by Laura Fuller
Ron’s blue eyes were bloodshot and watering when he returned to the group. His cheeks were sunburned, his hair sun-bleached. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his white hooded sweatshirt, an act of 13-year-old toughness. He and Mary had volunteered to eat the goat’s kidneys, not because they’d wanted to, but because peers’ opinions outweigh adolescent reason. Mary now smiled proudly in a pack of incredulous girls. Ron fought to put the texture of warm, raw goat kidney behind him and move on with his life, but I could see that he was struggling to gain control of his gag reflex. Kyle offered to walk with him back to the tents, stoically, so as not to make Ron feel weak.
I watched them walk away, their shadows long in the evening grass, and turned back to the other 20-some seventh-graders, all of them perplexed as to how to receive this cross-cultural gift. They were outlined against a horizon of royal blue Tanzanian sky, high above tufts of trees and shrubs on the rocky terrain below. The high rocks on which we stood began to glow reddish in the setting sun. This, I predicted, was both the height and the conclusion of my short, ridiculous teaching career in Dubai.
The kids had all chosen to observe the ritual slaughter of this goat, not wanting to be cowardly among the courageous or rude to the Maasai guides. After sixteen hours of Serengeti driving from the nearest city, we were lucky to have the Maasai patrolling our campsite’s perimeter every fifteen minutes at night to ensure our safety. They silently taught our students to carve spears and showed us the soft cave in the bush where they held their councils.
The seventh-graders, from Dubai – who actually came from all over the planet – were upper-class, elite, and as such, polite and appreciative. They were first inquisitive: goat slaughter? And then horrified: goat slaughter.