in Saudi Arabia - Page 2

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Growing up as an American in Saudi Arabia meant spending most days behind the concrete walls of our compound in Al-Khobar. It was illegal for women to drive, or even sit in a car with a man other than her husband, so day trips outside of Al-Bustan village were limited to the one day a week when my father could take us on the road in his company car. So when my mother and her friend planned a trip for our families to Al-Hofuf, a city about an hour and half to the south, we were thrilled at the prospect of escaping the compound for the day.


Voices echoed behind the cave walls, and I looked up to see about twenty more Saudis round the corner to join us on the rug. They were carrying coolers and trays of food, rolling with steam. Not one of them seemed to think it was odd that a group of unfamiliar Americans had joined their party, or at least they didn’t show it. The newcomers plunked giant hookahs in between the trays of coffee and ignited the round coals, sending tiny sparks flying into the sand.


An older woman ushered us behind the wall to join the all-female lunch crew on a smaller rug surrounded with coolers of drinks and fruit. The women’s long black abayas floated behind them as they scurried from one cooler to another, preparing the mid-day feast. A large silver platter, wafting spicy, savory aromas, was carried into the opening, and Marwa motioned for us to join the circle of women, crouched around the rug.


For some reason, I expected the platter to be piled high with chicken and lamb shawarmas, my favorite Middle Eastern dish. But there, in place of the meaty wraps and shish kabobs I’d hoped for, was a goat. Eyeballs, hooves, and all, the barbequed creature laid on a bed of rice, vegetables, and boiled eggs, surrounded by a red watery substance that thankfully turned out to be tomato broth.


The women rolled up their sleeves and dug in, ripping off bits of the flesh with their right hands. Grease dripped down their wrists as they squeezed the meat, rice, and broth into a tight ball of food. Their left, unsanitary hands were kept behind their backs, only used when lifting up the flaps of their veils to deposit food into their mouths.


Alex looked up at my mother, horrified, then back down at the goats bulging eyeballs. I was afraid she was going to cry, so to avoid a potential embarrassing meltdown, I made the first move. I started with an egg, and then a handful or rice mixed with pine nuts and tomato chunks, wrapped in a piece of flat wheat bread.


Customary to this sort of meal, some of the women took it upon themselves to dig around in the goat, looking for a choice morsel of meat to place at our corner of the platter. After our hosts had built us a small mound of goat meat, I took a deep breath and plucked one of the lightest strips, drenching it in the tomato broth before bringing it to my mouth. Surprisingly, it wasn’t all that bad. Goat was a little stringy, but tasted similar to lamb. Mixed with the broth, spices, and veggies, I actually enjoyed it, as long as I didn’t look back at the eyeballs staring off into space.


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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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