Every year during the cold months, men cluster in small groups around cooler boxes and campfires, to wobble and swagger through the rich hunting fields of Namibia. They come in all shapes and sizes, but mostly it is upward from extra-large. And they do not travel light. No sir. These men break away in comfort.
Luxury vehicles and pick-up trucks are loaded to the top. Mostly, it is booze and food. For a man’s got to eat and eat well. And a man got to drink, and drink a lot. A gun or two, and ammunition to start a small war. No man wants to be stranded in the hunting fields without ammunition, and despite frequent sworn statements to the contrary, deep down every man has the fear that he might not shoot straight. It is fear that is matched only by the fear of lost virility. Trust me. One that no one ever mentions or speaks about, but one that is in the back of every man’s mind. Constantly.
Then there are the gadgets. Binoculars and range-finders, for one has to see far and clear even when the sun is dim and has lost most of its sparkle. Chairs and tables for those leisurely hours, when everyone finds relief in a cool box and warm fire. When the outcome of the day is reviewed and either discussed with braggadocio or contemplated with mirthless despair.
Torches and portable lights brighter than the sun. For the inevitable ablution might require a brisk walk past aggressive thorns and sleepy birds in the darkest hour of the night. Both can be lethal in their potential to interrupt the most urgent of all journeys – the quest for an emergency evacuation by an inebriated, sleepy hunter. Which is why the cleverest of hunters will bring their own facilities. A plastic ring attached to a flimsy frame, and a spade. To cover evidence, but also to render support for aging joints when the formal facilities are out of reach.
Weekends such as these are essential for the psyche of the Namibian male. It represents a rare opportunity to break away, to be free legitimately. To be complete in their original state – filled with braggadocio, among kindred spirits, and distance from family and responsibility, for just a little while.
Where freedom is expressed through plenty of unnecessary and ferocious back slapping, boastful banter about past invasions, and theories about distance, wind and performance (and not all of these pertain to what comes from the barrel of a gun).
For out in the rich hunting fields, performance is everything. Every man’s performance is clear for all to see. Spent cartilages, dead or wounded quarry, empty carriers for liquid refreshments, bones on a plate – everything is counted, measured and compared. Winners wish the weekend could go on for a while longer, losers long for the comforts of home. Where someone else gets to peel the potatoes.
Yet deep down, every hunting man understands brevity. That is why he sneaks away under the cover of darkness to phone his wife for no reason other than to make small talk.
He also understands that he is no longer the man he used to be. That the lightest containers are getting heavier and that the once clear pictures are starting to blur, even if it is just a little.
This past weekend I had to opportunity to observe and reflect on the state of my generation. By day three, the energy and bravado of day one, was depleted. All that remained were stiffness, aches and homesickness.
Yet we had achieved a lot. Yes, we laughed, slapped backs, shot well (enough) and tried to out-brag each other.
But we also got close to our food sources and in doing so diminished our dependence on the modern food system just a little. We processed meat and spent time with family who we do not visit often enough. Once again, we were reminded of the responsibility that comes with hunting. The hard work that is required to process the meat that we look forward to eat. We need our food traditions, and we should protect our traditional skills and processes. Our food custodians are getting older, and we need to appoint new ones. Even strive to become one. And be generous. Teach others and share your recipes. All food is made better when made with love.
For this week, I share a recipe for a traditional dish I grew up with. Melkkos. For this there is no meaningful English name. Essentially it is made with milk, butter and flour but I have taken the liberty to add some spices. It could be served at breakfast, or as a supper dish. My version is a dessert dish and because I added melted and burned sugar over the top, I call it Melkkos Brûlée.