When the rains return to Namibia, the armored ground cricket is not far behind. Acanthoplus discoidalis is an impressive creature, nearly three inches long, encased in thick plates with wicked barbs. They swarm like wingless locusts, and like locusts they can devastate a millet crop in no time. People used to dig trenches around their fields and send children out to stomp on the crickets, but with the advent of compulsory education they have turned to pesticides.
They are also called Gobabis prawns after a town in the Kalahari, but you would not willingly eat one of these crickets and for a long while I was not at all sure that the alternate name fit the beast. Then I had occasion to find out.
When we lived at the Grootberg Breeding station, we cooked in three legged pots over an open fire. Before we got the gas refrigerator, we only had fresh meat for a day or two each month and then only after making a two-day drive in our decrepit land rover to a major town for supplies.
After making one such bone-shaking journey, we returned with fresh chicken and I had in mind a great, bubbling stew. As the sun dropped low behind the mountains, I diced vegetables, mixed spices, and added chicken parts luxuriously to the pot. I let it simmer until the meat fell off the bone, lifting the lid from time to time with a wire pot hook set beside the hearth for that purpose. It was well after dark, under a sky sprinkled with wood ash stars, when I turned on my flashlight and opened the pot to ladle out the feast, only to discover that an armored ground cricket had transferred itself into the pot the previous time it has been stirred. There it sat in my beautiful stew, pink as a boiled prawn.
There was an old saying in Namibia that you could tell how long an expatriate had been in the bush by his or her response to a fly in the beer. The first month or so, they dump out the beer. The next few months, they take out the fly. After a year or so, beer doesn't taste the same without a fly in it.
I had seen what the inside of an armored ground cricket looked like on numerous occasions. One could hardly get about without stepping on them in their season. Suffice it to say I was not about to sample this uninvited delicacy and see whether it had more in common with prawns than its color when cooked. This left the matter of the stew. We could discard the feast and settle for monotonous, imperishable fare, or we could pretend nothing had ever happened and proceed with our meal. I confess the decision took me several long moments - we had not been in the bush that many months at that point - but really there was only one choice.
The stew was delicious.