It always started with a goat. My sisters, cousins and I knew its fate. We knew why it was there, yet in my quest to make friends with all four legged furry creatures, I could not help but give it a name and inevitably get attached. It was worse when I was younger, but as I grew up, I suppose I learnt the art of self preservation. Either way when it came time to actually kill the animal, I had to excuse myself. Whether it was by hiding my face in my mother’s arms while she reassured me or distracting myself with what the other members of my family were doing.
There was always something to distract yourself with. Sometimes it would be moving to the kitchen as my mother, aunts and grandmother prepared various dishes. I would sit taking in the mingling of voices melodically switching between languages, laughter and the occasional scolding when one of us tried to steal some food before it was ready.
I loved the kitchen. The sounds of pots and pans clanging, as the women danced around each other to avoid colliding or spilling their contents. The mouth watering smells emanating from the various dishes as a spoon was quickly dipped in and brought to mouths, steam lazily rising from it. I was always eager to be the official taster, even when it resulted in a burnt tongue.
Other times I would find myself outside watching the animal being skinned and prepared. I’m not sure why this part never bothered me as much, but I would sit with my dad and uncles, listening to them argue about the best way to prepare it. How they should cut it, what parts should be saved and used, all while they passed around bottles of Tusker larger, their voices slowly getting louder and more passionate as more bottle tops littered the ground. My sisters and I used to collect them sometimes, creating unstable towers, each determined to make the tallest one before it toppled down.
Soon, usually as the sun started to set and the shadows grew longer, we would start to smell it. That familiar and comforting smell of roasting meat. The smell of fat dripping onto the hot charcoal, of spices and onions. In their anticipation of it, everyone would move closer to the fire. There was always one person in charge of checking if it was ready and the trick was to always stay close to them. That way there was a chance that you might be given a piece of the meat to taste before everyone else. As this was going on, someone would have turned the music on, more Tusker Lager would be found, chilled and distributed, the laughter would be louder and the smiles larger.
The meal itself was mainly silent. Music still played in the background, and there was a general murmuring of conversation, but we were largely quiet. In my book, the sign of a good meal, a truly memorable one is where the main focus is on the experience so conversation absent. It is the culmination of a day’s work of preparations and in our silence we honor it.
As soon as everything was cleared, people would settle outside, congregating around the fire. And as young me, fully sated and sleepy, sat watching the flames and listening to my family voices rise and fall, I would sigh in contentment. Everything was good in the world.
Today not much has changed. There is still the ritual of killing the animal, which I still cannot watch. The kitchen continues to be the hub of all activity. We still laugh and argue and talk. The only difference is that we are older.
Now as the night progresses, the number of of us enjoying Tusker Larger has increased. Because what is Nyama Choma without a cold, crisp Tusker Lager.
Here is to us.