Friday, September 11, 2009

Meat is Meat

     During a trip to East Africa in 1999 we stopped to overnight in the colonial city of Bulawayo. From our window on the Blue Arrow bus we saw a large billboard advertising “Business Days, Zimbabwe Trade Zone” so as a diversion and to see what business people in Zimbabwe were promoting we decided to attend.

     When we arrived at the entrance they weren’t sure what category to put us in or which badge to give us. After some time we were issued guest badges.

     The tradeshow floor was crowded with  salesmen representing companies doing business in Zimbabwe and a multitude of  import-export companies marketing their furniture, crafts and services. There were also a few safari lodges represented. One, located in Hwange National Park, was offering trade show attendees a full board package, including game drives, at their Ganda Lodge for an incredible price. We paid for two nights and received a very official looking voucher.

     The next day we took a bus to Hwange National Park where Happiness, Shamu, Fortunate and Cleaver, all employees of the Ganda Lodge, met us. I didn’t know who they thought we were but we received the royal treatment. It turned out we were the only guests. Upon arrival at the Lodge we were shown a selection of two story cottages to choose from. We took the one fronting the water hole and swimming pool. This in turn overlooked a grassy savannah shaded by acacia and mahogany trees. In a branch of a thorn tree overhanging the upstairs viewing platform, a lilac breasted roller came spectacularly to rest not two feet from where we sat.
     After we settled in, our guide David took us on a game drive. We drove through the park and stopped near a herd of over 200 elephants. One juvenile performed an impressive mock charge and, while I held my breath, another young elephant walked directly over to where I sat in the back seat of our open topped land cruiser and draped his trunk briefly over my shoulder.

     It was extremely hot when we returned from the game drive so we changed into swimsuits and chilled down in the icy cold pool. As we hung on to the edge of the pool we could see Zebra come to the water hole and drink. Cuthbert, the bartender, brought cold beers to the pool. It was heaven. We had paid $14 per person per night. Total for everything.

     At noon, a dapper African named Boniface served us a plentiful lunch on a covered terrace. During our meal he asked us which meat we would like to have for dinner.

     “What are our choices?” we asked.

     “Chicken, or beef, or pork,” answered Boniface.

     We felt like having chicken so that’s what I told Boniface. He seemed disappointed by our choice.
We were called to dinner at 6pm. Again it was a buffet with copious amounts of food, way too much for just the two of us. And there was plenty of chicken. It didn’t take too long for us to realize that the staff of Ganda Lodge and their families would eat what we couldn’t finish. We also understood that when there were no guests at the lodge there are no leftovers to eat. We took modest portions of food to our table and ate while the staff watched.  From the terrace we could see impala and wart hog and giraffe come to the waterhole.

     “It is so beautiful at the waterhole,” I said to Boniface. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have breakfast next to it?”

     The next morning, after we watched 800 buffalo cross the savannah, we headed to the terrace for breakfast. Cuthbert met us at the step and swept his arm around until it pointed down to the waterhole. At the bank there was a table for two beautifully set with white linen, china and a vase of flowers. “Today, you will eat breakfast at the waterhole.” I almost cried. To this day it is the most special place I have ever dined.

     As we finished our eggs, Boniface came to our table and asked, “Which meat would you like for lunch today?”

     “Which meat do you think we should have, Boniface?” we asked.

     “Well,” he paused. “Meat is meat,” he answered with a shrug as if it did not matter. “But”, he added quickly, “I don’t think you like the chicken. I think you like the beef,”

     “I think we like the beef too so that is what we will have,” I answered.

     And that is what we all had for lunch that afternoon. There was enough beef on the luncheon buffet to feed twenty.

     After lunch Boniface again approached us with, “Which meat would you like for dinner?”

     We smiled at him and said, “Do we still like the beef?”

     Boniface smiled back. “Yes, I think you like the beef most of all.”

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