Loss of Knowledge



Saturday is normally a day to catch up on paperwork and to look back through my scribbles to see what I actually manage to accomplish during the week.  My national staff have the weekend off and logistical activities are limited to emergency response.  I was in my office writing my weekly site report when the project coordinator rushed in with a special request…


 “Grant – our cook tells me that a cow has been slaughtered and there is beef available in the market.  We have to move fast.  Is the standby driver available for a quick trip to the market?”


Of course the driver was available and, as this was only the second time in the past 6 months that beef was actually available in Shamwana, it was going to be a special day.  Wouter, the project Watsan, jumped into the car with the cook and they headed off to the market in search of meat. 


15 minutes later, Wouter stuck his head back into the office with the line “Grant…you come from a cattle farm right?  Good, you must know how to butcher beef then.  There is a flat rate of $5 a kilo so come to the kitchen and help me pick the best part.”


My background


It is true that I come from a cattle farm – at one point in high school I even had my own herd up to 19 steers - but I have to admit that I am not much of a butcher.  Embarrassing really.  I mean what kind of cattle farmer am I if I can’t even point out which part of the cow we should take!?


Coming from Germany when he was only 4, my Grandfather was a homesteader during the covered wagon days of Alberta in the early 1900s.  His talks of thrashing machines and telegraphs are totally engrossing.  He still makes excellent smoked sausage and I’m sure he could butcher a cow without a second glance. 


My Dad took over the family farm and moved a quarter mile from the original homestead.  He remembers when they got running water in the house and his first tractor with a cab.  Farming has changed a lot over the years and our cattle are now sold to a feedlot…but I’m sure that, if he got his pick of the whole cow, we would have thick steaks for dinner that night.


I’ve never butchered a cow before and don’t have the faintest idea of where to start.  Amazing how, in a short 3 generations, so much traditional knowledge can be lost!!! 


The scene


Sure enough, when I got to the kitchen, the entire rear haunch of the cow was sitting on our table.  Wouter, who was also pretty clueless, and I dove in and carved out 6 kilos of what we believe to be ‘the best’.  With visions of pot roast and steak making our mouths water, we paid the supplier and he took the rest of the leg back to the market to continue his sales.  Although our weekly allotment of fresh vegetables didn’t arrive in the plane yesterday, we most definitely have meat! 


…and I think I’m going to get some lessons from my Grandpa when I go home!



...$5 a kilogram!
...$5 a kilogram!