Chapter 23: Chapter 4, Episode 7: Sahel
“Wow, its strength is amazing,” Black Mamba exclaimed while holding onto a grasshopper that had been left behind.
The grasshopper, angered, kicked its legs. It truly was strong.
Grasshoppers were insects that lived in the fields and grasses. They were a good source of protein, giving off a sweet taste once roasted in fire. When he was young, he used to gather tens of those grasshoppers in his twine basket. That was what he used to think about grasshoppers.
The grasshoppers with those crooked legs of green or yellow were calm insects of about one inch or more. Their protruding eyes were white, which made them all the more endearing.
The one in his hand had stripes all over its body. The dark red body with yellow stripes across it was over three inches long. The hind legs were as long as a mantis front scythe. Even the colors, being drab, made it appear angry. The mouth was sharp, making it look fierce. It was the kind of insect that made every conception that he had held about grasshoppers wrong.
On the bridge where he used to live, the strongest insects in the hierarchy were the bush crickets and mantises. But it was likely that they would have a hard time fighting against this guy. The mantis jaws were likely to be blown off with a single kick of this grasshoppers legs.
“I heard that the African grasshoppers rip apart animals, too?”
At Black Mambas question, Mouris and Ombuti laughed out loud.
“Thats a lie. Those guys just break up the crops. They dig into your nostrils or enter your body through your ear canal. Its because of the frenzied animals that such a rumor spread. If they were actually carnivorous, all the livestock in the world would have already been wiped out.”
Black Mamba sighed. It was a relief that they werent carnivorous. Imagine if thousands of such grasshoppers ran into ones body like a colony of ants. It was bound to be a calamity. Black Mamba sighed very often in Africa.
“I see. Mouris knows grasshoppers very well.”
Mouris shook his head as if he was getting rid of a bad memory.
“Im from Morocco, so Ive experienced them several times. Once they show up, the greenery around disappear. The herbivores eat the leaves, and the worse ones eat the stems. The small groups have around 10,000 while the larger swarms are in the millions. A thousand are capable of destroying a years worth of crops and disappearing.”
“Do they appear very often?”
“The Sahel region is where they appear most frequently. Right now its November, so its the season of growth for them.”
His surprise came out as a sigh.
“They dont always go around in groups, do they?”
Mouris shrugged in an exaggerated motion.
“If they do, the earth will turn into a wasteland. Usually, they dont form a unit. Their bodies are closer to green in color. They start eating each other when theres a lack of food.”
“Oh, they kill their own?”
“Yes. Hilariously, the only insect the grasshoppers are scared of are other grasshoppers. Their bodies turn brown because of serotonin, which appears from a fear of their own kind.”
“So its an unstable psychopath in a color-changing insect?”
“Its attitude turns worse after it changes color. That means it runs away as quickly as it can once its own kind approaches. Since theyre running away from each other, everyone has to move. In the end, their attack is because of the lack of food, and genocide is the engine.”
“Ooh, Mouris, youre very knowledgeable.”
“This is something Ive heard from an insect expert. Decreasing their influx must be an environmental problem. Wouldnt they eat each other up in the middle of relocating? They do disappear like the wind when they go.”
“Seems like it.” Black Mamba showed his respect for Mouris knowledge.
The monster trapped between his thumb and forefinger kept kicking its rear legs. It had well-developed strength. Its kicks were so strong that his finger hurt. If the environment was good, the insects living there were similarly calm. Koreas gloydius and magpie vipers were not comparable to black mambas and cobras. Koreas cows, compared to Africas, could be considered weak.
The insect in his hand was too fierce to be called a grasshopper. Compared to the grasshoppers he had seen on the bridge, these were predators. Even the bulging black eyes affronted him. Its teeth were like a saw, and it seemed capable of eating metal.
When he was young, he had strung together the breasts of grasshoppers living near a well and wore it like a necklace. It was the best side dish he had when he was young.
A grasshopper roasted with salt and oil was crunchy and sweet. It used to stave his hunger when he was young. They werent insects that swarmed around and scared humans.
“Would they be tasty?”
Black Mamba placed the lone grasshopper into his ration bag. It was so big that eating 10 of them would be enough for a meal. His teammates looked strangely at him as he packed up the grasshopper.
There are records of the Romans eating grasshoppers as an appetizer, but in Europe, insects, in general, were avoided as food.
“Black, what are you going to do with that?”
At the captains question, he smiled.
“This tastes good.”
“Oh my god!”
“Youre going to eat a grasshopper?”
The teammates stared at him, horrified.
The way the French viewed the Koreans eating grasshoppers was, in the same manner, the way the Koreans viewed the French eating snails. People in certain regions of France ate grasshoppers, but most of the French thought of grasshoppers as disgusting insects. The same went for all the other insects.
“Whats their problem? They eat snails and frogs!”
It was ironic to think that the people who ate snails would find grasshoppers vile!
“Jang Shin, roast this for me.”
Jang Shin lit a fire using the burner. He rinsed the field shovel with water and placed it atop the fire. When the stainless steel of the shovel started to heat, he poured olive oil on it and placed the grasshopper on it. Then, he roasted it with salt and pepper, using his knife to turn it. A sweet smell spread across the rough field.
Jang Shin offered one to Sergeant Mike.
“Sergeant, try it.”
“Put that away!” Mike screamed and walked backward.
“Bastards turned, French,” Black Mamba laughed.
Mike was American. Since he was always rude, even his denial of the grasshopper grated on his nerves.
Sergeant Mouris snatched the grasshopper, peeled off its wings, and shoved it in his mouth.
“Whoa, can a Muslim eat grasshoppers?” Jang Shin asked in surprise.
