D&D u3a member Pat Smith took a gap year aged 52 and travelled by truck from Dover to Cape Town. Amongst many memorable moments, Christmas in Benin took pride of place
Tale of a pig
The site was quite beautiful with a large pool, plenty of room to camp and a long, palm-fringed beach just over the road – the perfect place for an idyllic Christmas.
One of the trucks beat us there. Mikey, the driver, had a tale to tell. He was a large, no-nonsense Aussie complete with shaved head and three earrings. He had the build of a wrestler and the laugh of someone who enjoys life.
“Bought this pig, hey!” he said. “Got a good price for him – big bugger he was. Put ‘im in the back of the truck and he ran wild. Drank loadsa beer, ate a few books, drank more beer. Shat and peed all over the place. Then…” – he paused for effect and drained his can of beer – “the bugger went and died on us!”
Susie, his blonde, feisty partner, laughed and continued the tale. “So what could we do? Slit his throat. And now he’s hanging in the outhouse, draining out ready for tomorrow.”
We trooped out of the tropical heat to view the pig as it hung in state. It must have been six feet long, with a wrinkled snout and wicked-looking, open eyes. I felt pangs of vegetarianism but the pull of a well-roasted, succulent piece of meat on Christmas Day was powerful.
Christmas morning. I resisted the urge to brush my teeth in gin to celebrate; instead, I went to view the pig.
Susie and Mikey had worked hard on him and he looked like the victim of an S&M fantasy, impaled on an improvised rotating spit and tied with chains, with metal rods stuck in at unlikely angles. The barbie coals glowed and sizzled as the pig’s juices started to flow.
The rest of the morning was party time. Christmas music was played, bottles opened and people swam, sang and celebrated. The punch was a fiesta in itself: it took over an entire coolbox and was seriously alcoholic. A group started a conga along the road; some played games around the pool. Others were asleep by 10.30.
And the cook group for the day? (Please note the ‘we’).
We washed up the breakfast dishes until about 10am, had an hour off, then started to make a midday snack. We started on the vegetables at 1pm and soon had a routine going, which involved taking turns at ‘time off’. Susie helped peel potatoes though our promised cohort of helpers was either missing, drunk or asleep. But we soldiered on, singing carols as we peeled and scraped.
• • •
We cut and sliced, cut and sliced. Christmas music played in the background and people danced up to help, welcoming a chance to show what they could do: ie, balancing glasses on their nose, displaying knife-throwing techniques or showing that they could still rub stomachs and pat heads at the same time.
But the pig! Every so often fellow-cook Gerry or I would stop our work and wander off to gaze at this porcine wonder. By now the skin had turned lightly golden; it looked crisp yet succulent – a feast in its own right. The smell rose into the early afternoon air; we sniffed and rubbed our stomachs in anticipation. The pig had died for a good cause – 50 hungry truckers would vouch for that. The 10 veggies were celebrating in a non-pig way with a tasty looking curried nut roast.
Mikey led the team of spit-turners, who downed pints as they worked. “Sweaty work, yennow!” he called out as he went to fetch refills. The pig rotated every few minutes, still with that wicked gleam in its eye. Then Mikey sniffed, sniffed again and stopped turning the spit.
“Dunno about you,” he said to Susie, “but that ole pig smells a bit crook to me.”
“Nah, can’t be. Smells fine,” she said, grinning. “Stop pulling me leg, Mikey.”
But Mikey was serious. “Come on, darlin’, take a real big sniff. Get in there, babe.”
Susie bent down, sniffed and wrinkled her nose. “See what you mean,” she said. Minutes later the pig was on a table. They cut into it and – horrors – slowly but surely the flesh was turning green and a foul waft floated outwards.
“Oh my God, no!” truckie Debbie danced up, wearing a party hat and flourishing a cracker. “I’m not eatin’ that – we’ll all die of food poisoning!”
The pig stared at us. To my mind it was grinning. It would have smiled even more if it had known how hard it was for six fairly drunk people to dig a burial pit then lug its greasy, heavy carcass to the hole and fill it in. Everyone pretended vigorously that the meal was quite delicious, with every kind of vegetable, delicious gravy, tasty cheese sauce and enough crispy stuffing to fill the Albert Hall. But no pig. However the veggie nut roast was – as they told us many times – sheer perfection.