17 dubna, 2009

A ram

This is not a report on direct action, although a little theft is concerned, nor is it a report on one or two animals' liberation, although I wished nothing else. Instead, it is a heartfelt story of one or two animal individuals that I want to share.

On 6th of September 2007 I and my friend visited an animal agribusiness exhibition Náš chov (Our stock) in Lysá nad Labem, Czech Republic.
Curious, we first toured amongst the many stalls where different animal breeders and abusers displayed their equipments, tools, crates, feed and other subjects of domination, some displayed their stock catalogues and some offered beef tasting. We gathered armful of materials and publications "straight from the source", many of which I still haven't ceased to wonder at.

Then, armed with cameras, we moved to the animal exhibition hall. There we found tens of animals, sheep, calves, mother cows, bulls, rams, rabbits, goats, mother sows and piglets, and some stalls with sheep skins and meat, of course. This was actually my first direct contact with the very animals we fight for, as I usually just sit behind computer writing and communicating, and occasionally get off to screen movies for people or on the streets.
Here I was, for the first time, confronted with the actual beings, lives, faces, souls, or numbers for some. One beside another, cows and sheep were lying or standing in the enclosures, not too small for them to move, but just enough small for them to be considered goods. Just next to the entrance, three spotted young cows were gazing around, occasionally munching on trampled hay and one of them, lying, was chewing on the steel fencing. I squeezed past to the narrow corridor and kneeled down to her. A young, beautiful cow with a number stamp in her ears slowly comforted to my hand and let me pat and stroke her face and neck. She was so gentle, despite of her size, and so unloved. She kept on chewing the fence and few times reached to try to chew my knee. She had obviously been weaned prematurely and missed her mother so much, in spite of herself already looking mature.
I tried to nurse her little ailments the minutes I spent with her, drying her watery eyes and nose and wiping some pus from her ears, probably springing an infection from inserted plastic stamp. Then I patted my little friend goodbye and moved along to photograph the other animals. We took photos of sheep having numbers sprayed on their backs, of so called Belgian blue cattle with huge muscle tissue, of bleating goats and their babies, of mother sows and their piglets sleeping peacefully next to one another, not knowing that their families will be torn apart soon, and not seeing the numbers tattooed on their backs that we saw.
We filmed farmers dragging and pushing rams, goats and sheep along the corridors, them slipping on a slippery floor and screaming, and them then being pushed to the main exhibit. Many people sat there along the exhibit, often they were families with kids, and watched the animals being handled, exhibited, dominated and talked of as we used to talk of slaves.
We filmed demonstrative shearing of sheep, the process of which included dragging sheep along by their necks, heads or legs, kicking the frightened animals into the exhibit, strapping them motionless to a huge tall machine and then shearing the wool off them violently. A commentator's shouts and a lamb's cries were echoing in the hall. We then filmed them being dragged back to their enclosures and we filmed their naked shivering sheared bodies slowly developing deep bloody cuts.
This is what we saw, and I really felt like we were the only ones there who did. If the others saw the same abuse and heard the same cries, how could they not act? How could they keep delighted smiles on their faces, how could they go on eating the lambs' fried bodies?
I had been afraid of going inside with a camera and simply filming there, however I realized soon that no one cared. I followed the farmers pulling goats by their horns and kicking them, I filmed their faces, too – the farmers, however, did not give a damn. I felt disempowered.
With enough of evidence, we went back again to comfort our little calf friend. It was hard to say goodbye to someone you know will be shackled and butchered and murdered and eaten just months or days after. My heart bled. We left her quickly after consensus that it would be easier for us like that. I said goodbye to our little sad spotted friend, touched her for the last time (and this time I knew it really was the last time, ever) and walked away.
We were moving once again past the many animals exhibited, with our camera memory nearly full, and thinking of leaving the place. And there he was. Standing in his small fence, almost pressing his chest to it, his thin feet carrying heap of wool. With closed eyes and a peaceful, resigned face, the ram was stretching his head, resting it on the fence, to the corridor. People were walking past him and he was still there like that – motionless, just behind the fence, with his head reaching out, eyes closed, and waiting. He looked like a sleeping puppet, a hopeful angel in a war field. I put off my camera and kneeled down to him. I stretched my arms to him and he, still not moving, eyes shut, laid his head into my arms. And that was it.

I don't know how long we rested there like this. I did not move a finger, neither did he, though the weight of his head was crushing my arm. I only knew, I heard, that the people walking by stopped and gazed. There was a statue of us, I kneeling and hugging the ram, resting my head in his coat, and he standing there pressed to me laying his head in my arms. I was speechless, my friend was and so were the people around. My friend took some last photos of him and then sat next and comforted the ram on his face. He was blinking his eyes and rubbing his face against my friend's hand. We sat there for how long just scratching his head and neck. We knew he'd been waiting for us.
When I was leaving, I took a heavy leather collar off his neck and put it into my bag – thus the theft – and I still have it on my drawer case. When I was leaving, he was still there like that – resigned, trustful, blameless. Only with the difference that then, I hope, he felt... (Here I come to be short of words.) ... loved. Assured. Admired. Kissed. Like when you kiss a girl or a boy for the first time.

My friend had felt uncomfortable for paying money to the butchers to get inside the exhibition (i.e. entrance fee). I told her we would take photographs and get publications directly from the source of abuse. But what I am the most grateful for, knowing to have paid money to the abusers, is, except for being able to caress two wonderful, lonely, forgotten souls, that I have hopefully shone a little shred of apprehension to the people around. As I was hugging the ram, behind me I heard many people stop and stare at us. I even heard parents showing the ram to their kids and saying nice things to them. I do not live in a belief any of them turned vegetarian or vegan that night, nor do I believe any of the people even got the idea of not eating the animals. But I know, somewhere inside I know, that the few people around stopped to think when they saw me and him like that, and saw tears in my eyes.

I don't know how to stop the suffering. I don't know how to help them from the misery they languish in. But I know, I know that what we have to do is going on. I strive to live every second true to my heart, and when I think back of the beautiful ram, although I grieve, I know that there, at that very time, my heart was right.

Photos from the exhibition at realita.tv

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