Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Scorpion and the Goat

I am tempted to start this blog with the same phrase as always, “Nothing much happened this week so I do not have much to write…”, but I know that as soon as I start typing, my brain will take over and fill the pages with my rambling. So I will just say “good morning,” and let my brain do the rest.

There was a scorpion in my house last night. I had heard they were here in Kenya, and plentiful in my desert, but I had not seen any so I thought maybe I would be spared that one pest. But it was not to be. I found the little bugger coming under my front door. When I say “little” I mean he was three inches long and a shiny black. I poked him with a stick, you know, for fun, and he ran towards me. Man those suckers are fast! As punishment for startling me with his speed, I smushed him with a shoe. Now I am on full scorpion alert; I check all my shoes before putting them on, and no more walking around the house in the dark. The Peace Corps medical handbook I have says that scorpions are not deadly, just painful, and I would be fine if stung. But I do not believe them one bit, I am staying far away with things that have stingers, poison, AND claws. My house no longer is a safe zone. I have already experienced cobras in the desert, the packs of wild dogs who roam around my school, the hyenas that laugh during the night, the civet on my porch (which looks like a panda bear, but probably eats human flesh), the wasp family that lives in my choo, the rabies-full bats in my rafters, and herds of deadly camels that look at me with the evil eye like they are waiting for an opportunity to trample me with their dinner plate-sized feet. My home was the only place I could relax and not be on the lookout for danger. But that is gone now; it started with the moths, those pesky beige butterflies that crash land into my dinner. The moths brought in ants to carry away the bodies of their fallen brothers. And now the scorpion has arrived. I am not sure why. What does he want? Dead moths? Ants? Me?

