Monday, August 27, 2007

When invited to a BBQ at a Muslim Tanzanian's house, it's B.Y.O.B.
... but they'll provide the mbuzi

Hunter and I went to a little get together across the path last Saturday at our next door neighbor Baba Juma's pad. I say "little"; I mean huge. I also say "get together"; I mean stay together, without sleeping, until 9 a.m. the next day. The two of us only lasted until about midnight, but for the first few hours -- before the 100 or so total guests had arrived -- we sat around the fire with all the other V.I.P.'s, grilling out while ducks, chickens, little kids and a pet dog scampered about. Just Baba Juma, a few relatives, some neighbors, the designated servant kids, and the two wageni wazungu -- both staring with wide eyes, and one with his camera ready.

In a lot of ways, it was the same as any barbecue we'd have back home. Jokes, a fire, chilling, friends, anticipation of a good meal ... there was no football on TV, but these other staples are universal from the G8 to the Developing World. I doubt much has changed in grilling behavior since the day man first discovered two sticks, meat, buddies and sitting down. As a matter of fact, for a moment I almost forgot I was in a foreign country, everything seemed so normal. Then I realized that I didn't understand 85 percent of the words people said, and that we weren't exactly grilling pre-cut Omaha steaks.

The calm before the storm.

The only booze Baba Juma and his Muslim guests brought to the cookout was this mbuzi (mm-boo-zee), Swahili for goat. I see mbuzi (the word doesn't change from singular to plural) running around the village all the time, but it was a first to spot one at our neighbor's place. A local Muslim man from Patandi had died 40 days before, during our first week in the village, and as is custom for all Tanzanians, an all night memorial service full of food, chai and prayers was in order. Since the mzee actually passed away in Baba Juma's house, he played host and bought a goat for the occasion.

Levies on the verge of collapse.

"The lesson to be learned from all this Michael Vick business is to never do anything to upset animal rights activists. They will jump all over you and never let go."

My father's most recent life tip -- practical, as always -- is what prevented me from posting Part III of this series of photos. I personally don't see any problem with perpetuating the Circle of Life, but many aren't cool with promoting the killing of defenseless goats, which is why I'm going to spare them the pain of having to see it up close.

But the rest of you can use your imagination.

Baba Juma is Muslim, but he is not a strict one. I've never seen him pray; he rarely visits the mosque; and we've most definitely shared some beers together at Africa Hotel in our day. But Five Pillars aside, he is adamant about one thing regarding his faith: that any animal he eats be slaughtered the right way, as was mandated by the Prophet. That means slitting an mbuzi's throat while it' still breathing. When Baba Juma pulled out the knife, I knew he meant business. The white Muslim prayer cap atop his head, something that many men his age wear every day, was something I hadn't seen him don in all the time we'd lived beside him.

Two guys held it down while Baba Juma dug his fingers around trying to find the jugular. The knife ran across its throat a few seconds later, and that was pretty much the end of that. It was like a post graduate, East African style biology seminar, and it put the experience of dissecting a cat in 12th grade to shame. For someone who doesn't even like to go deer hunting, it was heavy stuff. The Circle of Life can be pretty graphic.

You become familiar with the whole anatomy of a goat when you attend a barbecue like that. The way it's skinned; how to slow roast the skull to eat the brains, by shoving a stick up through its nose and planting it in the soil beside the fire; the de-hooving method they employ; even emptying out the stomach to see what it had for its last meal. I kept waiting for a reenactment of the "Dances with Wolves" buffalo eating scene to take this experience to the next level, but nothing is eaten raw. Everything, even if it's not eaten by people, is put to some use. For example, the ... ya know ... thingy ... got thrown to the ducks, who proceeded to fight over it relentlessly. Viva la Circle.

The liver, the esophagus, the feet and the many other unidentified mystery objects I put into my mouth were thrown into a concoction called "white soup." Hunter and I tried to glance each other's way when we starting to drink it, but it was too dark to make out any expressions. Our senses took in only the smell of roasted meat and the sound of slurping galore. Both of us tossed our bowls back, no questions asked. As the new kid, you've got to man up in that situation. Salty, a little chewy, and definitely a novelty.

"Mara kwanza," I told the guy next to me, when he asked me why I was inspecting my soup so carefully. "First time." That got him rolling.

But that was nothing compared to the laughter that came about 30 minutes later.

As honored guests, there was no way we were getting out of there without also having to try the pumbu. They looked and tasted eerily similar to eggs. I felt a little sick, but it was only psychological. But at least I was able to check two things off my list of Things To Do In Life last Saturday:
  • Witness a goat slaughter
  • Eat goat testicles
Hunter was able to check off a third from his own personal list:
  • Go back for seconds of pumbu
I'd say he's adapting rather well to the village life.

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