A couple of weeks ago it was my birthday. According to the Chinese zodiac, I was born in the year of the goat. I’d never paid much attention to this but the last couple of years I’ve spent a bit of time in Greece and have become a little captivated by the goats which, depending on where you are, seem to outnumber people there. They caper round hilly corners, saunter along steep, winding roads, cross your path as you make your way to the beach. Their defining feature seems to be curiosity and with that comes a playful, mischievous quality I rejoice in. I love their agility and can happily stand watching their nimble moves, fascinated by how easily they navigate from one steep rocky outcrop to another. So knowing I was born in the year of the goat has taken on some kind of significance, albeit generally a fun one.
My recent birthday was my 50th; I was born in 1967. As I was thinking about the passing of time in the run up to my birthday, I recalled a farmer I had worked alongside as we harvested olives in Palestine a few weeks ago, a dignified man who works for Oxfam and has a bearing of deep kindness, tenderness and wisdom. We were talking about the military occupation of Palestine by Israel which began in 1967 following the Six Day War. This man, who is a year or two younger than me, talked about how his whole life has been lived under the Occupation. I was struck with acute sadness as I reflected again on how the good or bad fortune of where we are born can dictate a whole life’s experience.
Strangely, perhaps, this brings me back to goats. Something else I heard while I was in Palestine was about how the village where I was staying has far fewer herds of goats now than it did twenty years ago. To some degree, this may be about general, so-called progress, and natural shifts in lifestyle. But in large part, it feels as if it is equally related to the land-grab being carried out through the Occupation and which has dire widespread and enduring consequences for the Palestinian way of life. I thought about this in relation to the goats I had seen in Greece, and the ones I’d seen in Palestine. I wrote two short poems about them here.