The afternoon of the Eagle Festival we had the chance to learn about a sport I'd heard of, but never seen. Khaled Hosseini mentions it in The Kite Runner, and later in our trip, I read its name again in And the Mountains Echoed. It's a popular sport in Central Asia (don't know your geography? Central Asia is all the 'Stans), but it sounds barbaric. It's called buzkashi.
It began with the players racing out onto the field on their horses, looping around the goals, and coming to the middle to trade handshakes or high fives in a show of sportsmanship. A referee came out (on horse, of course!) and threw a decapitated, legless goat corpse on the field. Yep, you read that right: headless, legless carcass. Told you it sounded barbaric.
The object of the game is to race over to the goat carcass and pick it up from the ground without getting off your horse, then race to the end of the field and fling it into the goal - a tower-like structure with a hollow in the top of it. Sounds simple enough, if you like defying death, but retrieving the carcass from the ground is not the most difficult part (as hard as that may be to believe). This year, the game was played between teams, whereas in years past it had been played by individuals. This means that even though you may risk your life picking up the goat, odds are highly unlikely that you will keep it long enough to put it in the goal, because a whole team of riders are going to be wrestling you for it, earning it the name of "tug-o-war with a goat carcass," which is how it's typically described to foreigners.
We were watching the teams from Sagsai Sum (a sum is, to the best of my knowledge, kind of like a county) and another sum, maybe Tsengel but don't quote me on that. The local crowd was, of course, quite into it, but I was still surprised by how quickly Engrish and I got excited about it, and started cheering for the players ("Knock him off his horse!" might have been heard from us at one point). But then, it is a sport you need to keep an eye on. You stand at the sides of the field, and there is nothing separating you from the action. Which means that you may find yourself in the path of a stampede of distracted horses and riders...and we did, several times throughout the afternoon. Engrish almost peed her pants one time!
There was also a kind of a half-time show. This was a race around the field. The woman has a yellow handkerchief attached to her shoulder, which the man has to snatch off of her. If he succeeds, she has to catch up to him and hit him with her whip. In the background, you can see the buzkashi goal.
This was the lady who served us lunch earlier in the afternoon, and there were several other women who took part in this sport. It was amazing to see them ride in their beautiful clothing. I can't stress enough how awesome the Eagle Festival was. It's going to be a hard one to top, whether I'm here for an extra year or not!