Warning: This was supposed to be published on Monday night. However, I overwrote, got into too much detail and procrastinated finishing it. If you’re looking to waste 15-20 minutes at work, avoid a meeting or want to be mildly entertained, continue reading…
I left Buffalo on Sunday, April 9th. Today, May 12th, I have been away from the City of Good Neighbors, the Queen City, the Nickel City, the city of chicken wings, Canadian draft beer, and a football team that builds you up, lets you down, and then leaves you with the bill even though you’ve only had one glass of the house red while she’s thrown back four chardonnays, two light beers, and an Irish coffee because it sounded like a good idea at the time, for more than a month.
I imagine it’s good for my health I won’t be able to watch Bills games for the next two seasons…yet, my other football team, yes, I mean English Premier League football, Everton still finds ways to break my heart.
The past week and a half have provided a buffet-plate full amount of culture. From the cross-cultural traditional cooking day to my impromptu decision to become a judge at the Okahandja Trade & Tourism Expo Beauty Pageant to witnessing Namibian drag racing and 1980-something BMW’s drifting until the air is thicker with tire rubber smoke than the pit stops at the Monaco Grand Prix.
I’ll attempt to break down recent events in chronological order. So that A) I can recall all details B) You can skip over what disinterests you or interests you, I’m not offended if you skim C) For those doing research, you can bypass my shit writing.
I. Is There a Sharper Knife?
Last Saturday, April 29th, was the cross-cultural traditional cooking day. Moreover, if you’re still confused on what that means, simply put, the trainees assist our Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitators and Host Families with the preparation of traditional Namibian dishes.
I should mention that Namibian dishes are very diverse as this country is very diverse in its peoples, cultures, and food. At the cross-cultural event, we had a plethora of cultures including Oshiwambo, Caprivian (Zambezi), Kavango, Coloureds and Basters. I do encourage you to look into each ethnic group, as they are each fascinating and contribute to the brilliance of Namibia.
So we all arrive around 7:30am, I get my coffee and begin helping ignite the fires that will provide the necessary heat for cooking the soon-to-be butchered goat, chicken and fish, along with the rest of the dishes. The cooking pots resemble Dutch ovens but they have a lip towards the top. I need to purchase one or two or three.
After getting the fires going, the Zambezi Bream are being de-scaled, fileted, and seasoned so they can be tenderly fried in hot skin-crisping oil. Joel, my language trainer, calls me over to let me know we have to go retrieve the goat and chickens from the Kukuri Centre. I follow and so do a few fellow trainees. We pile into the bus and head out down the main road.
The drive is short. Literally less than five minutes. As we step out, we arrive at a gate. Joel opens the gate and if I didn’t have a preconceived notion that these animals in front of me would be my dinner, sure, yeah I would have thought it looked a petting zoo…just with more chicken and goat droppings.
The goat is perched up in the corner, probably knowing it’s time to walk the Green Mile has come. The chickens take to running, knowing that a group of four or five Americans is going to take longer than need be to catch seven chickens.
Joel is in charge of the goat; nobody argued. He was raised on a farm so I highly doubt this was his first time getting a goat into the back of a gated truck bed.
Chicken chase begins. Hilarity ensures. If you want to know what it looked like, imagine if someone video recorded us from above and then set it to the tune of the Benny Hill theme.
15 minutes later, the truck bed is full of one goat and two boxes of chickens.
We arrive back at the Town Hall, unload the goat and chickens, and resume duties of preparing for the day. Roughly 20 minutes later, the call is made…those who would like to partake in the initial butchery of the chickens, come hither.
We line up like children waiting for school lunch to be doled out. One of the host mothers has a machete. She will be doing the deed, we just will be holding the head as it will stretch the neck thus making the kill clean and quick. I’m third in the batting order. First two, held by Justin and Spence, are clean kills despite Justin’s chicken balking in the beginning.
I step up to the plate, hold the head with a firm but not aggressive grip that will could hurt the already fate’s decided chicken and cue that I’m ready. She raises the machete and then comes down with a swing about as perfect as Ken Griffey, Jr. in his prime.
Except the chicken is balking, flapping its wings like it just got hit with an anti-aircraft missile and its shouting mayday. I am still holding onto the head while the machete is drawing closer to my hand as she is trying to regain grip on the wings. I pull on the head to move my hand away from the machete and next thing I know, there’s warm blood rolling over my hand and we have an airborne chicken. Quickly, I bring the chicken back down and she finishes the job. Score on my chicken killing abilities: 7/10 (I think it went fairly well considering I almost lost a finger due to improper machete handling, but I’m open for debate).
