Tuesday, October 20, 2009


In Wolof, mbët is the word for a kind of lizard that can get to be pretty large (like 2-3 feet long including the tail). My brother, Demba, had killed an mbët one of the first days I was in TawaFall. I was really nervous to eat it, but it was delicious! He had cooked it in a sauce that almost had a barbeque flavor – it was really good! I’m not sure exactly how it came up, but toward the end of last week we (Cora, Teresa, Demba, my other older brother Modou, and I) got to talking about mbët and Modou said he would take us hunting for them the next day, which got Teresa, Cora, and I really excited. We didn’t end up going until Saturday after language class. The best time to hunt mbët is during the middle of the day when it’s hottest – I think because maybe they’re more lazy and easier to catch then, or because they’re out eating. In any case, right after class on Saturday we went home and changed into hunting clothes (i.e. just hiking pants or capris and t-shirts). Then we gathered our weapons – strong sticks, a machete, and an ileer (in Wolof – a tool used for weeding and other activities in agriculture here, as well as for hunting apparently).

Then we took off for the fields to find and kill 3 mbët – or that was our goal anyway. We stuck mainly to peanut and cassava (aka manioc) fields since mbët particularly like eating peanuts and cassava fields make for good resting places. People in the area typically have a live fence around their field – or around part of it at least to kind of separate fields. [For those non-aggies out there, a live fence is a fence made out of a living plant – typically a fast-growing, bushy, thorny tree or bush. Part of my job here will involve growing saplings and extending seeds for making live fences.] This made our mbët hunting challenging at times since we had to jump fences to get to new fields. It was easier for me and Modou than Teresa and Cora since we’re taller than them, but we all managed. Our mbët hunting was really exciting at first – Modou telling us to fan out across the field and use our sticks or machete (in my case) to hit the live fencing/weeds around the fields to scare the mbët and/or keep our eyes open for mbët chilling in holes in the ground or up in the mango and other trees often dispersed throughout the fields. We were sweating before we even had left the village, but we didn’t mind until about 45 minutes into the hunt. It was close to 1pm by this time and it was hot. None of us had wanted to carry water, so we didn’t have anything to drink. By 1:30 we had only possibly heard one mbët take off through a live fence and we were beginning to get discouraged – and the heat certainly didn’t help. Modou understood, so he pulled up a few peanut plants, brought us over to a big mango tree, and we relaxed there in the shade while eating peanuts. When we had our energy and motivation back, we set off again. Teresa and Cora soon decided they just wanted to go home, so Modou brought them over to the road that would take them home. We took another short eating-peanuts -and-sitting-under-a-mango-tree break. This break also involved pulling off all the little burs (xar-xam in Wolof) that were covering my pants. On our round-about way home Modou thought he had found a mbët in a hole, but after several minutes of trying to scare it out, we gave up. Everyone in my family (and village for that matter) knew we had been mbët hunting and were disappointed (though not surprised) when we returned without any mbët. We didn’t get back to the village until 3:30, which meant we had missed lunch, but luckily my sisters were nice enough to save us food, so we ate after we had both showered and guzzled a bunch of water.

Mbët was a major topic of conversation between the villagers and Teresa, Cora, and me for the next couple days. I had already eaten mbët so I didn’t want to try it as much as Teresa and Cora; though they also both knew they have 2 more years here to try it. My family, on the other hand, thought it was very important that they try it. We didn’t really want to go mbët hunting again, though. Modou went mbët hunting Sunday afternoon, but came back empty handed. Monday afternoon we talked about mbët and mbët hunting for a long time, but we had all resigned ourselves to the fact that we probably weren’t going to eat any (or more) mbët until later in our Peace Corps experience. Late in the afternoon Monday, the three of us headed off to our garden to water it one last time and say goodbye (since we were going to be leaving the village for the last time the next day). When I got back to my compound there was nothing other than a large mbët lying on the dirt. My friend Djerie and another of his friends had seen it near the chicken coop (where Djerie works) and killed it for us since they knew we had been trying to kill one to eat. My youngest sister, Mama, said she was going to cook it in a little bit, so I could go play soccer with the guys and still be able to cook the mbët with her. I texted Cora and Teresa to tell them about the mbët and then took off for the soccer field. Apparently Cora and Teresa immediately came over to my compound to see the mbët and took this picture:

My sister, Mama, and a neighbor boy, Youssman, with one of the mbët.

The mbët in the pot ready to be cleaned and cooked!
Then they came out to the soccer field to tell me that Teresa’s grandma won’t let her eat the mbët because she thinks it’s bad for your health. My brothers thought this was silly since they think it’s good for your health. These different opinions could be due to a difference in age or education since my family isn’t nearly as educated as Teresa’s family. About 15 minutes after Cora and Teresa left Modou came out to the field and called me over in the middle of our game. He had also killed an mbët – so now we would have 2 mbët to eat that night! What a treat – and what a way for my family and friends to say a (temporary) goodbye. I had a really fun time cooking the mbët with my sisters, largely because beinga biology major as an undergrad I dissected a lot of animals, but never a lizard, so it was fun to see what they looked like internally. It took quite a while to clean out the lizards, cut them up, cook them, cut up the onions, and cook them with the mbët as well, so by the time it was ready to eat, Teresa and Cora had gone to bed – along with everyone else in my family except Modou and I since we were up talking with other people. The few of us that were up ate a little, and we saved the rest; Teresa and Cora came over late the next morning to eat it (though Teresa didn’t actually eat any because she didn’t want to upset her grandmother – and we figured she would find out one way or another seeing as how small TawaFall is). The mbët was really really good! It tasted a lot like chicken with sautéed onions (and some lizard skin thrown in for good measure…)! :) I highly recommend it.

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