We see goats so often in Uganda, but not like this

There’s the skin of a goat on the back of a passing bicycle. The skin is piled onto the rack and the hair shines in the sun, looking slightly wet. A man is steering the bicycle while walking beside it. He’s navigating the sidewalk, if you can call it that.

The way separates shops from a gutter deep enough to require ramshackle boardwalks to cross it, and isn’t wide enough to ride. If one tries, they are likely to wobble slowly before gently colliding with a child, a homeless turkey, a stand selling gum and sweets, or a kettle of tea on a coal fire. So the man walks the bicycle, smiling as he passes.

The goat’s meat is unlikely to ever leave the town. In fact, it may not even leave this street. The phone credit kiosk, our vantage point, is bounded on both sides by butcheries already open for morning business.  They supply restaurants and street grillers in the neighbourhood with goat and beef meat. One of the turkeys is hiding in the shade of an alcove, closing its eyes when it feels unthreatened. Soon after it’s grabbed from its hiding place and slung over the shoulders of a boy, one of the butchers is busy chopping the head off of a plucked turkey corpse. The turkey’s feathers may end up in a burning garbage heap, but the goat’s skin is different. It’s still valuable to its owner.

He’s selling it. We are told the skin will eventually be used to make a goat skin drum, or shoes.

Each day in Uganda there are live goats and charred goat meat, but this is our first glimpse at something that feels in between. The intermediate the skin represents is striking. The hair is shining in the sun, but not on the back of a rummaging goat, tethered by a fraying rope to its patch of grass, unable to shade itself. And although daily butcheries must do away with many skins each day, until now we’ve never seen them. Perhaps carrying skins on a bicycle is an anomaly, and that the man’s morning quest has a quirky story behind it. We won’t find out, because the same spontaneity that allowed us to spot him flows on, carrying us in different directions. Without constant attention, we miss the transaction. The man walks back down the way with an empty bicycle rack.

 

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