The Market from Hell

8th June 2001 at 01:00
By Bryony Nicholls, 11, St Michael's school, Otford, Sevenoaks, Kent

When my family and I lived in Kazakhstan a few years ago, there was a market place. And in that market place, there was a meat market - a market from Hell.

We always had to pass through the meat market in order to get to the fruit and vegetables - an experience as shocking as being in the trenches in World War 1: the smells of rotting flesh and decaying cabbages, the noise of metal bins clanging and of many strange voices that I could not understand, the dirtiness, and worst of all the coldness, especially in the winter, when temperatures in Kazakhstan fell to - 20xC - the market was huge and never heated.

Every single bit of meat of the animals was sold at the meat market - whether edible or not. The most interesting parts were the hearts: round blobs of redness with lots of little blue and green veins running through them, the lungs, the tongues - oval-ended slabs of bumpy, pink meat - the brains, and yes, the eyeballs, staring blackly at you with no expression. Eyeballs are a delicacy amongst the Kazakhs. The most shocking parts, which were also delicacies, were the cattle testicles and horse penises! These were very fatty and with little meat - though I didn't eat any! These embarrassing parts were always hung out boldly and without any shame for all people to see, buy and enjoy later around the dining room table, along with lots of vodka, mixed with Coca-Cola.

Sometimes the slaughtered meat was fresh - so fresh that it moved every now and again, especially the decapitated chickens.

You could never tell if the meat was safe to eat because it wasn't refrigerated and flies squirmed all over it. The sellers' alcohol breath made me gag like the smell of a petrol pump and their cheap cigarettes left permanent stains, like spreading viruses, on their teeth and finger nails. Half-finished cigarettes were always stored behind their ears.

The meat was hung up by long pieces of dirty and blood-stained string - or else they were put in see-through and plastic cases. Inside the cases there were chunks of meat - bone and all, and bowls of eyeballs and hooves. They looked a if they were plastic bones yet they still had mud on them.

To make the meat look nicer and cleaner the vendors put fake pieces of green, plastic "grass" between the meat.

Many Kazakhstan people were so poor that they couldn't afford meat as protein in their diets; they just passed this crazy market on the way to the markets for bread, bottled water (tap water was not safe) and, occasionally, cheese.

I used to hate the meat market from hell. It used to give me nightmares, and in those nightmares I could hear a "moo" or a "baa" and then see fresh meat hanging in the market. In some dreams, I was actually in the slaughterhouse and the walls were raspberry-red, only much, much darker. Big, huge hatchets and shining chopping knives would gleam out at me all around. I'd always wake up feeling confused, sweaty and dehydrated.

But now, thank goodness, I'm no longer scared of the meat market from Hell.

I left Kazakhstan, along with my family, two years ago. The memories of this awful place have begun to fade. At last Mum and I can waltz to music along Sainsbury's aisles: air-conditioned, clean, warm and odourless, and pluck a piece of steak from the shelves - nicely wrapped and safe to eat.

The market from Heaven!

Bryony lived in Kazakhstan for three years. "We often went to the market and had to hold our noses as we went past. But it was also fun living there. The culture is fabulous, especially the yurts and beautiful clothes. We went to the Steppes and there were tortoises everywhere.We took eight of them back to the capital with us." Bryony writes "all the time" and loves reading. She especially enjoyed the strangeness of David Almond's Skellig. She also plays the piano, cycles, swims and does lots of drama.

Peter Nixon, Bryony's teacher, is a fan of Write Away and has used the booklets every year. "It's one of the key things I do; by teaching them to express emotion, prepare, draft and redraft, you are teaching everything they need for essay-writing in every other subject. We have a lot of authors in school and this chimes in well with what we do. I especially like the opportunity to use other children's writing."

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