Se dicen que si alguien tiene el miedo cuando se está viendo un cerdo muere, el cerdo no va a morir en paz.
They say that if someone is afraid when they are watching a pig die, the pig will not die peacefully.
This past Thursday, I watched a pig die. I watched it with fear in my heart and pain in my eyes and sure enough, that pig did not go peacefully. Call me superstitious but I think it was my fault.
I didn’t necessarily want to watch it but I felt like I should. The lifestyle here in the campo of southern Costa Rica is so heavily based on agriculture–coffee, livestock, sugar cane, produce–and killing animals for comida is something that happens every day. Everyone is accustomed to it, and it’s just the way we live here (cause I guess I’m part of the group now too). Last week, we had a community raffle and the prize was a live pig.
So, in the spirit of integration and embracing my Peace Corps service to the fullest, I try to say yes to everything. Yes to new experiences, yes to new people, yes to new foods. ¿Por qué no? I want to see it all. The good, the bad, and the gory…or so I thought.
After saying yes to watching (and hearing) the traumatic death of a chanco, it got me thinking about a lot of things. So many things. Especially the differences between the culture that I was raised in and the culture that I am living in now.
Was that emotionally difficult for them? Cause it was for me…
Is this better than what I’ve seen in the United States where people don’t really see or connect to where their meat comes from?
Why don’t they have emotional attachments to animals?
Why do we have emotional attachments to animals?
Why am I crying right now?
I had a lot of questions. I’ll keep the ones about the blood to myself.
I’ve always been an animal lover. When I was younger I grew up on a farm surrounded by dogs, horses, bees (they have feelings too right?), and peacocks and in high school, my family went through a series of unfortunate small pets including rats, fish, snakes, bunnies, and a hedgehog named Arlo. In my life, animals were always pets, always loved, and always served up with a heavy side of emotional attachment (extra gravy please).
Cue in: farm pictures from my youth
When I got to my rural site in Fila Naranjo I found myself living in a culture that interacted with animals in, well, a different way than I was used to. Chickens and pigs are raised to be eaten and cows are exported to meat factories or kept in the ole’ pasture for milk and dairy products. Dogs are for home security and aren’t trained, walked, or touched and are definitely not allowed in the house. Last week my 10-year-old neighbor’s bunny was eaten and she didn’t even care. She never gave it a name and not a single tear was shed. The emotional attachment with animals just doesn’t really exist here.
When I signed up for Peace Corps I knew moments like this would come. Moments when the culture that I was raised in would face the culture that I was living in and questions would arise. Our thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions of the world are so shaped by the cultures that we live in so to experience an entirely new way of life in an entirely new place can challenge and pull at the roots our inner beings that we’ve created throughout our existence. For me, it’s been invigorating (and definitely confusing at times) but as I’m embracing this new process, I’m also learning to trust, appreciate, and live alongside a new perspective and lifestyle without judgement or discrimination.
And while I will definitely say no gracias to the next pig slaughter, I wonder if it’s times like this, when we’re feeling our most vulnerable and sensitive, and our minds are opened and exposed to something new, that we grow and learn from the experiences around us.