“Oh my gosh, that was amazing!” said my eleven-year-old grandson, as he rushed up to us in the Boma. “We saw lion, rhino, elephant and wildebeest, that were as close as the street is to our front door at home.”
Our group of twelve family members arrived from Johannesburg in the early afternoon. While checking in, I saw a flyer advertising a game ride at 3pm that would end at the Boma where there would be a braai. Three of our group rushed to make that ride and were richly rewarded. So began our three-day safari at Kwa Maritane Lodge and the Pilanesburg Park.
As the sky darkened and the stars came out, the rest of the group clambered aboard the jeeps and made the short drive to the Boma, which is the African word for enclosure, be it a fort, a stockade or a place to keep livestock. Now it is used as a gathering place for a meal outdoors, cooked over a fire.
Men playing African drums and singing welcomed us. We were handed small mugs of mulled wine or hot onion soup. There were lanterns and drums with fires, placed around the area. I was not sure if they were for light or to keep the animals away. The big campfire in the middle was surrounded by a low wall on which to sit and daydream, or to eat the meal that was being prepared on the open grills and in the big black and colored round pots used to cook in through the centuries.
Americans have barbecues, the Aussies call it a barbi and the South African name is braai. In many ways they are the same; meat is cooked. At all three, beef is common but at a braai, so is wild game like kudu or antelope. The “sides” are also different. Americans have veggies and cold salads but there is one food that every South African braai must supply – pap, the “a” pronounced like in “pa.” It is maize and when cooked, looks like cream of wheat porridge, but with more firmness. This is necessary, because the best way to eat it is to cup your hand and scoop up a helping and then dip it into a cooked tomato and onion sauce and enjoy. I have tried to make pap for our barbecues but somehow it never works.
When the dinner bell rang, we led our family to the cold buffet line. What you ask, a buffet in the African veldt? Yes, with salads, snoek (a fish) herring, potato salad, chips and dip. It is after all, a very westernized country. Then we went onto the meats – beef, lamb, kudu, eland and my favorite boerewors (sausages resembling brats). From there we moved to the pots round the fire and held out our plates for pap and sauce, and spicy (peri-peri) chicken livers, baked potatoes and yellow, creamy pumpkin. Our plates mounded with too much food we gathered at a long wooden table to enjoy it with beer, wine, soft drinks and my favorite, ginger beer.
Naturally we had to have dessert and I pointed out the quintessential South African dessert, a melktert(milk tart) (picture)This is a custard like tart with a filling made with milk, vanilla, sugar, cinnamon and other spices. It is a dish with Dutch roots. There was also apple tart, fruit salad and whipped cream, chocolate pudding and cookies.
It was a lovely first night in the African bush with good company. My brother was with us, so there were childhood reminiscences and, although he tried, no discussion of politics. The rest of the world was very far away in that place, at that time, under the stars, listening to the sounds of the marimba.