We were posted to Northern Zambia when I was about 30 years old. I felt I was pretty mature in those days but after reminding myself of a few business dinners I went to I have changed my mind. I must have been damn naïve as this little tale of drugs, politics and lust will tell.
It was a strange kind of job. I was District Sales Manager for a UK airline and my job was to persuade the mainly expatriate international population to fly to and from Europe on my airline rather than Zambia Airways. Not a difficult task in those days so I spent most of my time sponsoring events and entertaining. This made me very popular and there was not a local club or establishment where I was not an honorary member. The dinner invitations flooded in.
The first client dinner of note was at a nearby ‘ranch’. ‘You are not going there are you’ a staff member said,’ it has one hell of a reputation?’ I smugly told her I was more than capable of looking after myself. She rolled her eyes in a way that said ‘they won’t be told’ and returned to her counter. The host was supposedly a bit of an eccentric who people said had spent too long living in the bush but that just added spice to my interest.
We had not been there long and knew we were meeting a lot of new faces so Judith got dressed to kill and I dragged out my very best suit (UK winter thickness) and off we went. We followed the directions we had been given and ended up in the middle of nowhere driving down a pot holed track that threw Judith around the car like a ping pong ball ruining her hairstyle and creasing her cocktail dress in the process.
The ‘ranch’ was in a clearing. From a distance it looked like a shack. Close up it looked like a big shack. Outside was our host waiting to greet us. I started getting concerned when I saw he was wearing beads, a string vest and some very ancient dirty shorts. Should I have worn my pin stripe I thought? Should I kill Michael now or later’ thought Judith as she climbed out in her heels?
After we all had a jolly good laugh at our expense we were led behind the large house/shack to a wild area laughingly called their garden where we were introduced as ‘The British Ambassador and his lady’ to the giggling guests who were all wearing what seemed to be gardening clothes. Where is you feathered hat one wag called out. Must read dress codes on invitations I thought to myself as I am sure this one must have said ‘dress like a tramp and then roll in mud’.
The party was a wild one. A huge fire was lit in the middle of the garden and the drink flowed freely. We borrowed clothes from our host, started to relax and I felt great. We sat around the embers of the fire and watched the ‘ethnic’ food being fried and flame grilled on big racks and in huge frying pans. The food and air was filled with exotic herbs that were thrown on the fire and I did not even mind when I found some animal’s ear on my plate. Judith was munching through the kind of gristle that would normally make her sick.
Towards the end of the meal we all took a break to enable the last special dish to be prepared. Well actually I thought the host said ‘caught’ and prepared but assumed I heard wrong. A vast bucket full of beer floating in ice arrived and I was in seventh heaven as I languished on my back at peace with the world. I had even found my tie and tied it like a bandana around my forehead as a statement on how ‘cool’ I felt.
Then the ‘Zambian Peanuts’ arrived to be fried. Apparently they were only available for a few weeks every year and were seen as a great delicacy. They looked just like dry roasted peanuts as the frying pans were filled and more scented herbs were added to the blaze. They sizzled and jumped in the pan and the most delightful aroma of groundnuts permeated the already sweet smell of wood smoke.
They were incredibly tasty with a hard nutty tasting exterior with a surprising soft and liquid centre. Even when I spotted a few insect wings in mine it did not bother me. Down it all went with the beer and I felt that all my birthdays had come at once. We left at dawn and I do not know to this day how we got home. I was missing a shoe and Judith’s handbag was minus all her expensive UK make-up but hey we had a fantastic time.
The next morning (actually afternoon) when I staggered into the office I noticed my ticket agent was sniggering to herself. ‘Did you have a good time?’ she asked. “Brilliant” I replied. “You like drugs do you” she asked sweetly? I looked blankly at her until she explained why I had been feeling so very wonderful. The ‘herbs’ was Dagga which is a local name for marijuana and they had been chucking bales of it on the fire all night. It grows like weeds all over Zambia. I had been stoned out of my mind without knowing it for the first and last time in my life.
She went on to explain the ‘peanuts’. They were a special kind of giant flying ant that only sprouts wing for a few days each year. The host had two bright lights which these things flew into and stunned themselves on. They were quickly picked up, had there wings torn off, the body dusted in ground nut powder then chucked probably still alive in the frying pan. The soft centres were parts of the inside that had not been full cooked.
My stomach turned. I will never be so naïve again I thought, until the next time. My next blogs will be about those two ‘next times’ when politics and someone’s lust have a bearing on my stupidity!