‘No Sarah, only boys. Yes? Only boys.’ It was late in the evening, and together with Max and my brother in law I found myself at the kitchen table of a local family in a tiny village in the heart of the Bulgarian countryside. We were sitting on their beds, at the dinner table in front of the kitchen stove. Which were all in the same small room. There was just enough space for the three of us next to the elderly couple that owned the house, their two visiting sons and one granddaughter, who shared her name with her grandmother.
Homemade rakia was flowing like a happily rippling creek: in small amounts at a time, but steady. Our spirits were consequently high. Which was just as well, as the language barrier proved too high to climb most of the time. I had learned how to say good morning, good afternoon, good evening and good night in Bulgarian before I left, but I now realized I could only use one of them during any given conversation, and only once as well.
I knew yes and no too, which were a bit more useful, but not much as I had no clue what I was saying them to. So I gave a very enthusiastic thank you when thin slices of homemade sausage were passed around. And when my glass of rakia was filled again, giving the idea that I was extremely eager for more, and more, and more of it.
So yes, the high spirits were much welcomed. Whenever the older lady set off on a very rapid succession of lengthy Bulgarian sentences, after which she looked at us enquiringly while we stared back confused and open mouthed, she’d laugh wholeheartedly, and we joined in. No awkwardness. And more rakia would be poured.
So imagine my surprise when amidst all this comradery I was excluded from the invitation to come back the following morning. After a while, however, we deduced that a pig would be slaughtered the next day, and I comforted myself with the thought that apparently slaughtering animals was conceived to be men’s work around these parts.
This was not the case though, as one of my mother in laws (I have two, in case you wondered, two full sets of bonus parents) stated that she’d been invited to a slaughtering previously. Not one to miss out on things like these, the next day I instructed Max to go and ask if I really wasn’t welcome. He came back ten minutes later. Of course I could come.
And so there we sat again, the three of us with this local family. Outside this time, in the early morning sun. Waiting for what was about to happen. Yesterday’s sausage was passed round again, and slices of bread were brought to the table. We were getting a bit anxious, as we were supposed to travel onward in two hours. By the time steaming bowls of goat milk were placed in front of us, we realized that probably no pig would be killed that day.
We’d been invited over for breakfast. Pigs had definitely been mentioned the night before, there’s no mistaken the squealing and grunting noises that were made to demonstrate the point. But how had we turned it into a story of killing? It was a mystery.
Two hours and some minutes later however, with all out bags packed into the car, the house safely locked and us once more we returned to say our final goodbyes, the mystery was solved. Though not being slaughtered, the pig was indeed to have a procedure that day. It was to be sterilized, and the doctor to do it had been running late.
Hard work and slaughter, those were all fine. But the killing of masculinity? Now that apparently was not something for a women to see.
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