I drank yak blood. Really. Yesterday, after eight years of not eating red meat. The flavor had a quality surprisingly similar to raw milk, a bit salty and, of course, metallic. It was still warm. I won’t go into details about the chewy bit that I couldn’t finish.
I stood at the top of a stone wall with two other Americans and a small crowd of children to watch the slaughter of three yaks from above. The kids, none older than eight or nine, passed around fruit candies, shouted at us in shrill voices (the general belief being that if they spoke louder we would understand) and clambered onto rooftops and ledges to acquire prime seats for the show. A woman sat behind us scraping creamy cheese off a flat stone, occasionally whacking me with a stick for blocking her sun.
I had decided that watching this event, commonplace to life in Mustang but wholly absent from my prior experience, was something I should do. The longer I sat above the courtyard, watching the men turn bodies into carcasses, their hands turning from brown to deep red, the more comfortable I became. Maybe desensitized is a better word. I have long rejected the part of my own nature that is programmed to hunt, kill and eat meat. Now, as before, I have no desire to order a steak, but I found it valuable to acknowledge that side of myself, and humanity at large, in such a manner.
When Tenzin, the owner of the Red House Lodge, beckoned to me, I made my way down the stairs on autopilot, having already committed myself several nights ago to trying yak blood. “It will make you strong,” he had insisted, just as raksi(local alcohol), buckwheat, and nearly every other local product are said to do. “You will try it, I think so.” And in the bravado of a moment I agreed. I wasn’t about to back out later, and besides, what better way to go back to eating meat?
I passed through the doorway into the arena. Tenzin’s mother and another woman were already at work in the corner turning intestines and other innards into sausages. Someone handed me a mug with rivulets of brilliant red liquid running down the sides. I drank, but could not finish. On my way down to the river to wash out the remainder, I slipped on the muddy steps and almost fell. The men in the courtyard laughed and joked that I was drunk from the blood. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline or the shot of nutrients, but I did feel jittery for quite some time after.
That night before dinner, over cups of raksi, Tenzin and his friend lamented that they had not taken any pictures (sorry to disappoint) of me with blood smeared on my nose and teased me about falling down. I felt I had proved my mettle to them and joined some secret boys’ club, at least temporarily. There is nothing savage or bizarre about the process I witnessed. Animals are butchered every day, everywhere; that is a part of life. There is nothing disgusting or barbaric about the tradition I took part in; it made sense in its place, surrounded by others doing the same thing, with gusto. Still, having proved myself to both the locals and to myself, it is unlikely I will choose to repeat the experience. I am, however, glad that I did it.