Hut With a View: First Sunrise in America – Night at the Kraal Continued

Knowledge and friendds

"Knowledge" with friends

I woke this morning to my first sunrise in America. The early light seared through prism drops on wet autumn leaves and broke into a thousand fantasies. Color. Moisture. Decay. It was good to be home.

Mid October in New England – I can’t deny the joy of seeing and smelling fog. Do they even have fog in Zimbabwe? There is a morning mist in the valleys. I’ve seen that, and in the high plains there is no doubt cloud fog, but fog of the New England variety, and with the smell of sea salt? There is a weather anomaly in Southern Africa that brings moisture and cold air up from the Indian Ocean which can be devastating for people and livestock, causing temperatures to plummet 60 degrees or so (Fahrenheit), in a matter of hours – going from hot and dry summer conditions to near freezing and wet. Allan told about one such event that overnight caused the deaths of a dozen herders and thousands of cattle. No, even we don’t have swings that severe.

But, in general, of course, ours is a wet world, and there’s a dry one, and what pleasure I got to slide my hand across the bannister with beads of water jumping off my fingers, like dolphins in the front wake of a tanker.

(I just heard a dog barking and thought it was a baboon. Funny. That caught me by surprise. How similar are the two.)

But what I want to write about now are just observations about the basic ins and outs of daily life there which were largely omitted, I guess, from my previous posts, caught, as I was, in grander considerations. I will combine these, into what were for me some of the highlights. And even though I’m now back in the States, I’ll continue my writing about Africa via my Hut With a View posts – dumping as much of the sensations as I can into words, while they are still fresh.

Two Nights at the Kraal Continued – with Knowledge, Sadza, Washing Hands, and the Eviscerated Goat


(Knowledge with brother and friends)

I mentioned Knowledge in the previous post. He is the 19-year old herder who has been with the ranch for 3 years. His 24-year old brother also has been with him for the same period, so, putting it together, two brothers entered the ranch to become herders at the same time, one at 16, the other 21. It’s easy enough to want to ask, what are the social and economic realities that make this a desirable choice? Herding is popular in Zimbabwe, but paid herding is probably rare, and this job also comes with meals and tents. Those aren’t things to sneeze at. Any job that includes meat and “sadza” (a meal made from maize) is a good thing. The meat is provided, typically, I believe, in the form of biltong, dried meat strips, similar to what we would call jerky, but without the packaging and sweetness. The raw and seasoned strips are hung to dry on wires or strings. This is everywhere. Flies find these, but apparently, the sun and seasoning prevents spoilage, and in fact, it’s quite delicious and relished by both subsistence villagers and middle class city dwellers. According to wikipedia, the seasoning is typically vinegar, salt, coriander and pepper, and that jibes with my experience. I’m not sure if the herders get the meat as biltong, of if they just get freshly butcher animal and have to slice and dry the strips themselves. Biltong is chewed plain, like jerky, or thrown in a pot with hot water to make stew. The meat is beef or game, and during my time there, I also had kudu, sable, and probably at least one more type of animal. During my last day, I saw the ribs of a goat hanging to dry on the branch of a tree, with the head, innards, and skin, lying at it’s base. I wasn’t sure if these remains were going to be used in some fashion, or just discarded. It’s not like there would a place to discard them, so at the base of a tree was as good any other. I asked Knowledge about that, and he just kept saying, “It’s goat”.

Of course I wondered if it was one of the goats I’d seen just the morning before baaing in chorus with it’s kin in the mini kraal next to the cattle. Lying next to the goat remains was an ax that I assume is used to cut the teak branches which everyone uses for fire, but also could have been part of the butcher process, and then I wonder, who did the goat butchering. Did Knowledge or his brother do so? And whether he or someone else did, that whole process is certainly as common and non-eventful to them, as reaching in a cupboard to draw out a box of cereal is for us – but, instead of reaching inside a cabinet, you reach inside a stockade, and instead of pulling out a box, you pull out an animal, and instead of pouring out the cereal, you cut off the meat, and instead of turning on a stove, you build a fire, and instead of throwing away the leftovers, you leave it for ants and hyenas, and after all, there is no “trash”. That’s a Western invention.

Vegetables are the responsibility of the herders, but these are harvested, as far, as I can tell, from the gardens at the compound. Many crops are grown and a common dinner green is a type of collard-like leaf cut in thin strips and often served with grilled onions and other species. It is delicious, or as they say “kumnandi”, but I apologize for not having greater detail.

(Manually feeding a premature calf. View of herder tents)

The Washing of Hands

One of my favorite experiences was the simplest – the washing hands ritual before dinner. Come back with me now, if you will, to my final two nights at the kraal. I am sitting with Knowledge and this brother, who’s Ndebele name I was never able to even pronounce, let alone remember, and why one brother would have a traditional Ndebele name, and other an English word name like Knowledge is probably a question I’ll never have the answer to, although, also at the Center was a fellow who’s last name was January. It is so odd, then, that I’ve always imaged naming a child Netscape Garcia, in honor of the day when both Jerry Garcia died and Netscape went public, marking the end of one era and the start of another? Did you know they were the same day? (August 9, 1995).

So, back to Knowledge and his brother. The ritual is just to have the host pour hot water over your hands. The host will hold the hot water in one hand and a receiving basin in the other. You will put your hands in the middle and rub them together as the host pours the water. This is a public event meant to be witnessed by everyone else who will be eating. Although we often had individual plates and a serving utensil, in the rural areas, and certainly at the kraal tent site with Knowledge and his brother, there was none of that. Just two pots, one for the beef stew and one for the sadza and you would put your bare hands in both. I can honestly say that sharing this hand cleaning event with these two young men, who really, to me, were just boys, was probably one of my most pleasurable moments. It was just us, and the moon, and the cattle, and a few tents, and a small wood fire and some maize meal, meat stew, hot water, and a simple, timeless, and practical ritual. They were both pleased and amused, that I knew how to eat African style, by taking the sadza with the right hand and rolling it into a ball, before dipping it in the stew.

After dinner, which lasted only a few minutes, we sat around the fire and had silly fun talking and joking in the limited spoken vocabulary shared. They both smoked cigarettes which the older brother rolled from a pouch of tobacco he had. I asked to share it with him and he handed it to me. After making my meager attempts to draw, Knowledge looked at me concerned and said, “You have to inhale”. At which point which we all started laughing hysterically.

(Wife of herder with biltong handing to dry. Goat meat).

(Dawn at kraal. Full moon over camp.)

(Hamming it up. Dismantling the kraal.)


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