Nate | Dylan
| Alex | Nico | Abigail
| Benjamin | Izzy
L. | Pao | Mariah
Nhia Cha and Mayhoua Yang opened the butcher
shop because there are still Hmong refugees coming to America,
and most of them are very poor. Nhia and Mayhoua have been
down that path before, and they didn’t want other refugees
to suffer the way they did. So they have very low prices—like
a hundred pounds of meat for only ten dollars...
Mayhoua is the secretary at the Butcher Shop. Being the secretary
isn’t an easy job. You have to sign in the people, take
them outside to look for the animal they want, give them a
coupon (receipt?) for the animal they want, go out and watch
the animal get killed and degutted, then give the animal to
the [customer]—all for only a very small amount of money...
A Shaman comes to tell the animal it will be killed and...sent
with a person who died...to guide him to his or her new life.
You can get the blood with the animal.
The blood is important for the Shaman to use in a ritual.
When a pig dies, it becomes the guide for the spirit of a
dead person, guiding it through all the places it has been
to, and all the things it did. The pig is a guide because
animals have a better instinct of where home is.
They ask you how you want the animal
killed, by one electrical shock, or in the traditional way.
They butcher an average of eleven animals a day, three of
those in the traditional way.
The pigs were in a cage about two feet
tall. There was a big chain that hung down above a blue bucket.
A worker attached the chain to one of the pig’s legs
and pressed a green button and the pig went up. The pig was
screeching and thrashing. After about a minute, it started
to calm down. We walked out, but I had my head turned and
she brought a knife and passed it through the pig’s
flesh into the heart. Blood poured against the bucket like
an explosion from a water balloon hitting the cement. Now
the pig was screeching as loud as a fog horn.
I was staring at a hog as long as
me, cut in half. It was hanging by its hooves from chains
in the ceiling. Its ears were flopping down, its eyes were
closed, and its tongue was lolling out. On a table nearby
there was another hog’s head. I got so grossed out,
I went to the house.... At the house, there was a qeej player
named Nhia Vou. He had recently come from Laos and was staying
with Mayhoua and her husband for a year. Mr. Vou knew one
INCREDIBLY useful word of English: “Hi.” He was
extremely good at playing the qeej. The music was
soothing. Whenever we had a question, we’d ask John,
one of Mayhoua’s thirteen children. Mayhoua and her
husband were very hospitable. Before we left, they gave us
food and juice.
When we entered the butcher shop
we were greeted by the smell of blood. Everywhere. I nearly
couldn’t stand it. We met Mayhoua Yang, who is the butcher
shop’s secretary.... She led us to the pig pen and told
us about the procedure for butchering. First, the customer
comes into the shop and checks in. Then they go to the pen
and pick the pig they want butchered. The pig is brought into
a smaller pen where it will stay until it gets butchered.
The pig is picked up by one leg and hung on a chain. Once
it is up, it is killed. After that, they flip the pig over
into hot water, and then onto a drying rack. Once it is dry,
it is hung up by its hind legs.
Mayhoua showed us two horns. One was
bigger than the other. It was a bull’s horn. She told
us that the longer the horn, the better.... Once the ivory
is worn off a bull’s horn, it is good for many purposes.
You can use it as a bugle, for decoration, to draw on, and
countless other ways. Mayhoua set the bull’s horn into
a wooden box, with some other horns dripping with blood. Next
she showed us a goat’s horn, also good for many different
purposes. It is very good for curing fever. You get a horn
without ivory, and put water in it. Then the sick person drinks
it and it keeps the fever away. If a Hmong child’s soul
is weak, they will cut off the tip of a goat’s horn
and use it as a pendant. If you want to be powerful and magical,
use a goat’s horn. Many Hmong people have it hanging
in their home. Its stench also keeps away roaches.
Mayhoua said that when you die, you will
be reborn. If you have a big, big goat horn, when you die
you will be reborn and be rich and strong. If you wear a goat
horn, you’ll be very safe. Spirits cannot come and get
The butcher shop was terrifying....
I felt like screaming, because there were bloody heads everywhere,
and bulging trays of guts, and blood, and organs. There were
skinned carcasses hanging from the ceiling, and big unwelcoming
rusty hooks hanging from the ceiling over a boiling hot tub
for kids to see. After I heard the pigs squeal their death
cry, I had Ms. Schmidt take me out of the room and into the
house, where I watched a man who was a shaman play the qeej.
He did not know any English, and he was more older than younger,
and had a warm smile. I remember that...
The first stop we made was the butcher
shop, a shocking, powerful place where animals are killed
for meat. Some people hate blood, guts, and dead animals—but
others (mostly boys and men) don’t mind that kind of
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