Archive for October, 2009

Kenyan Goat Feast

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  • First things first. This is not going to be a pretty blog post. As a meat eater I decided it was important for me to experience something like this at some point, to see if I could face the reality of the process of getting meat to my plate. Vegetarians and animal lovers, proceed with caution.
  • This post is dedicated to my Dad, with whom I used to watch Keith Floyd’s culinary adventures around the world. We’d always have a good chuckle at his “wing it and swig it” approach to cooking and life. I’d like to think that Dad watches me undertake my many a hare-brained adventure with a similar bemusement.
  • Finally, this goat feast was very much a team effort. Thanks to Michael Odula for helping us source the goat, Samuel Odula for showing Babs how to kill it with minimal suffering, our fellow volunteers Dan and Cyrill for first raising the idea, co-financing this whopping 1,500 Kenyan shilling (~£13) enterprise, and being amazing comrades-in-arms throughout our stint. Finally thanks to the kids — Michael Jr, Tanya, Gloria et al for being fabulous team players on the day.

So. Our fellow WWOOFer Dan walks into our living room on Rusinga Island in West Kenya one day and says “Hey I heard these WWOOFers back in July bought a whole goat and BBQed it. Are you interested in us pitching in to get one too?”

I say “YES”, probably about as fast as I said yes when Babs proposed. Just possibly a wee bit faster.

And then Babs ups the ante (as he does): “Yes, but only if we buy a live goat and I get to kill the goat myself.”

The week leading up to feast day was surprisingly unhyped. We simply agreed on a budget for a medium-sized goat and our homestay host Michael Odula spent a morning and an afternoon asking around if anyone in the neighbourhood had a goat from their flock for sale. He appointed his youngest son Samuel to help us through the kill.

D-Day. Our goat had arrives before breakfast. We went out to find it chilling out and snacking on a bush. Samuel reckons it weighs about 50kg. I get Babs to pose next to it for perspective.

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Samuel takes the goat out to a stone plateau behind the Odula house and trusses it up. Under his guidance, Babs cuts deep into the goat’s throat with Dan’s camping knife. The key thing here is to cut right through the jugular. It’s a steady hand and a sharp blade, and the goat stops moving in less than 3 minutes. There’s less of a blood spurt than we expected.

Being behind the camera provides a strange sense of detachment but it’s still a fairly intense experience watching my first food-animal kill. I wasn’t sure if I would feel nauseous (I didn’t) or feel huge pangs of guilt (I didn’t either, given the goat had lived outdoors all its life, had a quick death, and we were damn well going to eat it nose to tail.)

It could have been scarier. Had we been with a more traditional tribe, they would have cut a pouch of skin under the goat’s neck to catch the blood, then drink it as part of the ritual. I’m not ready to go that native.

A moment of solemn silence, and then Babs unties the goat in preparation for the next task…

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…Skinning it. This requires some help from Michael Jr (back) and a neighbour (front) to hold up the legs while gentle but firm slits are made down the middle of the belly and down each leg.

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Next, the shoulders are removed at the joints — surprisingly easily, says Babs.

And now to remove the belly flap. This is to be done with great care so as not to puncture the stomach and contaminate the meat with half-digested stomach contents.

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Samuel removes the guts into one neat pile.

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Samuel and Babs section the ribs and joint the legs.

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A neighbourhood dog gets a treat of spleen, lungs and kidneys. Later I remove the hooves and he comes back for those. He proceeds to follow me around for the rest of the day…hoping.

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Samuel and Babs do the initial round of cleaning out half-digested greens from the small intestines. There’s a lot of it. The smell, while not knock-you-out overpowering, is distinct and sticks in your head. Now I can always smell a goat (or their poop) that’s anywhere in a 10m radius.

And now to empty out and scrape clean(ish) the stomach….all 4 of them.

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Samuel and Babs wash and scrape fat from the goatskin, then nail it as high as they can on a nearby tree in the hope that the dogs won’t get to it overnight. Idiotically we forgot this when we left — we’ve asked Cyrill to wear it home to Frankfurt as a cape or something. Very Heart of Darkness, no?

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Mama Odula panfries the liver on her charcoal cooker. The stomach and guts need a long hard soak and scrub before they’ll be ready for cooking. Lunch consists of a stew of whatever goat meat bits that won’t be used for the nyama choma (Kenyan-style BBQ) dinner.

