I was wandering the fetid streets of Addis Ababa in search of a market where they sold sliced camel hearts. How does one come to be in Ethiopia to eat a camel? On a May night, after running out of gas at the last Azerbaijani check point between nowhere and somewhere, I lost a bet to an Armenian Bishop with an incredibly thick accent. Sure, I said, “If I lose this hand, I’ll visit the mythical country of Itopia in which you claim to be bishop”. One straight flush and a plate of crow later, I was committed to visit E-thopia. Man, why didn’t I see that coming? Rule number #402: poker playing, with Armenian Bishops, should best be left to the professionals. Who are the professionals? Russians, Armenians, Georgians, and the Chechens who sell faux alligator skin purses to the women after the Divine Liturgy on Sunday afternoons. Not me.
To the curious, disgusted, and demure; the Ethiopian camel owed me nothing. In a land known for drought, hunger, and vast deserts, I had been told, “you know, we eat camels.” Do you? Do I? Would I? When faced with the once beating aorta of the ancient beast for the caravan crossing past? I did not know. Unwilling to say yes, my fastidious guide dissected the anatomy of my melancholy.
“You do not believe the heart of the camel possesses the same flavor as the meat of a cow?” he asked.
“No, I don’t,” I said. “I’m opposed to exclusivist claims about food, life, God, and the taste of camels.”
“Yet, Mr. Man, the difference lies not in the eating but in the tasting,” he replied.
Seeing lies not in the looking but in the observation; listening is solely not about hearing.
“There is a difference between knowing your camel and believing you once rode this particular camel,” he added. I didn’t see this pattern stopping anywhere soon.
One may be persuaded to eat by reason, logic, smell, or hunger. Eventually, I chose to eat a slice of a camel’s heart because of the hot sauce in which it was dipped. I believe in many things. I believe that bullfighting is a maligned sport but inherently cruel. I believe when we fish God is always in the act of catching us, if only for a moment. I believe if the Ethiopian Awaze hot sauce is right, I can eat anything placed on the canvas placed before me. The triumph is found not in what you think you’re eating. Redemption comes in the unseen flavors covering the jagged edges of life. Meanwhile, if you’re reading this, call a doctor, a car, and a translator. I think I’m going to be sick.