Monday, 20 May 2013

Flesh and Blood

This was my entry for the 2013 World Nomads travel writing scholarship contest. I made the shortlist - twenty-five people out of 1150. Would have preferred to win and get the trip to Beijing of course, but still, I'm pretty damned pleased at that. 

It's well worth reading the winning entry (he also wrote about the Maasai) and the other shortlisters. Here's my entry though, under the topic heading "Understanding a Culture Through Its Food." And yes, it's completely true - this was part of a three-week stay in Tanzania in 2006.

The blood wasn’t the problem. I was prepared for the blood.

We’d spent a day and half in the company of the Maasai. Most of the time had involved walking tremendous distances, embarrassing our poor white selves as we struggled in the heat of the dry season. That said, there had been a brief wet spell the previous weekend, for which we had been thanked. Clearly, being British, it was we who had brought the rains to Tanzania.

I’d expected blood. That the Maasai drank goat’s blood was common knowledge, and I was ready for it. Indeed, I was looking forward to it, eager to taste something well outside my comfort zone. Never again would a rare steak be seen as a mark of manliness – I would forever be able to counter it with my guzzling of goat’s blood. It would demand respect, a visceral experience of tribal life.

The evening drew in and we gathered round, as a group of warriors began preparations for the slaughter. The goat was killed by the slow but reasonably humane method of suffocation, although I wonder if this was a sop for our delicate western eyes. All the while, the tallest of the warriors sharpened his knife. There was an almost tangible sense of time bearing down on the procedure, an ancient historical rite that had been performed again and again in this very spot, for thousands of years. The effect was, admittedly, somewhat spoiled when the knife-wielding Maasai had to pause to answer his mobile phone. “No, I can’t talk, I’m slaughtering a goat…”

It was the kidney that took me aback. Usually, there would have been at least one elder present for this custom, but tonight they were all otherwise engaged, and the prized kidneys were free to go to the warriors. Being one of only two men present in the tourist group, and the only one who had expressed a desire to taste the blood, I was singled out for the honour of taking a bite from the steaming kidney. I was ready for blood; the raw, gristly kidney was something else. I’m told I went rather pale.

Nonetheless, I recovered with, I feel, commendable speed, and happily scooped the rapidly clotting blood from the goat’s carcass. It’s difficult to sup still warm blood without spilling it down ones face and front.  I’d become quite close to one of the young ladies of the group during that trip. For some reason, she wasn’t so eager to kiss me that night.

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