Tuesday, June 10, 2008

At the butcher

It was Ginger Beer’s birthday yesterday, and we had some friends over for supper. Meat balls and ratatouille were on the menu, so in the morning I went on my daily shopping spree.

Buying anything in Khartoum requires adaptability skills. Very few people can manage good English here – the majority only speaks Sudanese Arabic, a colloquial dialect of the modern standard Arabic you would find in Syria, Lebanon or Jordan. When I first arrived, I took a 2-month course in the latter, which proved very helpful to learn how to read and write and at least gave me the satisfaction of knowing more than Ginger Beer. Fortunately visiting your local store puts you back in place rapidly.

It was only as I walked through the door of our local butcher for the first time that I realized my mission would be a difficult one: I didn’t know how to say beef or lamb, and chicken – zujaja – was nowhere to be found. And I honestly don’t know what scared me the most: asking for meat, or watching a 6.5-foot-tall and severe-looking man cutting chops with a hatchet on a tree trunk casually placed in the middle of the store.

So why the following happened, I really cannot tell. As the man turned around, the hatchet still in his hand and his apron covered in blood, and as he threw me a look of disapproval saying “Na’m? – Yes?”, my mind suddenly went blank. Pointing the fingers from my head in his direction, all I could mumble was: “Erm… arrh… ‘urrid’ – I would like – erm… moooooooooh?”. Hatchet man was NOT amused. He gave me the sternest look and I could swear I saw him tap his tool impatiently in his hand. Thankfully, one of his apprentices who was almost wetting himself laughing at the scene, came up to his boss and explained that I didn’t have mad-cow disease but just wanted some beef – bakara, duh! I left the shop and never went back.

Lessons learnt (in no particular order):
1. take a crash course in Sudanese Arabic urgently
2. don’t play jokes with the man with a hatchet
3. thank God pork is not allowed around here

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