How to cook locusts. Remove the wings and hind legs of the locusts and boil in a little water until soft. Add salt to taste and a little fat and fry until brown.
I had been trying to understand my Ethiopian drivers’ attempts to explain to me in his very broken English why we had a problem going out for Christmas Eve as planned. I had employed Gabra for his steady driving, his cheek bones and lovely dark chocolate skin, not his conversation skills. Now it was apparent that perhaps I should have paid more attention to his command of the English language.
I had somehow interpreted his hand movements and his Pidgin English as thus. From out of the pages of the bible, Ethiopia was about to have a plague of weird flying creatures that had cymbals strapped to their abdomens to encourage females to mate with them. I imagined a hoard of singing creatures on a sexual rampage clashing cymbals loudly before embarking on a lust fuelled evening of insect debauchery. Even so however strange I didn’t really know how this would prevent me from going out for Christmas Eve.
Fortunately the compulsory armed escort that had come with the driver – Ethiopia was still at war with Eritrea when I travelled, spoke excellent English and he explained fully the problem.
A plague of locusts was about to spread across the country, devouring everything edible in their wake. The cymbals were in fact tymbals and muscles on the abdomen popped them in and out to make the chirping noise.
I had experienced many unusual phenomenon whilst travelling the world, but a plague of locusts was not one of them.
I do remember when watching the “Natural World” as a child, seeing a program where a plague of the insects had been filmed somewhere in Africa, maybe Ethiopia, but all I can remember was the scene of the barren wasteland they left behind them.
Now here in Ethiopia I contemplated how the next famine was about to begin and how soon Bob Geldolf would be flying in for his sequel to his “Feed the world” concert.
Gabra had arranged to take me to his cousins home for an evening of Ethiopian hospitality, which would include for me the nectar of the Gods, traditional Ethiopian coffee, along with Tej the local brew of honey or mead wine would be available and special Ethiopian dancing to an instrument known as a massinko which can briefly be described as a one stringed violin.
This was not a tourist venue, it was going to be a group of local Gondar people who were happy to invite me to their home. An opportunity not to be missed, and all I had to do was supply cigarettes and a few cans of Heineken from my hotel mini bar.
It was the coffee that swayed it for me, that and the fact my parents had lived through WW2, if they could survive Nazi bombs I could survive a few locusts.
Gabra had suggested a, “handful from God of the flying creatures”. I guess it depends on how big Gods hands were as to how many locusts would descend on Gondar.
And so we left my hotel and drove down to the city of Gondar. On our drive down one solitary locust landed on the car, and I thought, “One locust does not a plague make”.
How big the hand of god was I would to find out later!
The “home” we arrived at was from the front an innocuous looking café. The first room we entered was painted a pastel mint colour and furnished with Formica tables and plastic chairs. On the walls were ubiquitous pictures of that hero of all Ethiopians and Jamaicans, Haile Selassie.
As I sat down a saw a dark man sitting on his own, he looked up but did not smile. I immediately thought, need to put the hand of friendship out and offered him a cigarette. Gabra’s face showed he was not happy, he took me aside, “Bad man very bad man, why you give him cigarette?”
“I didn’t realise there were going to be designated cigarette receivers. How the hell do know who a bad man is?”
Gabra continued to be agitated, “No cigarettes for that man. Bad man, he’s a bad man.”
I looked across to the man, tried to read his face. Who was he, perhaps ex-army? Perhaps he was one of those government officials who hung men outside the gates of the palace of Emperor Fasilidas. I could only guess why Gabra didn’t want to include him in my making friends with the locals.
At that moment a lady of grace and dignity walked across the room, she held her hand out and gave me the traditional handshake that all of the countries men and women would give. It was like a Masonic handshake and I returned the hand shake in the same manner.
“I am Rachel.” she introduced herself.
And so the evening’s entertainment began, I handed cigarettes out and the cans of Heineken, under Gabra’s careful surveillance. He chose who received my gifts.
The bad man sat watching and I looked at his face I could see something dark about him, not the colour of his skin, the colour of his heart. He didn’t smile at me and I didn’t smile at him.
As the evening progressed I found myself confused by the number of men that seemed to come in and out of the front café. The “Bad Man of Gondar” sat watching the proceedings in silence. At regular intervals men came up to him and gave him money. He seemed to be collecting quite a stash of Birrs, the currency of Ethiopia.
At one stage I need to use the latrines. As I stepped outside the back of the café, I was surprised to see a complex of single level shack like homes rather like Pontins holiday homes. I guessed perhaps the bad man was some kind of land lord and that was why he was being given the money it was rent night.
As I crossed the square I heard the whirring sounds of insects in flight. The one locusts earlier was now plural and they were fluttering around my head.
As I came back out of the latrine the air was filled with the creatures and I started to blindly flail my arms in the air, batting ineffectually at the cicadas as they landed in my hair and I could feel the gentle vibration on my scalp. Not something I could say was that pleasant.
I rushed toward what I thought was the café door, opened it and slammed the door behind me whilst continuing to bat at the insects in my hair.
And then I opened my eyes and saw, two naked bodies on a bed. Both black. They literally stopped in mid copulation to stare at me. As surprised to see me as I was to see them. I stood embarrassed in the half light of the room. No one spoke for a second and then the man smiled and waved his hand as if to say come and join us.
I backed toward the door and opened it to the sound of locusts. The only way to describe a swarm of locusts a gentle exhalation of air like a fart. It is like they are having one big farting competition. Loathe as I was to step back into the night, I knew my place was not in the room with the two naked bodies.
I closed the door, cringing as I exited and turned to face the farting insects. (To be continued……..)