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After lunch I get down to marinading the legs and ribs. Am keeping it simple as Floyd would have done. Wash the meat thoroughly. Place in basin. Pour Coca Cola into basin to tenderise the meat. Swig the rest of the bottle. This cooking with Coke business amuses the kids to no end. Floyd might have used local Tusker beer instead, but there was none available at our neighbourhood trading post.

Anyway, back to it. Divide 4-6 large garlic cloves into thick slices, make deep incisions in the legs, and stuff the garlic into the slits. Rub a generous amount of Royco mchuzi mix, the ubiquitous food seasoning found in these parts… Royco is a Unilever powdered concoction of cornstarch, salt, sugar, coriander cinnamon, fennel seeds, tumeric, ginger, garlic, cumin, methee seeds, flavour enhancers — must be MSG I reckon — and permitted food colouring, whatever that is.

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I rope in Tanya to wave away the flies while the meat soaks.

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Dan and Babs dig a hole for the fire in our “front yard” and pile up twigs and branches by size. We use dried corn cobs and corn hairs for firestarters. Not that I’ve ever had one, but I absolutely cannot ever go back to gas BBQ grills after this.

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Waiting impatiently for the fire to reach optimum heat…

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And away we go! 30 minutes of grilling, turning and basting…

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And then, perfection.

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Samuel was quite keen about grilling the goat’s testicles…unfortunately due to the coarseness of the grill mesh Samuel accidentally dropped both into the flames while cooking them. He was quite despondent.

In the Odula living-cum-dining room, Babs carves up the legs, and Mama Odula brings in the matumbo: chopped up stomach, liver, braided intestines… and tongue(?) stewed for hours in cooking fat, tomatoes and onions (and Royco I’m sure, judging by the colour). I try a little for my honour’s sake, but it holds too strong a taste and smell of grass-half-digested-in-stomach-juices for me. Babs digs it though, having grown up with innards curry.

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Gloria’s had enough talk! It’s time to chow down. Strictly traditional nyama choma doesn’t use any wussy stuff like marinade, so our garlic adds a fabulously novel infusion to the meat.

The ribs — between the Royco and the slow fire — are deliciously smoky. The bits between the ribs could definitely work as a jerky snack.

Mama Odula is well impressed at how tender we’ve kept the meat. Mr Odula asks Babs if he’s ever worked in a restaurant or a hotel.

We spazz out laughing, but we’re pleased at the compliment.

More importantly, we hope we’ve done the goat justice today.


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October – Kenya

We flew to Nairobi on the 1st of October from Cairo, and stayed a couple of nights in a banda at Upper Hill Campsite in a suburb of Nairobi (ironically not Upper Hill, since they moved from there).

[banda pic to come when I can get power for my camera!]

While there, we signed up for a 4 day safari with Big Time Safaris which would take us to the Masai Mara National Reserve and Lake Nakuru National Park. The safari wasn’t cheap, but we bargained it down to $100 per day (still well over our budget!) which is not too bad since the Kenya Wildlife Service charges foreigners $60 a day to visit its top rated parks and the safari includes food, transport and accommodation.

We saw an incredible number of animals at both parks.

At the Masai Mara we saw: cheetahs, antelopes, Jackson gazelles, lions, elephants, giraffes, zebra, wildebeest, hippos, crocodiles, gnus, warthogs, eagles, hyenas, jackals, maribu storks and no doubt about 100 other species that I didn’t identify or have forgotten already.


Wildebeest Buffalo

Wabs standing either side of the Kenya-Tanzania border in the Masai Mara

Lake Nakuru was full of flamingos – it’s a soda lake which a large (2 million) population of flamingos migrates to every year. We also saw white rhinos and baboons, in addition to some species which we’d already seen at the Masai Mara.

We had our safari drop us off at Nakuru town, where we stayed a couple of days, before going to Kisumu (3rd largest town in Kenya) for two nights, then getting the bus and ferry to Rusinga Island where we started our two week volunteering stint jsut over a week ago. We’re being teaching assistants at a nursery school in the mornings and working at a permaculture demonstration project in the afternoon, which is all fun, if easy work, and we’re experiencing genuine rural developing country life – ie, no electricity or running water, which is trying our paitence somewhat! Only 5 days to go though!

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IMG 1279The main reason I wanted to visit Krakow, Poland, wasn’t food related. Rather, it was to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, on the site of the largest Nazi-run extermination camp during World War II.

