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I spent a semester at university in Africa. Flying into Nairobi, Kenya and seeking common ground between myself and the rest of the unknown world, I was soon greeted by a crew of 11 other “majungos” (Swahili for “white man”) to travel to the African bush. I could not have predicted the intense and exhilarating adventures we endured.
We were chased by a herd of elephants. It’s the kind of thing you hear about in the movies. This actually happened to us the first week of hiking in the bamboo forest. (FYI: it’s hard to predict what’s to come as we plod through the bamboo) All of a sudden we heard “Coooowee!” of an accompanying Masai warrior, and a clearing opened up as the bamboo leaned to the side to make way for the majungos leading the line.
“Drop your bag and run like crazy.” I had no idea, but I felt in my heart that it was not a false alarm. So I followed the order and wasn’t sure where I was going to end up. I was so thrilled to have the 85lb bag on my back, that I felt lighter than expected in my toes so I could really run. And we ran, until we got to the clearing and we could see and hear the elephants rearing up in the distance. Luckily for us, they had the option of running up a hill or having to forge the bamboo, and so frighteningly confused. Elephants are basically big babies, I learned that day. They can hear and thus follow, but they cannot really see. Imagine someone who has a gift for music, he may not be so concerned about being able to see the performance, but listening is what drives him. Same with the elephant, they can hear with their big droopy ears, but they’re certainly not too concerned about where they’re walking.
I went windsurfing off Kenya. It sounds like a luxurious experience, but for a month we lived on a “dhao”, a century-old sailboat carved out of a mangrove tree. We slept on the boards, fished out whatever white fish we could find and combined that with an ungawi “African cake”, which was a very basic white grain, cooked over high heat, made tasty with an African Tabasco sauce. Mm. Yum. Eating with your hands was mandatory on the boat, as was following the orders of pirates (or Muslim sailors). So you had to take risks and jump out of the boat sometimes. We carried the windsurfing equipment on the boat, and I loved trying it out. One particular afternoon, I was engrossed in the opportunity to sail in the African Sea, and the deep red sunset drew me in until I heard a cry from afar. I looked away from the horizon and towards one of the sailors, whom I will call Bob. His name was Bob, but he didn’t speak enough English to say his own name, so he limited himself to one word: “Spaghetti.”
I heard Bob shout in his own language. I fell and suddenly found myself in the deep dark African ocean, carried by massive waves. He was on his own surfboard, and I assumed he might want me back on the boat. I was alone in the big sea, and all I could do to get back to the boat was ride the waves on the surfboard. It encouraged me to become proficient in windsurfing, where otherwise I was a little off balance and slightly uncoordinated. As I returned that evening, I felt free. I feel like I just broke the law and no one needs to know, but I knew I’d been where I’d never go again, and maybe where no one near of me had never been. When I got back to the boat, I found that I had crossed the Kenyan border and was in Ethiopia. No wonder this afternoon felt so magical.
Ethiopian red lentils
2 tablespoons ghee* (or olive oil)
1/2 cup red onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T fresh ginger, chopped
1 C. Turmeric
1 cup red lentils, soaked for an hour
3 cups butternut squash, cubed
3 cups of water
Melt the ghee in a large saucepan.
Sauté the red onion in ghee for about a minute, then add the garlic and ginger. Don’t let them brown, but let them soften a bit.
Add turmeric and stir.
Then add the red lentils, mix and pour in the water.
As soon as the water boils, add the butternut squash.
Simmer the lentils and butternut squash for about 30-40 minutes, then season well with salt.
*Ghee is a common clarified butter in Ethiopian (and Indian) cuisine. It is sold in most supermarkets, and certainly in organic food stores.
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