So what do they eat there? This may have been the question I got the most when I was back in the U.S. prepping for this Peace Corps thing, and I could never give an informed answer. Well good news, as part of a cross cultural exchange series, we spent this past Saturday, 09May2015, cooking traditional Namibian food in the traditional way. I mean, if one wants to learn about another culture, what better place to start than with the food, right? By 7:30am we were building wood fires, cleaning large cast iron pots, and prepping goats and chickens for slaughter. Think farm-to-table except add killing the animals and cooking the food to the experience.
Of course, the thought of killing a goat and a chicken was a little much for some of the volunteers, and I wondered if I could also step up and kill an animal that I’ve been eating my entire life. I was excited for the opportunity though. As my friends in the states can verify, I’ve been wanting to be apart of the slaughtering process for quite some time now. I just felt as someone who eats animals that I should determine if killing my meal would be an emotional event that would change my perspective on eating meat, or if it was something I was OK with. Maybe you could call it a meat eaters rite of passage.
As it turns out, I can cut a chicken’s head off with a knife, pluck it’s feathers, remove its guts, and cook it without losing any sleep at night. I guess I’ll have to look for another motivation if I were to ever switch to a vegetarian diet. I will say that knowing how much time and effort is required to kill an animal and prepare it for dinner makes me think that the original man wasn’t eating anywhere near the amount of meat we do today. As a result, I may cut back my meat consumption on the principle that factory farming has made it possible for us to eat an amount of meat that might not be healthy, or at least not necessary. I’ll end that thought there as this post isn’t about farming practices or the health benefits of any particular diet.
Let’s get back to the food. Since I will be heading to the northern part of the country, I was cooking food that I am likely to encounter while working and living in villages in the Kavango. That means we were cooking mopane worms, chicken- and I mean all ˆof the chicken, spinach, pap (porridge made from ground maize), brown nuts, and a drink called oshikundu made from pearl millet meal, malted sorghum, bran, and water. Other volunteers were also working with their trainers and host families to make foods according the local traditions of the regions they will be serving. I can’t describe exactly everything that was cooked, but I can tell you I ate a lot of organ meet from cow, chicken, and goat. I’m talking about stomach, liver, heart, lung and almost any other part of an animal you can think of. Of course I ate some of the mopane worms as well, and let’s not forget about the chicken feet. There were also some good breads and sweet treats, like crepes with cinnamon and sugar. Put simply I ate a lot of food and some of it surprised me just how good it tasted. For example, I truly enjoyed the tripe, as well as the liver and heart from either the cow or the goat- can’t remember which one, it all kind of started to blend in after a while.
The day wasn’t just about the food. We also performed traditional songs and dances from the various regions we will be serving. That was a lot of fun. How often does one get to dance around, sing in Rukwangali, and beat the crap out of a drum for the big “finale?” I’m hoping to get the video of that soon and post it here. It was very cool how supportive our local families were, how much they enjoyed watching us perform for them, and to share in their local traditions. It was also great to see how much we all have learned about our languages and how we are making steps toward integrating and becoming more than just visitors in Namibia. In summary, it was a great day experiencing Namibian culture first hand. I learned that in Namibia no part of a the animal goes to waste, and that a family here are those who eat out of the same pot.
Take a look at the photos below. Hopefully they summarize the day better than my writing. Enjoy the photos and thanks for stopping by.