The story of the sheep’s head

Those of you who have been on my flickr homepage and seen the photos from our Buryat Summer School experience are probably impatient to hear the story of the sheep’s head… 🙂 so here you go.

Part of our extensive “social program” during the Summer School was to visit some buddhist celebrations called “Surcharban”. One of them was quite big, involving several villages. Each village mounted a yurt that was decorated inside, and there was a contest for the most beautiful yurt. Some of them were richly decorated with carpets and had tables almost breaking under a huge quantity of food, others were simpler, showing traditional farming equipment and some simple homemade food.

As foreigners, we were the super special VIP guests there. May sound nice, and IS nice, but also very very tiring, and unusual for all of us, as we really consider ourselves as just ordinary people.

Anyway, one of our “activities” consisted in visiting the other villages yurts, which involved each time sitting down at the table (women on one side, men on the other), being offered food and, of course, vodka (which was ok not to drink, it’s mainly a sign of hospitality but a lot of vodka is acually thrown away). In one yurt there was a lot of meat on bones but also soup and bread, in a second yurt the food was very simple (cheese, bread, butter, milk vodka), but in the third yurt we had a special experience. There was no food on the table, but the traditionally dressed up “chief” asked us to sit down at the table. We then learned that we would be offered the highest present that could be offered to guests: a sheep’s head. Oh-oh….

So, who is the oldest man among the group? It was Juergen, our austrian friend. He had the honour of receiving the head and then cutting around it in the traditional way. Only the knive didn’t cut…. When the “chief” had shown him a few times how to do it but the knive still didn’t cut, he went on to the next stage: turning the head around and putting a small spoon into the region of the brain (with a througly disgusting squelching sound). We were then supposed to eat a tiny bit of it (or at least pretend to eat). Juergen pretended, Kate (sitting next to me) was very strong and tasted a bit, but before I could witness this I felt I was going to throw up right there and just went out of the yurt (which caused a bit of confusion with certain people, later I apologized about it but really I’m not used to this kind of thing…) so I didn’t see the end of it. I then went for a short walk in the woods and missed the fourth yurt where the rest of the group had to spend about 40 minutes… Finally I wasn’t so sad about it, being able to see the end of the horse race and part of the beauty contest.