Bruno invited me to eat at Lutale a few times but there are two that were rather unforgettable. As a necessary background to the story, he had taught his cook Mr. Tembo the art of preparing Belgian fries and, I must say, the cook knew what he was doing. For those of you willing to try them, the perfect fries are made by double frying the potatoes. First, they are cooked at lower heat, then left to cool down, and, just before serving, they are fried again at a much higher temperature. The resulting potatoes are perfect: golden brown, dry and crispy outside and soft inside.
Giuseppe and I happened to be at Lutale together and Bruno invited us to have roasted chicken for lunch, so we obliged, and we were at the table without a minute wasted. Bruno started our get together by announcing that there had been a delay obtaining the chicken! He had “ordered” one from the village, but it had not arrived yet.
However, he added that Mr. Tembo would be bringing fried potatoes and mayonnaise for us to start eating. When they came, the fries were truly delicious and being hungry, the first instalment did not last very long. Luckily Mr. Tembo soon brought more. After the third potato delivery, the chicken was still absent and probably some boys were running after it in the bush! Luckily, the chips kept arriving so we kept ging for them.
After about an hour waiting we were full of chips, and then we heard a loud squawk that announced the arrival of our future lunch, still alive and well! At that time, we unanimously decided that our intended victim could live another day and we re-focused on the delicious fries. I cannot guess the amount of potatoes Mr. Tembo processed but I am sure that we went through a few kilogrammes. As protein-free diets go, it was a great success!
Another time Bruno invited me for dinner at a time when I was helping him with some of the work. I went to his house eager to try the fries again and this time Bruno was keen to announce that the menu was complete and almost ready.
Soon a smiling Mr. Tembo appeared with a large smoking tray that he placed on the table. My eyes immediately focused on the fries and my mouth watered when I confirmed that they looked as well as before! However, it immediately dried up when I saw the protein part of the dish. It had four legs and the size of a small rabbit! “We are having a cane rat for lunch” Bruno announced proudly although I could sense a touch of sarcasm in the tone of his voice.
I had eaten different animals in Latin America and in Africa before but never a large rat! However, I immediately recalled that our Zambian workers could jump out of a moving car whenever they saw one of these beasts on the road so I thought that it should be good and that was what Bruno was saying when I refocused on our meal.
The meat was white with a taste close to a roasted piglet, and I must say that its combination with the fries made it one of the best bush meals I have had. Mr. Tembo brought back a tray where only bones remained!
Traveling to Lutale had its moments too. Of the two drivers, I preferred Mr. Chewe for the bush as he knew the area and had good mechanical knowledge. The problem was that he drove with his eyes squinting and I usually joked with visitors that he knew the place so well that he could drive with his eyes closed! Mr. Chewe liked to hear this but always tokd me that it was not true.
He had them well open a day when, in the dirt road getting close to Lutale, a snake started to cross the road in front of the car. It moved extremely fast but not fast enough. By the time we got to it, it occupied the whole width of the road! The snake, that I am sure was a black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) was moving from right to left and when we run over it, almost all of it had moved across. However, when it felt the wheels, it rose high, almost vertically.
I saw the head coming towards us but the speed of the events was such that I could not react fast enough and only watched it striking the outside mirror, a few centimetres from my arm. A lucky scape that enabled me to continue with my life! I was so shaken that I did not even feel sorry for the snake that, after the incident, we saw continuing its trip through the dry thicket. It was the only black mamba I saw in Zambia.
The dam at Lutale was an important feature for the village life as it offered permanent water as well as relief from the heat. Somehow Bruno had acquired a “banana” boat (dugout) that he kept moored near his house. I am sure he kept for a reason that was not solely to enjoy himself by inviting guests to climb on it and then pushing them gently into the dam while they desperately tried to keep the boat from tipping over!
There were large catfish in the dam and the locals were after them. A fisherman myself, I spent some time watching them. The technique they used was as simple as effective. It consisted of a 5-litre can from which a line and a large hook would be tied and baited with a chunk of chicken or any other animal protein available.
The cans were thrown into the dam and then followed in their floating across the dam until they started to bobble, indicating that a fish was feeding. When it got hooked, the can would start to travel and that was the time when the fishermen would go either on foot or in their dugout canoes to pick up their prey. A very ingenious way of fishing in closed water areas.