Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Life as I Knew It
Bush fires were an interesting occurrence. They happened every year at the end of the dry season. Well, they didn’t just happen – they were purposefully set. Back in the years of my childhood, the Nigerians had a tradition of setting their fields (or the bush as it was called) on fire every year at the end of the dry season. This served many purposes. The bush had become so dry; it was a fire hazard anyway so this practice burned away the hazard in a controlled manor. It also cleared the brush for a new growing season, when the rains began. But it had another benefit too, it caused the little field animals; rodents, snakes, and such, to run out of the brush to avoid getting burned. The Nigerians stood at the edges of the fields with hatchets and knives waiting expectantly to kill these animals which they would then consume as food. This was especially nice at the end of the dry season since food had become scarce by that point in time.
The bush fires were always an adventure to me and the other missionary children. The smell of the fires filled the air and little flecks of ashes dropped down upon us as they were carried by the wind. This was fun. We tried to catch the dropping flecks of gray and black which usually disintegrated in our hands. These flecks which filled the air were not an annoyance, at least to us children. To us it was an adventure.
Some of the boys got in on the animal hunt. They would stand near their Nigerian friends with a knife or cutlass in their hands too… or if nothing else, a “rat stick” which had been made out of wood. A friend of mine recently reminded me of these sticks. They were about waist high and increased in diameter from top to bottom. At the bottom, the fat end curved slightly making it a club, somewhat like a golf club. The design was simple but it enabled the user to swing it fast and hit the animal in the head. The boys would go to great heights and dares in order to find the perfect stick for making a “rat stick”. They loved the hunt, but I was never that brave. I enjoyed the excitement from a distance, standing just far enough to feel safe.
After the hunt, the bounty was taken home to hungry families. But sometimes, the Nigerians made small campfires in the back yards of some of the missionary boys who had helped with the hunt and cooked a few of the animals. When this happened, we could try meat that we had never tried. Again, I usually didn’t like these new delicacies, and often didn’t even try them…but there was one food worth hanging around for – roasted corn! Nothing matches it in the USA! We may have roasted corn here but it is just not the same as when it has been cooked over an African camp fire alongside of rats, snakes, and who knows what else! Seriously, the taste of corn that has been pulled directly out of a fire, with the husks still on is amazing! When the charred husks are pulled back, the corn which was sometimes a little charred too has a flavor like none other! …I learned early, there were some nice things about hanging out with boys.
“Sing a song of seasons, something bright in all; flowers in the summer, fires in the fall.”
- a poem by Robert Lewis Stevenson, but in my case it was flowers in the rainy season, fires in the dry.