In 1999, I flew to overseas to meet my in-laws for the first time. I should have known something unthinkable was about to happen when my plane was forced to circle around Yugoslavia, because the USA just happened to be dropping a few bombs at the time. A minor snafu I didn’t think too much about. My one-track mind was zoned in on the hot guy waiting for me in the airport.
I landed safely on Bulgarian soil a few months before Bill Clinton ever thought of being the first American President to make a conciliatory visit with our new allies. (Just for the record, I want it noted that I made nice with a Bulgarian long before President Clinton did.)
Once in my husband's country and company, we stumbled upon an anti-war demonstration in downtown Sofia near the University. While the Bulgarian government was an ally of the USA, the young people were mainly Yugoslavian sympathizers. The Cyrillic lettered graffiti painted over various city walls reading, “Yugoslavia is not Monica, Bill.” was a huge indicator.
Americans were rare birds in Bulgaria at the time, and with long blond hair and blue eyes, I stuck out like a sore thumb. With the fear of inciting a riot looming in the back of my mind, I kept my mouth shut for more than an hour for the first time in my life, and ghosted through the protesters, passing myself off as a Fräulein.
After a few discrete days of fun and whoopee, I entered the real war zone, my new in-laws dacha. My husband’s parents spoke no English and I spoke no Bulgarian, though, I think this turned out to be a good thing. After all, I was the bleached blond American chick, who was about to steal their only son away and bring him to America to live a life of decadence.
Once my father-in-law got over his fainting spell, ( I found out later that he suffers from anxiety) I was invited into the kitchen to eat the celebratory meal that my husband’s parents had painstakingly prepared in anticipation of my arrival.
My mother-in-law plopped a huge platter in the center of the table. On it was some sort of mysterious animal carcass. I wasn’t quite sure what it was, mind you, it was missing the legs and the head. My husband licked his lips, and translated to me in English that his father made a special trip to the local goat herder the day before and had the poor critter executed in my honor.
Tati, my husband’s father licked his fingers after he finished carving the meat, then dropped a huge grey-brown slab in the center of my plate. My stomach turned a cartwheel. In my mind, goat was equal to dog. They were both cute furry little creatures, meant to be kept as pets.
In a panic, I looked around for something else to put on my plate. I figured I could push the goat meat around and no one would notice, but all I saw was a large communal bowl of salad and a pot of goat soup, head included, boiling on the wood burning stove behind me. Being OCD about germs, the salad was definitely out. So, I was stuck with the goat.
And then came the moment of reckoning. Tati and Mamo glared at me, waiting for their new daughter-in-law, the guest of honor, to take the first bite of goat and start the feast. Beads of sweat poured off my forehead as I contemplated my next move. Now, I don’t think my husband's parents put me in this situation on purpose, after all goat was a delicacy in their minds, but I was left with only two choices. Either I could chow down on the goat, or forever insult the people who would be part of my life until death, or divorce, do us part. I chose the former.
I held my breath, picked up my fork, and took a bite. I tried to chew fast, without tasting. And, then I swallowed.
So, what does goat meat taste like, you ask? Why, chicken. I think.