Below are personal reactions to a few photos I took; by no means any kind of comprehensive write up. For more historical context, Wikipedia provides an excellent starting point.

Auschwitz-Birkenau has been a museum and memorial since 1947 — 2 years after its liberation by Soviet troops — but it was still unnerving to watch a group of visitors get herded through the entrance, under the infamous slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei”, which translates to “Work Brings Freedom”. This phrase greeted prisoners at the gates of several other concentration camps, including Dachau and Sachsenhausen in Germany, and Theresienstadt in the Czech Republic.

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Electrified fences and watchtowers surround and divide camp clusters. This photo for me captures an eerie peacefulness, which in itself is disturbing, knowing that at the time Nazi guards would have shot anyone trying to escape from this vantage point, and many who lost hope would have thrown themselves at the electric fence.

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Given the mass murders in gas chambers using cyanide-based pesticide Zyklon B, I found myself taking photos of any large structure with chimneys. These structures below, however, were the camp kitchens.

Our guide told us that the earliest victims of Zyklon B gassing suffered the most, as the Nazis were trying to figure out the minimum amount needed to get the heinous task done, thus dragging out the poisoning and dying process.

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Many of the gas chambers were destroyed by fleeing Nazis, who knew that the arrival of Soviet troops was imminent. The ruins of the gas chambers have been intentionally left in situ. A group of young Israeli soldiers — possibly as part of their national service stint(?) — were visiting the site at the same time as us.

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An old woman wearing the flag of Israel as a cape sits and talks with a few of the young Israeli soldiers. That their conversation is in Hebrew is the only thing I can make out. I don’t know what she’s saying, or whether she’s the assigned guide for the group or a survivor of the camp.

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The range of reactions among the visitors was an interesting study in its own right. Some started sobbing at key junctures of the guided tour. Some continued taking photos indoors and carrying on conversations on their mobiles, when both were prohibited.

This man below was quietly walking, then was suddenly overcome with emotion and sat down to compose himself.

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This innocuous looking concrete pond below was one of the most mind boggling and infuriating sights at the camp for me. These ponds were built at the behest of the insurer who underwrote fire coverage for the camp. It speaks to the level of absurd forethought, organisation and corporate collusion in whole affair.

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A man, his visit complete, walks towards the exit of Birkenau camp along the train tracks that brought in so many prisoners deported from various corners of Europe. It occured to me that so few individuals would have had the privilege of walking in this direction while the camp was operational.

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I show the above photos in black and white because that’s how I’ve always pictured Auschwitz (too many Hollywood movies I’m sure). I simply wasn’t prepared for how lush the place looked on the mild summer afternoon we visited.

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The immense size of the camp complex — said to be 191 hectares in total (1 soccer field being about 1 hectare in size) — is difficult to digest. The inhabitants of at least 2 towns were booted out so that the Nazis could build and carry out their operations in secrecy.

Our guide, whose grandparents lived in the area at the time, said that even from many kilometres away the smoke and ash and smell of burning flesh was hard to miss, but his grandparents said they had no concept of the scale of mass murders (more than 20,000 gassed per day). Even eyewitness reports from Polish Army Captain Witold Pilecki — who volunteered to be imprisoned to gather information about the camp and its crimes and managed to escape — were discounted by Allied Forces between 1940 and 1943 as exaggerations. Imagine the number of lives lost during that period because of inaction!

Imagine how many lives we, here and now, continue to allow to be lost, every time we hear of a mass injustice somewhere, and do nothing. This particular thought still sits like a rock in my gut.

Travel Tips

Many people visit Auschwitz – Birkenau with a tour group, but it’s very doable to get a train or public bus from Dworzec Glowny, Krakow’s main bus and train station. At the ticketing window, ask for Oswiecim (Auschwitz is the German name for the Polish town). Travel time in either direction is about 90 minutes to 2 hours, depending on traffic. A train might be more comfortable than a bus, but buses run more frequently and will drop you right at the entrance of the camp.

During busy visiting periods (designated months and hours of the day), you have to go through the camp with a guide. The guided tour takes between 3-4 hours, with a bus transit between Auschwitz and Birkenau. Then allow 1-2 hours for wandering around on your own after the guided tour.

There are regular public buses that will take you back to central Krakow. The staff at the information booth can furnish you with a schedule.

For more details, see the museum’s website.

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