Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Catherine Vs. Rambo-Kuka

They weren’t dead.

I stared at the bowl in my hand, where a dozen or more crabs suddenly convulsed and snapped in a wriggling pile of legs and pincers.

“You have to hold them right here,” my was-susa (host sister) pinched a crab (or kuka) by the legs and was poised over the frying pan, “otherwise they will bite you.” With a quick flick, she tossed him into the middle of the hot oil in the frying pan, where he wiggled, sizzled, then grew still.

“Okay.” I nodded, trying to look confident.

“But, make sure he lands on his back! Otherwise he will climb out.”

Right. I was still holding the bowl, conscious of eight pairs of eyes of my wasfemili (host family’s) younger children all curious as to how this white meri would cook. Live crabs. Not quite what I was expecting when my was-susa said I could help with dinner, but, hey—I wanted to learn the culture, right?

I aimed for a small one. Perhaps I could keep my fingers as long as possible. Grab, twist, flick. The oil caught one after another, and soon their shells turned bright red, ready to eat (which you do, shell, legs and all…they are quite tasty). I can do this, I thought to myself, only a few more left!

Except, I hadn’t counted on Monster Kuka.

And this one was traipela. Huge. His body was the size of my palm and his front pincers longer than my littlest finger. Just like the others, I reasoned, reaching for the prehistoric creature. Be quick. 

This is not The Kuka, but it's close to it!
I wasn’t the only one who was strategizing. As I attempted the flick into the frying pan, he turned into the Kuka version of Rambo sans machine gun. I swear there was a soundtrack! With a mighty twist, he flung himself out of the oil around and attacked my tongs, using them as a springboard to jump, pincers outstretched, for the side of the frying pan, and straight toward my leg. “Aiyahh!” I cried, “No! No! You must die!” I snatched at him with my tongs, flinging him back into the pan. He attacked them again, scrabbling over the top. “Die, Kuka die! Die!” I whaled on him blindly, smashing him into the bubbling oil. “Die! Die!!” Finally, the oil cracked through his shell and Rambo-Kuka's struggles ceased. I looked up, brushing hair from my eyes to see astonished faces around the fire. Then a slight chuckle set off an eruption of laughter as tears streamed from their faces.

Lots of kukas! Kukas everywhere!
Die! Die! The story rippled through the community, complete with actions and sound effects. And that, my friends, was how I earned the name Kuka Susa and embarked upon the Great Kuka War.

I don’t’ remember how it started. Perhaps it was when my 16-year-old wasbrata (host brother), Raphael, threatened to send kukas after me when I did the laundry, or perhaps it was when I dropped a large bug on his shoulder shrieking “Kuka! Look out!” and he jumped like a rabbit :-) Or maybe it was when we warned about the potential of finding hidden kukas in the other’s pillow or bilum.  Regardless, the rest of the five weeks were spend in continuous banter as we made kuka shadow puppets, tickled each other’s legs with a broom (running away before retaliation, of course), tied a rock to a string (so it could be dropped on an unsuspecting shoulder from above), and even discussed making orange-colored bilums (the color of a kuka, after all).

“Kuka, kuka, kuka! It will bite you!” my brother would sing out.

“Don’t worry!” I would shout back. “I’ve got my tongs!”

The Kuka Siblings. Beware!