The bleating goat at his feet was painted with colourful powders. Despite its pleas –drowned out by the ritual chanting – it seemed resigned to its fate.
As I stood on this remote mountaintop in rural Nepal, listening to the prayers echo down the terraced valley, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly moved by an experience I could never truly hope to understand.
Here in Nepal, the worshipping of deities or ‘puja’, often include animal sacrifice as an offering to the Gods in celebration or to mark a special occasion.
Seen as releasing the animal from the circle of mortal suffering, ritual sacrifices are common, especially in rural areas, but this was my first time seeing it up close and personal.
I am a firm believer that if you eat meat, then you should know where it comes from. But as my eyes scanned the line of terrified goats and the big metal pots bubbling on makeshift fires, I cringed at the very thought.
I was in the tiny mountain village of Kagati, just outside the Kathmandu Valley, in an area that had been struck especially hard by the April 2015 earthquake.
Keen to do anything I could to help, I signed up as a volunteer with All Hands Disaster Relief, and joined the demolition team; a small group of eight or so people who were working to safely bring down damaged houses in the region.
We had set up camp in the local medical centre on the side of a hill a little way outside of town, quickly embracing squat toilets, bucket showers, and regular power cuts as part of our daily routine.
It was amazing how quickly everything became normal, from watching heavily pregnant women walk into the basic concrete building, give birth and then walk home again minutes later, to being woken up in the middle of the night to strange drumming noises, primaeval howling and distant chanting reverberating through the mountains.
Yet of all the surprises Nepal kept springing, this was a new one.
As we headed back from a long morning of physical labour, we were greeted by a special delivery: a giant wall of buckets stacked to the ceiling, all emblazoned with the Nepali flag and the UNICEF logo.
Our quiet haven was overrun with smiling women in their finest gunyo cholo.
Armed police patrolled between our tents, keeping the peace as the colorful crowds jostled against each other, babies on their hips and buckets on their minds.
A trail of men and goats slowly wound its way up to the mountaintop, where the village chief was sat in front of an Animist altar, stained by red powder, blood, and decades of use.
As the UNICEF buckets were divided up between the households, he gave thanks to the Gods for helping the community, his deft hands doing what needed to be done.
Stood there, with eagles swooping overhead, watching his well-worn blade glinting in the sunlight, I couldn’t help but feel truly humbled.
Even after several years of living in Asia, I could never have even imagined the lifesaving impact that a simple bucket could have, and the sacrifices that a community would make to give thanks, the only way they know how.
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