Ecuador Blog Day 8: Eating a guinea pig

By: Caitlin Salvino
Today started off as a regular day, we arrived at the build site for a full work day. I was excited because I wanted to get as much work done on the school as possible before we have to leave.

Mixing the cement.

By: CAITLIN SALVINO

Friday, July 12, 2013

The oxygen masks we wore.

The oxygen masks we wore.

Today started off as a regular day, we arrived at the build site for a full work day.  I was excited because I wanted to get as much work done on the school as possible before we have to leave.  I decided to volunteer for the job of cementing.  Cementing is a very tough but rewarding job.  It requires a minimum of six people wearing oxygen masks (to protect us from the fumes).  First we have to transport eight wheelbarrows of little rocks to the build site and eight more wheel barrows of medium rocks to the build site.  We pile them up and then form it into a bowl shape putting the cement mix in the middle.  We continuously add water while mixing it and begin to fill up wheelbarrows with wet cement.  As each wheelbarrow is filled up we carry it to the dug out foundation and pour it in (with the help of the maestro).  Cementing is very rewarding because we get to physically build the school with each wheelbarrow of cement we pour into the foundation.

Carrying the wheelbarrows.

Carrying the wheelbarrows.

Mixing the cement.

Mixing the cement.

One thing that really touched me was at lunch as I was walking through the school yard to get to the bus, the two girls I had bonded with – Angelika and Sylvia – ran right up to me and said: “Hola Catalina.” That meant a lot to me because I couldn’t believe they remembered my name out of all the volunteers and other people they met.  It showed that I had made a special connection with them, something that I (and they) hopefully never forget.

Later that afternoon back at the compound, our facilitator Lydia talked to our group and began explaining the Ecuadorian culture regarding guinea pigs.  In Ecuador guinea pigs are considered a delicacy for special occasions because they have very little fat on their bodies.  We were told that tonight our cooks would be preparing three guinea pigs for us to eat – if we would like.  We were also given the option to watch them prepare the guinea pig for us.  Despite being vegetarian this was something I really wanted to witness so I joined the group to go watch them prepare the guinea pig.

Keeping cultural sensitivity in mind, I watched the process with utmost respect and avoided cringing or closing my eyes, which could be seen as offensive to our cooks.  The process began with the cook taking the live guinea pig out of the bag and snapping its neck.  The guinea pig twitched for a few seconds and then went still.  The cook then popped out the guinea pigs eye with her thumb and let all of the blood seep out into the drain.  She began the next step by placing the guinea pig into a pot of boiling water that allowed her to remove the fur.  By this point I began feeling very light headed so I backed out of the room and sat outside for a few seconds to catch some air.  After a minute or two I felt much calmer so I went back into the kitchen as they were beginning the next step, taking out the guinea pig’s front teeth with the end of a knife.  Once this was done they began the last step, cutting the guinea pig’s stomach and gutting it.  Once again, around this point I felt dizzy so I backed out of the room and went back to our compound needing to sit down.

I found the experience very upsetting because it was the first time I had seen something die in front of me.    Despite being upset I’m glad I decided to watch this process. It made me a lot more conscious of the divide we have at home between the animals and where they come from versus what we see on our plates.

The piece of guinea pig I ate.

The piece of guinea pig I ate.

That night for dinner I also made the decision to eat some of the guinea pig because I knew it was an experience that I would never have the chance to do ever again.  Surprisingly, it tasted very much like chicken. I only had a bite or two and then I went back even more proud of my vegetarian lifestyle.

Caitlin

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