Sweet Spot – Day 33

Posted on April 8, 2012

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I’ve finally sussed where the best spot in camp is to get a signal for the internet. I’m at a slight disadvantage to the other students because my laptop battery has died and I need to be plugged into the mains. However with the help of an extension lead if I pull the wire as far outside of “my office” as possible and balance a chair a little to the left of the threshold straddling the join between that and the concrete veranda, it works. I do have to sit crossed legged and facing north-east. Any sudden movements and the connection is lost. The trouble is the wet season has officially arrived, which means I’m housebound during most afternoons.

This morning I awoke puzzled. Why had the Hornbills not woken me up as usual before 6am? Their call is so distinctive it’s the best natural alarm you could wish for, if not a tad loud. Today it was eerily silent. I opened the door to be greeted by one of the other non-African students, Claud (pronounced cloud) who announced: “The white ants have arrived.”

“What white ants? What on earth are they?”

“They come when it rains and the birds and monkeys eat them.”

I peered around the corner and saw the local wildlife picking through the grass having a feast. The Hornbills stood motionless on the ground beaks wide open. No wonder they weren’t squawking they had their mouths full. The blue monkeys and baboons were too busy stuffing their faces to realise how close in proximity they were to us. It was quite a picture. The ants themselves are the size of a maggot, and a light brown but their delicate wings are large for their bodies and white – hence their name. But it’s not just the animals that eat them. Ugandans fry them up and eat them as a delicacy.

Hornbills feeding on White Ants at Budongo camp

Hornbills feeding on White Ants at Budongo camp

 

When Moses arrived at camp he picked one off the ground and placed it in his palm.

“Would you eat this?”

“Hmmmm not sure, “ I said wrinkling up my nose and wincing. “I think I’d have to cook it in a lot of garlic first and ignore the fact that I’m chewing an insect.”

“He laughed. They are very sweet. They could taste better than snails.”

I rolled my eyes. During one of our walks back to camp we had talked about difference delicacies in various countries among the plethora of unusual dishes, I had mentioned snails and frogs’ legs. I’ve tried both and although I don’t dine out on L’escargot every day, I remember being pleasantly surprised how tasty they were when I first tried them.

In Uganda white ants and grasshoppers are seen as a treat by people.  Insects for supper?…….I’m not so sure. I told Nancy that if Mary (the cook) had any ideas about making them this evening, to do a side-dish and not add them into the main food. She brought home a whole bag of them from the market. I picked up the see-through bad in my hand and said innocently: “What’s this? It looks like arroz negro (black rice).”

“They are my fried white ants,” remarked Nancy. “I asked Mary to buy them from the market for me.”

I almost dropped the bag.

But I did almost eat my own words yesterday. I’d just come back from the forest filthy, hot and in need of a shower. Once clean I applied a lotion to stop my skin drying up in the afternoon heat. The smell, while not overpowering was sweet, especially to the bugs in the area. It caught the attention of the biggest beetle I’ve ever seen. I was sitting in the banda with Dr Carol; Ricky; Nancy and Isaac. We were talking away when I heard a loud buzzing noise. I looked up and to my right and saw a large black shiny object the size of a fifty pence piece and double the thickness of a fat button (like the old-fashioned round ones you used to get on duffel coats). I didn’t’ flinch. I’ve gotten used to ignoring most insects, because they are harmless despite the sound they make. It did one full circuit above our heads and then the unexpected happen. It swooped down and flew straight towards my face, trying to enter my mouth. I saw black blur at the end of my nose and before I knew it I felt its wings vibrate against my lips and the prickly sensation of its legs.

I let out a muffled screamed in horror as I tried to close the opening of my mouth. Good job I wasn’t laughing at the time! Instinctively I blew out spit and air simultaneously emitting a sound like a bad trumpet player. It felt like an age, but it was just a matter of seconds. The others watched in shock.

“Oh sorry Asha,” they chimed.

“Aggghh what the f@ck was that?! It was horrible.” I said furiously wiping my mouth with the back of my hand.

“It’s only a beetle,” said Ricky chuckling.

“You know they carry ticks,” Isaac said joking but half seriously.

“Stop it!” Carole barked and flashed Isaac one of her stern looks.

“And you,” she said eyeing Ricky, “You don’t even like it when those things touch your skin, let alone try to enter your mouth.”

“Why don’t you go and wash your mouth,” Nancy said gently, “You’ll feel better.”

I got up and walked over to the water tank. I picked up a bar of soap and made a thick lather rubbing it into the skin around my mouth, rinsing carefully. I did this several time and then gargled.

When I came back Isaac said: “Aaasha you smell sur-weet. It was a kiss from Africa.”

“Well that’s one kiss I could have done without thank you,” I said crossly.

The beetle obviously had a bit of a shock too as it disappeared. I’ve now stopped wearing the lotion.

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