Rising at 3am to fill a bucket with squirming caterpillars by torchlight is as novel an experience as any. Three hours later, bucket full to the brim with meaty caterpillars, local collector Ajita and I laugh together at my brownish, greenish hand, filthy from defensive caterpillar spit. Ajita’s hand is spotless. It seems there’s a knack to the collection method and Ajita’s experience shows. She brings me water and enacts scooping up the abrasive gravel to show me how to remove the harmless, stubborn stains. We drink tea and enjoy her homemade cakes before the arduous preparation of the caterpillars begins.
The caterpillars have to be washed three times before cooking, with specks of leaf and twigs painstakingly pinched away at each step. We hunch over buckets of black water, surrounded by mounds of caterpillars: my five kilograms, Ajita’s twelve and Charlotte and Momoni’s sixteen. The cleaning process takes a further three hours and the sun is now strong enough to burn my skin. Ajita’s baby, Alimatou, plays happy and curiously with the caterpillars, in between plenty of breaks for breastfeeding.
Later that afternoon, with all thoughts of the caterpillars temporarily wiped from my mind by a welcome rest, I enter the kitchen to the most glorious smell. With dozy excitement I wonder what we are having for lunch today and I’m greeted at the stove by a pan full of well-cooked, seasoned and relished caterpillars. I enjoy them in some bread like a hotdog and relax after a satisfying day.