In my never ending attempt to try everything I can in my travels, even if I hate it, I decided this past April to try my hand at eating sugar cane, affectionately known here as sweet reet, or nche. From big towns to the most remote areas, everyone gnaws on sugar cane. These people, young and old, are sweet reet fiends. Initially, it looked very exotic to me seeing everyone eat it, and it reminded me of something Asian, but I couldn't find it---it's like they know a special place and I'm not included in that. But as the season went on, sweet reet was everywhere, and in abundance on donkey carts throughout the villages. For those of you who haven't seen sugar cane before, it looks like fat bamboo, and as hard as bamboo as I soon found out.
To eat sweet reet, you have to first break it into smaller manageable pieces. Happily, my first time, this was done for me. Then you remove the hard exterior with your teeth and pray that it's sweet reet being torn and not your teeth. Once done, you can start chewing on the pulpy interior, then spit out the pulp. This sounds so easy right! Not a chance, nothing is easy here! Imagine trying to hack off a branch of a tree using a blunt knife---chips fly, and your still making zero headway. Once you spend 20 minutes hacking away, you can finally chew on the cane, which is, admittedly, delicious. It's sugary, but not as strong as candy. After chewing the juice out, the pulp becomes a little hard, like wood, and you spit it out before proceeding to the next piece. People spit everywhere for this 3 month season.
On hot afternoons, it obviously takes awhile to eat a cane, and the process is likened to eating crab, a lot of work for little food. To my great pleasure though, I have mastered the art of eating this, whereas before mastering it, I was getting sugar cane juice all over me, breaking things along the way trying to eat this right, and picking bits of it from my hair, from Keoki, from my clothing. Thankfully, I was usually eating this alone on my porch so very few can witness the ridiculous spectacle.
There are many reasons to avoid eating this sugary treat, and the list extends to making biofuels out of it, rather than ruining your teeth, or producing insulin your body. But the fact is, I'm in Africa, I've developed a sweet tooth that I hadn't had in the states, and it's a little exotic. So for three months a year, and a pula for a stick, I'm going to enjoy the fruits of what's produced in my village, and spit away like a local.