True Adventures on 1st April

Friday night it rained. And rained. And rained. We’re nearly at the end of the rainy season, and things have been slacking off, but Friday night was like walking into a shower.

I spent the evening with the pilot’s family, Gemmeke (one of the Dutch students working at the hospital) and Marvin (German guy teaching at Macha Girls for a year), playing The Construction Game. There were tasty treats, as per usual, and the half-expected power outage didn’t last any longer than fifteen minutes. And then it started raining. It didn’t rain continually, but by golly it rained, and before too long we realized that a small army of inswa were battling their way through the mosquito net curtains so that they could fly all over the house.

(Probably at this point you can tell where this post is going. If that somewhere is a place that distresses you, you might want to stop reading right now.)

We closed the windows, but there were already a lot of inswa milling around in a confused sort of fashion. Once inswa are inside, really the only thing to do with them is catch them. (Possibly you could lure them outside again by turning off inside lights, turning on outside lights, and waiting. But that would let mosquitoes in, and usually one doesn’t feel like sitting in the dark until all the inswa have bumbled their way outside.) Luckily, inswa are slow, and, so far as I can tell, stupid, and they have large wings that are easy to grab, especially if they’ve gotten tired of flying and are crawling around on the floor. I’m told that they are capable of biting, but I’ve never been bitten by one, and I’ve caught lots. (My theory is that so many portions of the Zambian landscape, flora, and fauna are harsh, prickly, poisonous, ferocious, or some combination thereof, that there needs to be something that’s slow, loaded with nutrients, and easy to catch.)

This batch of inswa was small, bigger than some I’ve seen, but nothing like the zepplin-sized ones at the beginning of rainy season. Still, I figured, I definitely won’t get a chance again this year . . . so I filled a bowl with water so we could collect the ones we caught. (If their wings get wet, they can’t fly.) By the time we’d caught all (unless it was most) of the inswa inside, my bowl was so full that new additions needed to be poked with a finger to make sure that they actually got wet, and didn’t just land on top of the wings of their kinfolk.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this with white people,” commented Gemmeke. Clearly she hasn’t spent enough time with me.

After some excellent die rolls ensured my victory, I packed up my collection of damp insects in a Parmalat Salted Choice Butter container and walked waded home. After brief consideration, I stuck them in the fridge, because I wasn’t sure how well they would last outside it, and I didn’t want my last chance to eat inswa spoiled by spoilage.

Yesterday we didn’t have power for most of the day, so early afternoon, after I’d finished a number of other puttering tasks, I fished out my inswa and spread them out to dry on a washcloth, before heading over to measure Gemmeke’s windows (long story, not particularly interesting). ZESCO came back, and there was cake, and what with one thing and another, I stayed until bedtime.

Before brushing my teeth and climbing into bed, I checked the washcloth to see if the drowned insects were drying out, and discovered that they were — but they weren’t. Drowned, that is. Several of them were wiggling feebly, and a few had even wiggled themselves off of the washcloth and onto the floor. This was an ISSUE. They didn’t look terribly lively, but most of them still had all of their wings, and I didn’t feel like catching the lot of them again if they decided to perk up enough to start flying around. Especially since I’d probably never get the disembodied wings out of the carpet, not to mention the ones that might crawl off under things.

Having just dried them, I didn’t want to put them back in water. Some of them were stuck to the washcloth, too. So I de-winged them, a task that needed to happen presently, but which I’d hoped would occur to a greater extent naturally, just from the soaking and drying. (Possibly if I’d used a bigger bowl, they would’ve been dead the first time and fewer of them would have retained their wings. Or maybe the big ones aren’t as firmly attached to their wings.)

I have to say that of food preparation tasks I have participated in, pulling wings off of small insects that are wiggling feebly is only surpassed in unpleasantness by accidentally pulling said insects in half while attempting to de-wing them. Definitely worse than killing the chicken, which at least, after I’d killed it, was then dead, and stopped thrashing relatively quickly. The inswa remained alive, and I was suspicious that having your wings pulled off probably hurt.

But I finished the lot and stuck them back in the fridge. It seemed the kindest thing to do.

At any rate, they weren’t wiggling when I took them out this evening to fry them up.

I’ve been told that inswa taste like groundnuts, and the first few I tried (the well-done ones) did taste a great deal like fresh-roasted groundnuts. Also like fried food. After I tried a few more, I decided that no, it wasn’t exactly groundnuts: they tasted like the little crispy bits of scrambled egg along the edge of the skillet, the ones that are very thin and soaked in oil. Mostly, yes, they tasted like oil. There wasn’t much to them, really: one crunch and they were gone, though you might find yourself fishing a bit of exoskeleton out from between your teeth later. Possibly the bigger ones have a little more substance, but maybe not.

I ate several, but didn’t finish them: they were SO oily that I didn’t want very many, even though they tasted nice. But Martha et al. are Nyanja, not Tonga, and were happy to eat the rest.

I did take pictures, but not on my camera (which unfortunately seems to have gone entirely kaput). Check back later.


On the subject of eating insects, on last weekend’s excursion to Livingstone (the one that killed my camera), I had the occasion to eat mopane worms (caterpillars). I’ve seen them in the market in Choma, but was always leery of buying them, because how do you prepare caterpillars? but none of the Tongas I’ve talked to eat them.

However, Chris and I went to Zambezi Cafe our last night in Livingstone, after everyone else had left, and it served caterpillars. I was strongly tempted to order some, but was also trying not to entirely exhaust the funds Alison had brought me from Lusaka, and fifteen pin seemed like a lot to try one and decide that they were interesting, and Chris had already spent enough that he didn’t want to split an order. So I didn’t order them, but kind of regretted the decision even as I made it.

BUT, after we finished our meal and before we left, a woman came around with a plate of them that she’d ordered and wasn’t going to finish. So Chris and I each had a chance to try one. They were interesting, and, I have to say, only marginally more attractive cooked and arranged artfully on lettuce than they are in the market.

“How do caterpillars taste?” I’d asked my roommate Nobubele, back in orientation.
“Like . . . like . . . like caterpillars.”

And I have to say that she’s right. They didn’t taste quite like anything else I’ve eaten. The closest thing I can think of is kalamari, but that’s texture, not taste: the mopane worms are rubbery in a similar sort of way, only they’re a little bit more substantial/chewy. Chris said the taste would be pretty good, if not for the texture. Me, I didn’t find them objectionable, per se, but I wouldn’t have felt the need for a second one even if the texture hadn’t been weird. But I could eat them again to be polite, if necessary.

And you find yourself picking bits of leg or shell or something out of your teeth as you walk home afterwards.


Also on the topic of insects, but not on the topic of eating them, this morning’s excitement was the swarm of bees that descended on The Wooden House 3 today. I first noticed them while ironing clothes before church, when there was a collection of them buzzing angrily at the closed windows, and a swirling cloud of them next to the house/on the roof. By the time I came back from church, they’d settled down a bit, which was good, only they seemed to have settled into the hole right next to the front door, and were furthermore scattered across the floor inside.

Things did calm down enough that I was willing to make bread this afternoon, and by this evening I didn’t see them flying around anymore, but I still spent most of the day either away from the house or hiding in my room with the door shut. And I’m not sure if they’ve left, or just chill out in the evenings. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.


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