Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Barra Ghoust, Choti Ghoust
بار غروببار غروب (بڑے گوشت) چھوٹے گوشت
(big meat, little meat)
When people look back on the old days, they are still amazed to realize how much more things cost today, compared to “back then.” Peeking into the past may not solve our current dilemmas about budgets and cash flow; and it certainly won’t roll back the price tags, but then-and-now comparisons build the overall perspectives we all have about our lives and times.
During the 1960s in Pakistan, the local price of fresh meat in the market seemed to be stable from month to month, and place to place. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in the peri-urban village of Bahawalpur, the Footloose Forester was expected to take care of himself and meets all of his needs in the same manner as that of his peers in Pakistani society. That meant riding his bike to the local market and doing his grocery shopping in the same shops as his neighbors and teacher colleagues, cooking his own meals and washing his own dishes. To be sure, many Peace Corps Volunteers were less than keen on going the whole nine yards, so to speak, and opted to have a manservant or maid to do the shopping, cooking, and cleaning up. Most of his Pakistani colleagues did that, despite they themselves being poorly paid. If a college graduate and teacher earned about $100 a month, they spent about $16-20 a month for a manservant or maid. The Footloose Forester wanted to commit himself to a lifestyle of poor people, as a lifelong lesson in trying to understand what it meant to be poor. He discovered that he could not adapt to each and every aspect of being poor because there were too many crushing restrictions associated with being uneducated, perhaps unemployed, and homeless.
There was middle ground and going without the services of a manservant was one option he chose. It wasn’t the expense of paying out $16-20 a month; it was the attempt to show his colleagues that even as a college graduate himself, the Footloose Forester should not appear to be entitled to preferential treatment because of his rank, education, or job status. As Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi lived in the same house in which she grew up. That example of being a humble servant was not lost on him.
When it came to living as the locals do, in the spirit of the Peace Corps, it would be helpful to paint the scenario in better contrast. That meant riding his bike several miles to the local bazaar, looking for fruits and vegetables in open-air kiosks, and for meat in butcher stalls. Butcher shops were also open-air stalls where live four-footed animals were sometimes tethered nearby; and where chickens were either live, loud, and confined in wicker baskets; or freshly killed and on display on wooden tables. There were no refrigerators, so sanitation standards were hardly an issue. Neither did the Footloose Forester have a refrigerator at home, and none could be found in the appliance stores in Bahawalpur because there were no appliance stores in our large village of nearly 100,000 people.
local butcher shop
The point of this chronicle memoir was generally about the availability of and the costs of essentials in the local markets. Regardless of the lack of sanitation in the butcher stalls, he recalls that butchered goats, sheep, and cattle were all referred to as Barra Ghoust (big meat) and unlive chickens as Choti Ghoust (little meat). [My apologies for any confusion in attempting to translate words in the Urdu language into English by way of a transliteration hack.] In any case, the contrast between the pricing structure one finds in the United States and in the Bahawalpur of the 1960s was very curious. Barra Ghoust in all forms sold for the uniform price of approximately 15 cents a pound; and Choti Ghoust cost double, at 30 cents a pound. Poor people, when they could afford it, ate Barra Ghoust; and those better off financially ate Choti Ghoust.
On occasion, a camel would go down and it would be slaughtered for meat within an hour. The Footloose Forester witnessed that once, on a main road leading into town. In retrospect, he also recalls that in some African countries one is able to buy freshly killed wild animals from vendors on the street. When an animal dies, whatever the cause, the meat is not wasted.