Friday, June 8, 2007

Mbuzi on the house

*Warning to the easily grossed-out and the queasy-stomached: You may not want to read this particular blog*

One of the things that makes travelling so much fun are the meals you eat along the road. There is something to be said about a pani puri eaten fresh off the streets of Mumbai or a baguette straight out of the boulangerie in Paris. But nothing beats a goat cooked over an open bonfire in the middle of a national park in Kenya.

It was the summer of 1999 and a huge group of us (a bunch of friends and an assorted mix of equally irresponsible strangers) had gone camping in Maasai Mara - one of the most famous national parks in Kenya. As was the tradition of all of our camping trips, we stopped by the customary village-on-the-outskirts-of-the-park to pick up groceries. I am not quite sure how the discussion started, but I think it had something to do with the sight of a very healthy goat tied to a stake accompanied by a fast-talking, business-savvy Maasai goat herder convincing us that nyama choma (directly translated as roast meat) was the best meal we could eat out on the road. Heck, he would even offer us the bargain of a lifetime - we could buy the goat, and he would come along with us to the campsite and "prepare the meat" (read slaughter) for us and take the goat head off our hands. Before I knew it, standing stiffly at one end of the already crowded matatu, between the red, ripe tomatoes, golden yellow potatoes and a big bag of red onions was a tall Maasai goat herder and the by now bleary-eyed and panic-stricken bearded goat. :/

We rolled into our campsite into the late hours of the evening, and amidst the general confusion regarding offloading the matatu, how best to position the tents and where the "kitchen" area ought to be, our brave Maasai warrior headed off into the bush with our prized dinner. A short while, and a dreary "Baaaaaa" later, he emerged with a big grin on his face. "This, I take home", he said, waving a goat head that vaguely resembled something out of a low budget horror movie. "This, you keep", handing over several personality-devoid slabs of meat to us. Numerous hand shakes and a heart-felt bunch of "Asante sana"s later, he disappeared into the dark of the night, leaving us to cook our meal as we best saw fit.

There is just something very memorable about the whole experience of cooking mbuzi (kiswahili for goat), seasoned with a random mix of Indian and Kenyan spices, over an open flame, all the while with everyone simultaneously expressing their opinion on how best the goat ought to be cooked..and then proceeding on to eat the nyama choma at various stages of the cooking process because you thought it was cooked when it really wasnt...*gag*...and then finally having it cooked overdone. But still, there's something to be said about the whole memory of a meal eaten under the great big starlit African sky, with distant animal sounds mixed into the chatter of friends surrounding a dying bonfire.

It wasnt until the very last piece of goat meat was tucked away into the bellies of some very happy campers, that we realized the enormity of what we had just done - we had consumed MEAT in the middle of a NATIONAL PARK filled to the brim with WILD animals! : Who's idea had it been to bring a goat in the middle of a national park, anyway?! That too, a park reputed for possessing Africa's top predators! With visions of lions, leopards and hyenas running amok, sheer panic ensued, followed by the grim realization that we had nowhere to dispose the bones and left over meat.

A heated discussion followed, and somewhere amidst the flying accusations ("You just couldnt walk past the goat without inviting it into the matatu, could you?!") and the absurb suggestions ("What if we just keep it in the matatu overnight?", which invited an angry glare from the matatu-driver-who-would-be-sleeping-overnight-in-the-matatu), we decided that dumping the meat and bones down a pit latrine was our best option. So a team of the few, the brave, and the proud lead the excursion down to the sole pit latrine at the edge of the campsite, and hid away the last bits of dirty evidence of our prized dinner that evening. The meat and bones from the dinner may have been easily enough disposed off, but the memory of our meal would continue to haunt us progressively through that moments when we thought we heard a lion roar too close to the campsite and it really turned out to be nothing...or when someone had to pee desperately in the middle of the night and remembered that the pit latrine was currently "occupied"...or when we were convinced that the green eyes peering at us in the dark during the excursion to the bush latrine were carnivore eyes that turned out to belong to a lonely gazelle that has strayed too far from the rest of its herd.

Yup. That's memorable alright. There just isnt anything quite like meals eaten around a campfire. Especially if its a mbuzi eaten in the middle of a national park.


1. Mbuzi - goat
2. Nyama choma - roasted / grilled meat
3. Matatu - the Kiswahili word for a minibus like public transport vehicle
4. Asante sana - Kiswahili for "Thank you very much"

~vagabond~ © 2007

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