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Published: October 2nd 2015
My whole manhood and credibility with my South African family depended on getting the fire started. At least those were the stakes in my own mind. Try as I might though nothing would light the charcoal.
It was Braai Day, or Heritage Day, to give it it's formal name. As an outsider, this national holiday has been explained to me in terms of celebrating all that it means to be South African. As far as I understand it, the heritage being celebrated is the fact that unlike the rest of the English-speaking world the South Africans use the word braai to describe a fire to cook on. The rest of us more properly use the word barbecue. Braaing is right at the heart of South African culture. Seriously... their whole identity revolves around it.
There was also the small matter of national pride. Chances are that England won't do well in the rugby World Cup and I had to prove that, at least in fire-making, we could compete.
Added to the whole mass of cultural expectations was the fact it was Gandalf's birthday party. I certainly didn't want to spoil my father-in-law's celebration.
I tried using fire-lighters;
I tried using newspaper as kindling; I tried building a proper fire with small sticks from the garden and different sources of kindling; I even poured turpentine on the coals. All that happened was that the kindling burnt rapidly leaving the charcoal steaming away.
With ostrich sausages, chicken kebabs and drumsticks, beef steak, braai rolls, stuffed peppers and sweet corn all to be cooked on the fire and the family gathering around hungrily I was starting to panic. However, Grant stepped up and saved the day. He went to buy dry wood and together we built a spectacular tower and set it alight. The conflagration was soon so hot that it was tough to stand nearby. We heaped the coals on and waited for the flames to die down. We waited a long time until it was ready to cook, even then it was difficult to stand at the braai for more than a few minutes, especially as the sun was also beating down. To help, I spent the time I was not tending the food drinking cold beer. When in South Africa...
Eventually the food was ready and we brought the salads out and all sat down.
The sun was setting, casting an orange glow across the sky. In the trees the weaver birds were busy building their nest and making a racket doing so. We had a lovely family meal sitting around the table... Possibly the first time we had all been together around one table. I hope everyone enjoyed it.
During the meal Sharon made an announcement that I could now be considered an honorary South African. I don't know how I managed it but I'm glad I could enhance my South African credentials. I want to go back to barbecuing though, it feels that there is far less at stake!
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