Moving forward, all chickens have been properly slaughtered and have made their way for plucking. I’ll help kill a chicken, but these hands don’t pluck. During this whole time, the goat (who shall and will not be named for the sake of humane purposes) is patiently waiting, tied to a, what I’m assuming is a bike rack. We bring out a table, close the legs and lay it flat on the ground. Joel grabs the goat by the horns, literally, and walks him over to the table. There are about five of us, four of us to hold down the male goat (I was told male goats who are neutered offer better growth for consumption purposes), and Joel is holding the knife.
We get one last look around, eye to eye, confirming we’re ready to participate and hold back any vomit that may happen to find itself searching for some fresh air. It felt like the moment in Remember the Titans when Denzel Washington aka Coach Herman Boone is pumping up his team, referencing the battle of Gettysburg, encouraging his players to come together, respect one another and achieve greatness despite differences. It gave me a tingling unlike any other.
All four of us, each holding a leg, nod in agreement and then Joel, more confident than Matthew McConaughey at a nude beach, sticks the knife into the goat’s neck. Blood begins to pour out and the goat begins to kick. We each are holding on, trying to focus on not letting go while blood empties out of this goat faster than the great Susquehanna River. Eventually, the goat succumbs.
After letting the goat lay to cool down, the skinning begins and mind you, the knife we’re working with is a Cuisinart paring knife. Not exactly the sharpest but hey, it worked, sort of. The skinning took about 15 minutes; taking off the head, courtesy of Gustaph, also a Namibian local, took about 20 minutes because, again, we’re using a paring knife that was probably sharpened the last time the Bills made the playoffs.
Goat is now hanging from the tree, headless, skinless and ready to be butchered. First things first, have to remove the organs. Heart and liver? Check. Stomach and intestines? Check. Pancreas and gall bladder? Check. We kept the liver, stomach, intestines and kidneys (after being thoroughly cleaned). Nothing goes to waste here and it’s incredible. If you think liver, kidneys, heart and intestines sound unappetizing, well you’ve never had them prepared properly. I now have a new found fascination with grilled goat heart and liver wrapped in salted stomach fat.
Now it’s time to get to the butchering of the legs, ribs, etc. I’m simply holding onto different parts of the goat so Joel can cut properly but after witnessing him go through one side cut, I ask to do the other. I am given the sharp as a Crayola crayon paring knife and start my cutting. To give preface, I’ve butchered chickens, rabbits, ducks, so once you know the anatomy of an animal, getting the different cuts is pretty routine.
Cuts of shoulder and leg are ready. Now it’s time for the back. I’m on a roll so I tell Joel, I’ll take care of it.
Took about 15 minutes to cut through the back bone with that child’s knife.
Fortunately, Joel got the machete and made some deep cuts, which expedited the entire process into about 10 minutes.
II. Are You Even Qualified for This?
A) Usually not. B. Sure. C. Yes, absolutely, I went to college for this.
This event’s answer was definitely not C, maybe B, but if I was a gambling man, I’d take A.
Have I ever judged a beauty pageant before?
Have I ever willingly wanted something gluten free?
Have I ever woken up the next morning regretting what I ate the night before?
Well the last one is debatable, but god damn, does Buffalo do late night food right.
If you’ve been reading and I’m assuming you haven’t, I’m living in Okahandja and this past weekend was the Okahandja Trade & Tourism Expo. It’s a large expo that offers Small-to-Medium sized Enterprises (SME’s) the opportunity to showcase their businesses along with local and corporate food vendors who supply the expo goers with exceptional dishes. It ran from last Thursday to Saturday night. The pageant was on Friday night.
On the Tuesday prior, our APCD gets a call from the PCV in Okahandja, who plays a large role in organizing the expo and asks if a trainee would be willing to be a judge for the Miss Okahandja Beauty Pageant…
I think I know what it feels like to Sean Spicer now. I immediately saw eyes turn my direction, fingers pointed at me and my name be yelled in delight. Not saying individuals yell Sean Spicer’s name in delight but I imagine journalists just yell his name for the hell of it to confuse the shit out of him at briefings. Anyways, it looked like I was being volunteered for the position of Judge at the Miss Okahandja Beauty Pageant.