The Islamic religion had strict rules on the food they could eat. Permitted foods were called “Halal” and the non-permitted foods were called “Haram,” dividing them purposefully.
Even butchering the animals had a Halal procedure. After laying the animals head towards Mecca, they had to pray, then cut its neck in one blow with a knife so that there was no pain, and then drain the blood. It was a funny rule in a world so hurried, but they had this consideration for animals.
“The Koran tells us to eat grasshoppers. Prophet Muhammad said that there were two things, alive and dead, that didnt go against the teachings: dead animals livers and spleens, and the alive things were fish and grasshoppers. All insects are Haram, but the grasshoppers are Halal.”
Mouris spoke with a gravelly voice and dove into the fight for the grasshopper. The mercenaries, who were standing around with curious eyes, were frowning.
“Ha, to think you cant eat any of the insects but the grasshopper! Seems like Allah has some grudge against them.” Black Mamba mumbled as he chewed.
“Maybe thats how much the middle regions were impacted by the grasshoppers. How does it taste?” Jang Shin asked.
“The ingredients are lacking, but the chef managed to save the taste.”
At Black Mambas praise, Jang Shin became more confident.
“Its a shame theres no garlic or frying oil.”
“Its edible,” Mouris agreed.
A Korean, Chinese, and Moroccan man held a grasshopper party in the middle of the Sahels rough plains. Ombuti, who appeared later, also gladly joined in. Black Mamba glanced at Mike, and Mike, who felt his gaze, winced and turned away.
He giggled. Sergeant Mike was also a ridiculous guy. Having been roasted as much, he should have changed his attitude, but his nature didnt change at all.
“Mike, an insect is a nutritious and economically advantageous food. While beef provides 219 calories in 100 grams, a grasshopper provides 2000 calories in 100 grams. A human needs 2850 calories per day. This is a guideline provided by the FDA of your country. This means that if you eat 100 grams, you can run around all day carrying a gun.”
At Black Mambas explanation, Mikes large eyes rolled around. He wanted to refute, but his mind was blank.
“Ooh, Black is an insect professor. What do you mean economically?” Bellman asked.
“When someone grows livestock, they care about the ECI. When a cow eats 100 kilograms of feed, they gain 8 kilograms; a sheep increases 5 kilograms. This means the eight to five percent of the feed turns into fat. A chicken increases 40 kilograms. Thats the reason why its cheap. How much does an insect produce? Its around 15 kilograms to 45 kilograms. And an insect eats the things a human doesnt, like grass, poo, and rotten carcasses. How economical is that?”
Black Mamba was stretching his mouth wide to pronounce his words properly. The remains of the grasshopper that had been in his mouth flew everywhere in front of Mikes face.
“Ugh!” Mike shouted and avoided the spit.
“Sergeant, it seems as if you havent been to the high-class restaurants downtown. Americans eat grasshoppers often, after all. Those who are ignorant are those who dont know grasshoppers, not those who eat them. Quest ce que ca vu (Do you see?)?”
The moment Black Mamba pronounced the “v” a grasshopper leg popped out of his mouth and hung on his lip.
“A grasshopper is a valuable food. Try it.”
Black Mamba took off the leg and flicked it towards Mike. Mike hurriedly stumbled back. To think a man who liked to see blood would be scared of an insects leg; it was a strange sight.
At Black Mambas ill-intended actions, the team members couldnt suppress their laughs. Mikes eyes turned red. He was angry.
Black Mamba looked at Mike with frigid eyes. He had been planning to make an example out of Mike if he ever caused a scene. He had learned that those with call names werent judged by martial law even if they beat up someone of a higher rank.
The moment Mikes eyes met Black Mambas eyes, his heart skipped a beat. He had recalled the moment he was beaten up on the edge of the Corsican cliff.
The red light in Mikes eyes faded in an instant. He stepped away silently. The captain smiled in delight at the sight of Mike making himself scarce. An eagle always won in a fight against a pheasant. Even the captain had a hard time controlling Mike, but it seemed as if there was no need to worry with Black Mamba around.
Jang Shin began to gather the grasshoppers with a plastic bag in earnest. Jang Shin was Chinese, and Chinese people sold scorpions and grasshoppers on sticks on the streets. The grasshoppers were fine ingredients for them.
Ombuti and Mouris immediately joined in to help. When humans enjoyed the same food, they were bound to become closer. When a woman and man who are dating have different tastes, they are bound to break up, eventually. The Chinese, Tuareg, and Arab men enjoyed the grasshoppers, became closer, and laughed together.
The desert sun set, but the night didnt come as fast. However, when night did arrive, it turned dark almost immediately.
When the sun lingered on the horizon, Ombuti started to find a place to sleep. The first requirement for such a place was shelter. The pickup traveled the red hills.
“Wow!” Emil and Black Mamba exclaimed.
When they crossed the hill, there was a large range of cliffs hanging over a stream. The pickup rumbled up and down towards the stream.
“Where are we?”
At the captains question, Ombuti pulled out the map. He pointed towards a blue dot.
“This is the place where I took my rest in my travels to Paya. Right now we are crossing Barelgazal and entering Borgia; there should be at least 10 kilometers left. You dont plan to go into the village after all, do you?”
“Yes. Theres no reason for us to be exposed to their attention. Is there water around here?”
“Theres a small pond right beyond that large rock if you go in between. Its clean underground water.”
“Oh, theres such a pond here?”
The captain exclaimed. The topography didnt seem the sort to provide water.”
“Its probably water that has flowed to Lake Chad from Barelgazal.”
“This is important information. Whats this place called?”
“Like most of the northern regions in Chad, there isnt a specific name on the map. But we merchants call itUldi Hamarl. It meansred stream.”
The captain placed a red dot on his strategic map and noted it as Uldi Hamarl.
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