Last Sunday, my school threw a party for absolutely no reason. We invited some local teachers, slaughtered two goats, and stayed out all day. We had it at my school, down in the desert under this big scraggly tree that was growing over some big boulders. It was shady and cool because of the desert breeze. I got a little sunburnt, my first since coming to Africa. I wanted to see the slaughtering of the goat but I came too late. Since there is no refrigeration here you have to kill and eat the same day. I arrived as they were cutting everything into pieces. I have never seen so many flies in all my life. I once saw the dead body of a cow three days after it had been sitting in the sun, and there were fewer flies on it than I saw on this day. When I commented on it one guy said “desert flies don’t have bacteria, there is nothing in the desert to get bacteria from”. In America, I would have gagged and then thrown the meat out. But TIA, and we just waved at the flies until we could see what we were doing. Everyone had a job, Hassan, a fellow teacher, would bring over a huge chunk of meat, like the spine, or the shoulder. Mugambi (teacher) cut it into manageable pieces with a dull knife. Manageable pieces means anywhere there is a bone, so he separated ribs, vertebrae, tibia, etc. My job was to take the manageable pieces and cut them into bite sized morsels. The large bones were put over the coals to cook. The meat was suspended over the coals by a grill made of a frame of large sticks with a open wire grid on top. The smaller pieces were put in a sufuria (cooking pot). The outside of the pot was smeared with mud to prevent it from getting black with soot, and the pot was placed on the coals. In addition to butchering, I also played waitress and served everyone drinks, poured water for handwashing, and served the food. One of the teachers said that he had a great time simply because he was served by a mzungu. The meal was very large, it had five courses. All of it was eaten Kenya style, you pick up some chunks with greasy fingers and stuff it in your mouth along with whatever side dishes are there. Its messy and delicious, and leaves you with a nice sheen of grease on your face. The appetizer was goat ribs and the chunks of slightly burned fat from the big pieces. Second course was a bowl of meat eaten family style; everyone’s hands in the bowl grabbing the juiciest bits. For the third course, they cooked some of the small meat chunks with a tomato paste, green pepper, onion, water mixture. It turned out so amazingly good, it tasted like real American barbecue! The BBQ meat was served with a pile of the plain nyama choma (grilled meat), ugali, rice, potatoes and tomato/onion salad. Fourth course was another bowl of meat with the large bones available for gnawing. I know it sounds odd, but the large bones are the best tasting; like a dog, I could chew on them all day. The fifth course was “soup” aka goat juices and goat fat in a mug. I was full after course number 2 but I ate everything and loved every bite. Now I have a double chin. I did skip the mug of goat fat, but I got a lot of flack for it. Everyone kept telling me how healthy it was for you. One man told me that you could drink a mug of it and then run a marathon without getting tired. My principal said “if you are newly married, drink this... And that’s your son!” The men thought that was hysterical. One added “drink a glass and a half and you’ll get twins!” I stayed far away from the mug of fat.
If you are wondering what happened to the rest of the goat, i.e. the head and innards, you will be pleased to know that it did not go to waste. At the end of the party, after I had left, the remaining teachers ate all the organs. My principal got the eyes, and everything else was shared out. I was asking how they decided who got what, and I got some very interesting insights. They said that in their culture there are many superstitions that determine those details. For example, a first born cannot eat the kidney. We decided that this was because there are two kidneys and could be divided among the less important children leaving the spleen, which is healthier, for the first born. Also, never eat the tongue unless you want to have a child that talks a lot. Men should never eat the bladder or they will become sterile. I am not entirely sure if it is good for anyone to eat bladder. This discussion led to an explanation of all the strange superstitions the locals have. “Don’t sweep your house at night.” “Do not go to the choo at night or you will be attacked by a demon who will spray water on you.” That one was created to keep kids safe from animals that would hurt them. Though I don’t know why they had to make up a crazy story to convince kids. There was one that said “never milk a cow from behind or you will have bad luck”; I think your bad luck will involve you getting kicked by a cow. They say “men should never carry small children on their laps because they will get the child’s fear in their heart”; the reason for this one had something to do with not being able to run from enemies. “Don’t stand with your back to the fire or you will go blind.” Actual reason: you might fall in the fire or get burned. My favorite was “if you pee in the river after circumcision, you will have extreme pain”. It was to keep the drinking water clean. It reminded me of the American myth, “if you pee in a swimming pool, it will change color and everyone will know”. There were more myths but I cannot remember them all. My teachers said that they did not believe any of these superstitions but that many, if not all, of the local people do. Very interesting stuff.

Alright, I will end there for today before I continue to ramble on. This is the last week before exams and it is crawling by. I cannot wait until end of term when I can go to the coast and relax on a beach. It is so close, I can taste it. Next week is exams, and right now I am off to class to play “Physics Jeopardy!” for review. The prize for the winner: a real American dollar bill!
Thanks for reading and have a good week!

3 comments:

Katharine Keith said...

Remember when we were in high-school in Texas and I slept in your bed, and a scorpion stung me while I was sleeping! it was sooo painful. i sprung out of bed and saw a huge red scorpion crawling up my pillow! good news was the bigger it is, the less poisonous they are. but it was painful. I also thought about soon after that incident we went to a neighbor's house at dusk and thought we saw a rattlesnake. Not sure that it was real, you threw your pen at it and it lunged at you nicking your finger. Mom was all in a panic and you were rushed to the hospital. It turned out it didn't bite you so you were fine. thought you would've learned these lessons for Africa ;)

pathos said...

I totally agree with Kate - can NOT believe you threw something at the scorpion....sheesh...And with me not there to "panic" on your behalf :)

Ryan Keith said...

Haha, actually that is the first two things i thought of. I asked someone here, and they said that they are all really painful and it doesn't matter their size, none of them are that poisonus. And when I poked it with a pen, I was thinking that is now my rountine when dealing with creatures that can kill you. Poke it with something. I touched the dead cobra with my hand, but don't worry, mom, I stayed far away from the fangs. I clearly have something wrong with me if all I want to do is annoy dangerous things. I also swam towards the sharks and barracudas in the Bahamas. If I ever see a crocodile, I'll probably try to hug it.