Saturday, March 31, 2007

The day the bats couldn't fly...

If you are not used to seeing fruit bats, then the trees by the 37 Military Hospital in Accra will provide you with a spectacle you won't forget. In the mornings and evenings they swarm in their thousands, darkening the sky and reminding you of a scene from a horror movie. In the days, they hang upside down covering all available branches. Just waiting it seems.

Legend has it that the bats are actually the followers of a powerful chief who got sick and was admitted to the hospital. They had transformed themselves into bats to make the long journey, and had settled into the trees at the entrance of the hospital, vowing never to leave until their Chief returned home. As he died without returning, his followers - true to their word never left - excepting in the the late evenings in search of food, returning early in the mornings to take up their positions again. There are periods however where they are noticeably absent. The trees then look so bare without their strange fruit, and the noise of the traffic seemingly louder in the absence of their constant chattering. I have been told that sometimes the numbers get so much that the soldiers will sometimes shoot that out of the trees, or fires will be set to smoke them out. They seem however to avoid all of the comings and goings happening beneath them . Well that changed yesterday.

Yesterday in the early afternoon there was a huge wind storm. Driving up to '37', I could see tons of dust being blown across the road. Trees were losing their leaves as they were buffeted from all angles by the wind, and the metal sign posts seemed about to take flight. The bats were in a panic as they were being blown off the trees and seemed not strong enough to fly in the midst of all the turbulence. I had to resist the instinct to swerve to avoid one that was aiming straight for the windscreen (I think it went under the wheels of the car behind me), and from the 'plonks' I could hear I knew that some were hitting my roof and the roofs of the other vehicles around me.

In the middle of this pandemonium of bats, one of the sellers on the side of the road ran into the thick of things and scooped up one up. I couldn't understand what on earth for, and then I remembered. Some of the tribes in Ghana, notably the Akans, do eat bats. On a trip to Kumasi just a couple of weeks before, I saw this woman by the road side selling what appeared to be under aged birds, covered in tomato sauce and spices. My colleague, who is from Kumasi, then told me that these were fried bats on sale! She assured me they were really good, more so in soup!

Good manners dictated that I had to calmly and politely refuse her offer of stopping to buy some, instead of running from the vehicle and pulling out my dreads in the shock and horror of it all - me, a Jamaican girl fi gu eat rat-bat! (Granted these were fruit bats and not their eerie cousins.)

Wondered how that seller prepared the bat - or if he didn't, then did he sell it to someone who did. Not sure if bats are classified as bush meat - more about the culinary 'delights' in another post.

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