I knew it would happen eventually. The number of times Timorese people have asked me if I’ve ever eaten dog, I knew the day would come when I’d actually be offered the meat.
And so it happened in Ermera. I’d travelled out to the district at night and been told that food had been prepared for dinner. We’d been there for about an hour before the call to eat was made.
I walked into a large room and saw people were saying grace stood around a table, on top of which was a pot of rice and a huge bucket containing what was once a dog.
I’m not keen on point blank refusing offers of hospitality from Timorese people. It sounds ridiculous, but I enjoy engaging with Timorese people in the things they do.
As I said, I was confronted with a bucket of dog. It didn’t look particularly appetising, what with one of the dog’s enormous paws on top for all to see. Again, my instinct was telling me to not eat that night, but being in a country where so many people go hungry, being offered food, especially dog, is a big deal.
I say “especially dog” because, I’ve been told, eating dog is believed to give a person strength. It’s a special meat.
I quickly tried to rationalise eating dog. People eat other kinds of meat, so why not dog? The only reason I could think eating dog has such a stigma is because we’ve grown attached to dogs and find it difficult to bring ourselves to kill them.
But then, we eat rabbits, which are also kept as pets. Could it be the higher level of intelligence dogs exhibit that has forged this kind of spiritual link between man and canine?
It could be simply that dog meat, as I soon discovered, isn’t particularly tasty. I loaded my plate up with rice and stared deep into the bucket of dog. I took the spoon and picked out the smallest, least bony piece of meat I could find.
With 20 pairs of eyes on me, I took a deep breath and before I knew it, I was chewing and chewing and chewing, rather like trying to eat a rubber band. I gagged a little, gave up on chewing, swallowed and gagged a little more.
It was unpleasant, but it was over. The people around me seemed satisfied that I’d at least made some effort, although they were concerned as to why I didn’t want any more meat.
I don’t know if it was the meat itself or just the idea of eating a dog that made me feel so uncomfortable. It may have been the large amount of bones and bits in the bucket, including the paws.
I expect that writing this will polarise my readership as I’m sure many of you will be outraged at the idea of person eating dog. I don’t have a problem with people in Timor-Leste eating dog. I didn’t enjoy it myself, no doubt because I came into it with two decades of home-grown hang-ups. Either way, it’s an interesting contrast between the East and the West.
All this aside, I’ve been told that the way dogs are killed in Timor-Leste is barbaric. I don’t know if this is true so I won’t describe it here, but it was only after my trip to Ermera that I found this out. This is similar to way what I've read about how dogs are killed in South Korea.
If you live in Timor-Leste and you mix with Timorese people, no doubt you’ll find yourself in a similar situation at some point.