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Still chewing, as a matter of fact

Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Jun 22

Posted by Leander Schaerlaeckens

JOHANNESBURG -- As soon as the words had left my mouth, I knew it was a bad idea.

"Hey, Jan," I had said to our driver, who had joined us for lunch in the lovely Newtown area downtown. "Are those worms?" I pointed at an item on our menu, in a flash restaurant filled with tourists and locals alike -- always a good sign.

Mopane. They were indeed worms. Jan whispered to me as my colleagues, Paul Grant and Jeff Bradley, were distracted by their own conversation: "Let's get one for each of us and have them put it on the side of our plates."

I was game.

Jan subtly ordered them as we all got wors li pap, a lovely dish with roasted sausages, a stodgy porridge, vegetables and a tangy tomato sauce.

We waited. Then came our wors. Then a fifth plate was dropped on our table. They weren't like the worms I had imagined and yanked apart as a toddler. They're a lot fatter, the size of a triple-A battery, and they have lots of feet and a hard shell. They're actually caterpillars.

"What are these, Jan?" asked Jeff, who evidently wasn't born yesterday. "Worms?"

"Yeah!" Jan said. "Try them."

The plate went from Paul to Jeff to me. We all dutifully grabbed one, dipped it in the same tomato stew and dropped it in our mouths.

Then came the first hint that we'd been had: Jan didn't want one. Peer pressure prevailed, and he too took one.

I chewed. And chewed. And chewed.

Crunchy, chewy, nasty.

I swallowed with a shudder.

Jan grabbed the plate, still containing another dozen of the blasted things, and brought it over to a group of local youths hanging out around a long table, playing hip-hop from a laptop. They wouldn't touch them. Hint No. 2.

The others didn't mind it as much as I did. Two cans of Coke couldn't wash away the grossness. Nor could a Kit Kat.

Let's just say I've felt better.

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