I am about to start a training session on day-to-day management of a cricket farm and I get a call.
Who is this?
Deno. Denoo from China. We met in Beijing!
Denoo has landed. Denoo, the one who dons a checkered shirt and has a friend who dons a checkered shirt in a foreign city and eats dry-fry and waru in Beijing. He has been a graduate student in Wuhan, a university in a humid part of the globe. It’s like one big sauna during summer. You never dry up after a shower no matter how efficient your wipe towel is. He studied genetics and tells me he wants to make genetically modified crickets! I am still considering his request to accommodate him in my lab somewhere in a cool silent corner as he hone’s his idea and develops his love for edible insects. And maybe…just maybe…he can be an insectivore like most of us in the lab. With him around, we might strike a kill and be famous. After all.
We are at Checkers inn, Hurlingham. Seated at a reasonably quiet section of the lounge at the far end of the reception. I have a backpack on my side because I just landed from Kakuma Refugee camp on one of those United Nation flights. Landing at Wilson is a different experience from Landing at JKIA. Nairobi is beautiful from the Wilson skies unlike the dreary dry terrain over JKIA flight path. I was on a Danish Church Aid mission to establish a cricket farm in Kakuma refugee camp. Cool ha! Affordable proteins for all in service to humanity. One of those things you do as a duty to put a smile on a less privileged face. Truth is, very few of us reading this, right this moment will ever know how it feels to walk hundreds of miles in search for peace and safety, running away from the ghosts of war, away from the place you call home. And somehow finding yourself in a camp that a friendly government set aside to help your like, and you are expected to continue living…but that’s a story for tomorrow.
Denoo has a story and that’s why we are at Checkers. He knows I write about edible insects. He reads my blogs and comments sometimes. He had a bug eating moment a few weeks after landing in China. An experience he wanted to share while it’s still hot. Before he fades into the helter skelter of Nairobi city and genetics manenos. I arrive at checkers minutes before him and got to choose a vantage view to see him walk in. Hopefully in a checkered shirt. I call him and he responds in the usual nafika tu saa hii (am just about to arrive) vibe. A vibe that every Nairobian has mastered not matter how many miles away they are. Luckily, Denoo walks in few minutes later in a broad learned smile and sits across the table. He looks learned this one, especially after being in China for years. He has grown a beard too. He might land a position at join #teambeard.
I hope you had a good flight,! mæn
Yeah, not a problem. Am I not glad to be home!
I hope you’ve had a few local warus, dry fry and a cold tusker.
Will you have a drink?
Before he could answer I ordered a cold tusker but he declined. China has changed this guy…for the better I hope. But how could he refuse a drink from an ol’ fren! He tells me he no longer drinks. He is a teetotaler now.
We get to the business of the day. And he tells the story amidst disruptions from the waiters who were too eager to attend us.
He had spent the whole day climbing a mountain in the south of China, Yunnan province, in search of flora. They were searching for a genetic marker for resilience in some mountain vegetation. Something revolutional. Something TiBIM! Spending a whole day up there wasn’t a walk in the park and it made him amend some info in his resume about nature walk as a hobby after realizing that it could be a torture as well.
At this point he mentions that the only content in his gut was ‘baozi’ and ‘jiaozi’ which I gather is some white fermented relish. So I imagine a guy who likes waru and dry fry, eating fermented white stuff! It must taste awful but I dint tell him though he seemed repulsed already. Later he explains that baozi is a steamed bun while jiazi is dumpling and he hated them both. Basically he was famished by the time they got to the eatery. I tried dumpling in Beijing and mæn …they are quite something! It’s one of those things that require you to master all the physics of chewing and swallowing if you are to enjoy them. It’s served as a special Chinese food on some festival and all households have to serve it for dinner. A dumpling day.
Their guide had already placed an order, and so within seconds, the table was set with all manner of dishes. All. You should have seen the way he said the word ‘all’. The way you say a word with your hand raised just above your shoulders and the forehead raised and the word is more of a shriek.
Before him was fried banana stem and toasted beetle Larva. Aaarrghhhhhhh!! Ptuuuh! He would rather die than resign to this fate!! But on the other hand, curiosity was taking care of his fears. They looked delicious. The banana stems, he could try but the larvae…hell no!
His professor basically attacked the delicacy to his disgust! He had to try otherwise the professor would feel he wasted lab money on his plate.
Denoo, what was going through your mind at that point?
At that point I remembered Dr. Kinyuru and his miserable blog. Joyce the gastronomist at his lab and I thought I needed a story of my life too.
My blog made you eat?
Well, I imagined I needed to encourage you somehow. I had to do it using you as my benchmark. And true to your blog’s enticing sweet confusing words, they tasted great and crunchy.
He got the recipe and we will try it at the kitchen in our lab. We have lot’s of those larvae. They burrow in dung. One only needs to gut and clean. They are quite fatty the method of cooking better avoid too much oil.
What is one thing you learned from that experience?
Despite my earlier and later fears of having a running stomach, this marked my realization that our cultures hold back the fight against malnutrition and famine in Kenya. One can overcome their worst fears if confronted by hard truths though sometimes a little motivation will help.
I am looking for people with a bug story/experience. Inbox me on firstname.lastname@example.org.