Saturday, January 3, 2015

Ngumbi - Carole's Post

Every morning I wake up to the "call" of the Turaco, one of the hundreds of birds that make Malawi a "birdwatcher's paradise".  In the course of our walking during the day, we frequently see vibrantly colored lizards basking in the sun or scurrying about.  We have monkeys in the nearby trees and often see young boys out with their homemade spears or monkey catchers trying to track them down.  There is no doubt that we are in exotic territory with the abundance of wildlife unfamiliar to us. However, there is one level of that "wildlife" that I have no interest in at all and yet we have to live with day in and day out and that would be INSECTS.

Just tonight we had to take our bed apart piece by piece because we knew a cockroach had eluded us by burrowing into the bedding.  We caught him and can go to bed, under the mosquito net, in peace.  
On a daily basis, we are surrounded by flies when we go out. I have learned NEVER to wear lotion or perfume because that makes me extremely popular with the black fly.  Today, knowing that I would be working with a new Primary teacher in her home, I generously applied repellent.  Sure enough, as we slowly prepared a lesson for her to give on Sunday, she had flies on her everywhere and I was spared.

To give you an example....
 These photos were taken in  the meetinghouse mid-week.

I won't even write about the mosquito because we do what we can, but it's just part of the African experience!  Nor will I write about spiders, centipedes, etc.  Another time, perhaps...

However, one of our most amazing experiences was seeing the "ngumbi" for the first time!  We were sitting in the chapel of the nice Blantyre building one evening mid December.  That day the heavens had opened and we experienced the first hard rain of the season.  It had been hot so the outside door into the foyer was open as were many windows.  As it got dark outside and it was light inside, the chapel began to fill with flying insects, with about a two inch wingspan.  I was mesmerized and could hardly believe what I was seeing. There were thousands of them!  The Malawians in the meeting didn't seem fazed at all.  After the meeting, they told us they were flying termites, also known as white ants, and how excited everyone was because they were delicious!

On the Monday before Christmas, we had a Christmas celebration for all of the missionaries in Malawi which meant we had a dinner for 52 people at the Blantyre meetinghouse. Once again, the rains came that day and as it began to get dark outside and we were starting the clean-up, the flying termites invaded our party!

 Look who is on kitchen duty!  If you look hard, you can see them flying above, especially around the lights.  You don't have to look hard to see them on the counters, the stove, the tables, the floors!  
 Also, they were in the sink, in the dishcloths - yuk!
I opened my purse and two flew out!
 George refused to open his mouth and had he not been wearing glasses, he might have closed his eyes!  This picture does not do the experience justice - they were swarming everywhere!
 I was sweeping the hallways but they were falling down as fast as I could sweep them up!
The flying termites live in cone-shaped mounds, large ones in the country and smaller ones around Blantyre.  When the hards rains come, it stirs them up and they emerge out of their mounds in hordes.

 I must admit, when I first saw them I immediately thought about the 8th plague of Egypt in the Old Testament.  Later I thought about the crickets in 1848 Utah and it seemed very real to me.
I asked Christopher, a Malawian returned missionary, about the "ngumbi". Christopher is very knowledgable about food and had prepared much of the meal.  He is studying hospitality at the local college and is number one in his class of 60.  
I knew that "ngumbi" was not so much a delicacy but that it was popular as a snack and as a source of protein.  "How do you fix them?" I asked.  He said that you could roast them in the oven till crisp or you could boil them in water until tender, then drain the water and add margarine, and continue cooking in the hot pan till crispy.  Salt liberally!

Now, the big question is "what do they taste like?" Christopher assured me that they were delicious, then brightened and said "Have you eaten locusts?"  
"Mmmm, no."
"How about grasshoppers?"  
"Then I just don't know how to describe it."

I had some members tell me that if you get the small ones, you don't have to cook them. Just pull off the wings and pop them in your mouth.  More fun for kids that way!

Two days later we headed to the market.

At the entrance to the food section of the market, some women were selling a new item

I should say a new seasonal food...NGUMBI

They even offered to give us azungu (white people) a sample.  

I declined very politely.

Of course, some ngumbi are better than others.  Since those little wings apparently aren't part of the snack, they can be sifted out or shaken until the wings separate from the body.
So the wet season begins with a cry of "ngumbi".  It won't be the seagulls scooping up these "little fliers" but rather many happy children - and the adults too.  I haven't met a mzungu missionary who has tried them yet!