After a fantastic day in Stip with my team of 5 participating in our first Model United Nations, I had the bus drop me off in Kratovo to visit my former host-mom, Nada. I had no idea the next day was ‘George Day’ May 6th, which is a big “Name Day” here for people who have George as the symbolic/patron name for their house. However, always up for new experiences, I agreed to be at Jovanka’s house at 5 AM to participate. (Host mom had no intention of getting up that early–she’s done it before and was a little smarter than I.) Despite the early hour, picnic items were packed and off Jovanka and I went together to another Host Family’s house. (Some of you may remember Sam’s host family, Lile and Mone.) I’d never really noticed the rickety bridge only 10 meters or so up the hill and across the street from their house before, but there it was stretching across a fairly steep drop to the river. On the other side of the ‘bridge’ was a clearing
with make-shift tables and maybe a dozen people present. I later found out that the river used to be much higher and that location supported a watermill for milling flour. (The grind stones were still there, hundreds of years old.) Food and rakija was set up, then Mone led everyone up a trail where people took turns swinging by their hands from a tree (no kidding)! It’s supposed to bring long life and good luck. (I was thinking it would bring strained muscles and possible injury–but that’s just me!) Then everyone went back to the clearing and the eating and drinking commenced. Soon fist-sized breads were passed around and everyone looked for the 10 denar (Macedonian money) piece baked into one of them. The person who found it was crowned ‘queen’ with a wreath of branches and presented
with a hastily picked bouquet of wild lilacs. And just as I was thinking how fun this was and just how much I loved the craziness of Macedonia, the sun rose and I was told it was tradition to kill a lamb. Two men headed back across the rickety bridge and the women started clearing the tables. My name was called loudly to bring my camera so Jovanka and I headed back across the bridge. I hadn’t realized it, but the killing of the lamb was going to take place right there at the house of Sam’s ex-host family. I tried not to look, but as I glimpsed the two men half lead/half carry the lamb down the steps it’s tail was actually wagging like, “Gee, this is fun, what game are we playing now?” My sheep-breeder friend later corrected me telling me it was a sign of nervousness. I shoved my camera in Jovanka’s hand and turned around back across the bridge. It only took a few minutes to pack up the food and as we walked back to the house, there was blood running down the street past our feet. I had tears in my eyes walking home as I contemplated the highs and the lows of the morning. After a 2 hour nap and receiving visitors at Nada’s house, she got a call that we were expected at Lile & Mone’s house that evening for the continuing St. George Celebration….guess what was on the menu! I was
challenged about a dozen times on my effort to become a vegetarian, and truth be told, I have no philosophical problem with what they did, I’m just not willing to do it myself. And I have problems with the big agribusiness enterprises in America and the poor treatment of animals in that system…at least this one had a reasonably normal and comfortable life right up until they cut it’s throat. Part of Sam’s host family challenging me allowed me to ask some questions. The lamb was ~3 months old, 24 Kilograms and yielded about 12 Kilograms of meat….all on the table that night. I was shocked as the animal looked much bigger and I was thinking they’d have it in the freezer all summer, but truth be told, my family has cooked 24 pound turkeys for Thanksgiving. Guess it really impacted me about how many animals it takes to feed the planet.