Did I complain? No. Was I joyful? You bet. Did I know anything about beauty pageants? Only what I remember from watching Sandra Bullock kill it in Miss Congeniality.
Friday rolls around, I’m dressed to the nines. Light blue blazer, white collared shirt, navy blue pants, navy blue oxfords on my feet. I’m going to a beauty pageant, what? Do you think I’m going to walk in looking like I don’t know what I’m doing? Absolutely not.
I meet with my fellow trainees, grab some food at the vendor we stopped by on Thursday, get myself a Tafel beer and relax for a bit before the start time (8pm). All beauty pageant judges know you can’t judge on an empty stomach, you get cranky.
The pageant begins with some performances by local dancers from Okahandja and Windhoek, along with music being spun by the talented DJ Martin. I meet my fellow judges, Willem, an accountant, and who else, but Mrs Namibia Universal. Minor anxiety attack because she’s beautiful and she has probably judged more of these pageants than the years I’ve been alive so if anybody’s calling my bluff, it’s without a doubt, her.
The contestants are introduced and there are nine of them. Each girl is stunning and unique in their personality, smile, catwalk and poise. I realize I am going to have to really focus on what the criteria is for judging. I mark a few 5’s, some 4’s, couple 3’s and a handful of 2’s.
The contestants leave the stage and more music plays along with performances sprinkled in here and there. I converse with Miss Namibia Universal and Willem about topics ranging from the weather, the stage setup, the crowd and where each of us is from. Come to find out, Miss Namibia Universal is married to an American who she met in South Africa.
As the hours pass, it’s about 11:30pm and we’re picking the top 5. I have narrowed down my favorites to contestant 1, 5 and 6. Only contestant 1 makes top 5 and eventually places 3rd. I’m content with the outcome. In addition to crowing Miss Okahandja, there were also titles for Miss Photogenic and Miss Personality.
The crowd during the whole night really provided ample cheering and shouting for particular contestants when they walked upon the stage. For a few brief moments, I felt like the judges’ table was the epicenter of crowd noise as our decisions heightened or lessened the crowd volume.
I’m looking forward to being invited to judge the Miss Namibia Pageant as we’re practically best friends and I heard they are in need of qualified judge…
III. That Driver is Only 13 Years Old
The day after the pageant, I’m heading to a drag racing and spinning event at the Okahandja airstrip.
Sure, I’ll go watch some cars test their abilities on a straight away while sipping light beer in the winter sun and occasionally eat roosterbrood, broerewors and cuts of tasty meat.
Some cars were modified Hondas, a Subaru WRX here, a Nissan GT-R (somebody’s hit a mid-life crisis) and so many white Volkswagen GTI’s that I seriously thought Volkswagen was sponsoring the event.
After watching the drag racing for a bit and witnessing the Nissan GT-R and Mercedes Benz AMG C63 absolutely annihilate every car they faced, we, and I should probably clarify who went, walked over to the spinning track? Lot? I don’t know what the hell to call it. It’s practically a giant rectangle surrounded by tires stacked on one another to provide a barrier so the spinning cars don’t end up with a hood full of spectators.
As Efraim (Our Business Training Manager and APCD, Lucky (Our Rukwangali LCF), Lucky’s host brother and myself are standing on the side of the track, I ask what to expect as I’ve never been to one of these things before. I’ve been to a tractor pull before, which was awfully enlightening and entertaining but never a spinning event.
This 1980’s something BMW peels onto the lot and starts to drift around the track, fishtailing and pulling 180’s. I’m may have been concerned about the car jumping the tire barrier but that’s only because I was able to see the small-sized head behind the steering wheel.
There’s no way the person driving like this is a kid.
I lean over to Efraim and ask, “How old is the guy driving the car? He looks small.”
Efraim answers, “That is a young boy. He’s only 13 years old.”
America. Let the kids drive. This young boy drove as if he watched all of the Fast and the Furious movies before he left the womb. Thoroughly impressed, I couldn’t stop watching even though bits and pieces of tire rubber were entering my eyes at speeds undeniably unsafe for the health of your vision.
So if you’re looking for a way to spend a Saturday in Namibia, get a few friends, grab some adult sodas, head out to the nearest straight away and open paved space, and prepare to watch tires disintegrate, inhale the smoke of burnt rubber, and witness professional level drifting courtesy of young teenagers.
I’m loving this country more and more.