Burundian Banzai Banana Bikers and Buyer Beware of Brilliant Butchers!

There are a number of collateral duties for Marines assigned to guard American embassies throughout the world. Among these billets are the Assistant Detachment Commander, Supply NCO, Bar Fund NCO (every Marine House has a bar and raises money for the Ball this way), Training NCO, and my all time favorite, the Mess NCO.

The Mess NCO is in charge of ensuring all the Marines are fed regularly and the larder is always full. Each Marine pays into the Mess Fund covering the purchase of all the chow and the cook’s salary, if they have one. I hated this job. Keeping track of food inventory and handling the books drove me bonkers. I was not cut out to be a shop keeper I suppose.

Being stationed in Africa was great food wise. The fruits and vegetables were always fresh and never lacking in the marketplace. In Bujumbura, Burundi, we used to watch the Kamakazi Banana Bikers come screaming out of the mountains on their cycles.  Staring death in the eye with their hair on fire, bananas stacked eight feet high, it was a sight to make Evel Knievel jealous.

Other hazards braved by the Mess NCO include purchasing fresh meat. We always had a hard time explaining to our Burundian cook we were Americans, thus the lion’s portion of our plate should be filled with meat not rice.  The mass consumption of beef and poultry kept the Mess NCO on his toes. In Buj we were fortunate to have a Russian butcher shop in the city. Mess NCOs from other detachments tended to buy meat from their local marketplace in no actual butcher shops were available.

There is a cautionary tale about Marines from one of the dets in Africa searching for decent butcher. Most of the stalls hung their wares out in the open air. Inevitably this would attract swarms of flies and offended the Marine’s western sensibilities. Finally they came across a stall where the hanging meat didn’t have so many flies buzzing about it. They came to the conclusion what he was selling wasn’t as rancid as the others and began buying their beef solely from this butcher. Joy and happiness abounded.

One fine morning the Mess NCO got an early start. He arrived at the marketplace while his favorite butcher was setting up his stall. As the butcher hung up his goods he took out a can of insecticide and sprayed down the fresh meat. A brilliant plan to keep the flies off the product if there ever was one.

The lesson: if the bugs won’t eat it maybe you shouldn’t either.

Semper Fidelis,
America’s SgtMaj

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  1. 1. Another piece of wisdom about living in the third world.
    2. Was always glad to have an American compound to get back to -or a Marine House that would allow unaffiliated to grab a burger and a beer.
    3. Have a buttload of cute, funny stories about life out there. Like telling the stories; don’t particularly want to live any new ones.
    4. Thanks for telling yours so well.
    V/R JWest

  2. When out and about in the wilds of off CONUS, we’d always get the “don’t eat the local stuff or you’ll get diseases A-Z” lectures. We usually tended to treat those as dares more than warnings. Maybe that wasn’t so smart a thing to do, now that I think back on it.


  3. JWest, I’ve always said after I retire I’ll have little interest in traveling overseas. Already been there. I wonder what America looks like?

    Ron, on embassy duty we did, but all the extra pay made up for it.

    Grimmy, in this case we were cooking our own stuff and the markets were pretty fresh.

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