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Do you remember the days when we gathered together as a family to eat? Those days when we only had one platter for Ugali, and another one for relish – and all our hands were directed to the same? Days when there was only one big and a small coloured metal cup. The small one being the one we used to drink water from?
I do remember. I remember seeing you looking at the food with hungry eyes and felt like Gati and I should not share the food with you. Yet, when we started eating, you were so kind to us and ate slowly with us. You never took big chunks on each hand.
You actually remembered to leave a little bit for us on the plate so we can wipe clean the two beaten plates. We were young. The food we ate came from our back and front yards. Actually, I do not think we had, at that point, any sense of front and backyards. All we had was a compound around the house that was adorned by wild vegetation and fruits.
Some of the vegetation was bitter and others were sour. These made the traditional vegetation that nourished our bodies. I remember too, the times when grandma asked us to go climb the Moringa tree and harvest the tender leaves. These she would make into great vegetable relish cooked in sour milk. This is the time before you and I learnt that Moringa is a complete nutritional package. Oh, wait I forgot the medicinal part. And the Westerners, as I later came to learn, are beans over heels for super foods.
Instead of candies, we hunted for wild small bee holes hidden in abandoned anthills. Instead of sugary soft drinks, there was water, porridge and milk. Instead of cookies, our mothers served us cold Ugali, steamed cassava or sweet potatoes in their many colours and texture. As a treat, and during religious festivals our mothers had to sell firewood to communities living in fishing centres then bought flour and made maandazis or Chapattis. This was luxury. Do you remember?
Now that I think of it, our lives depended on the herbs we were fed when we were kids. A perfect life in the rural setting. We were taking bath in dirty waters that flowed when it was raining but remained stagnant and muddy many days after the rains. We just didn’t seem to care.
I cannot imagine how healthy we all were. Well, I was a bit asthmatic. You always seemed to enjoy the funny ‘music’ my lungs made most of the time. I learnt that this is called wheezing. It’s so funny though. You and Nyanchoka always made me make wheezing sound as part of the drum ensemble we formed. We were young, innocent and carefree. We had our own ways of having fun. This was one of the many.
Even though we lived near the lake – the majestic Lake Nyanza (renamed Lake Victoria by the colonists), we were too lazy to take a little walk and perhaps a run to deep our small bodies into the clean waters.
Then came a time when you and I moved to the city. Our lives changed. We wanted the food we ate back home. The fish in the city was not the same as the fish were used to. The fresh water lake fish. The vegetables were different and we longed for the kind of vegetables we ate back home – in the village.
This type of vegetation was available in town but instead of harvesting them as a gift from God, here in the city close to the big ‘lake’ with salty waters that run away at some point then come back later, the vegetables we were used to, came at a cost. For a moment we thought it was a human curse. Now that I think about it I laugh my lungs out. We were nolonger in the village.
We got used to the city life. We even learnt how to eat using those metal things. The spoons and folks. This became our lives. Do you remember that first day when you and I held a spoon? That day we both tried to eat a chicken leg using a knife and a folk? It was tragedy. I remember how I ended up spilling food all over the table. I then gave up and took to eat with my hands. The only trusted way I knew. You too.
I cannot imagine how good you and I have become in eating using the metal stuff. We used to call them Muzungu stuff. But then I left after we became comfortable living in the city. At first, I travelled for a few weeks using that flying shiny metal object. The kind that was used to deliver drugs at the Mennonite hospital in Shirati. They call it aeroplane. Actually a bigger one. As time went by travelling on air for a few hours turned into long tiring hours.
At one point I found myself for several years in a foreign land where everything was different. The people, the language, the culture and the associational life. I could not go harvest a fruit from a neighbour’s yard as we used to do when I was home with you. Cashew nuts and fruits came packaged.
One thing that I found shocking, is that some of my ‘peers’ did not even know how a live chicken looked like. All they knew were packed version of beef and chicken meat. Even more shocking, my ‘peers’ seem not to know that Cashew nuts grew on a tree and that the nut was hanging on the fruit. Ignorant! I thought of them. By the way, they also had all these strange names for everything. So groundnuts, they called peanuts. Hilarious.
There was a lake where I lived whose waters were 10 times cleaner than River Sakawa, Nyang’ithi or Kirogo but no one was freely bathing in it. They fear that it may be contaminated. The government regulated everything. You could not even pee by the roadside. These people, I mused, do not know the benefit of urine to the environment! Everywhere I went there was a built-in environment.
The children there do not like vegetables as you and I did when we were children. May be, I thought to myself, we ate vegetables because we had no other alternatives. The way they cook fish or chicken in their restaurants was more like a chunk of meat vomited by a dog after it was swallowed.
They breaded their fish or chicken and then deep fried it in oil. Then served it with diced then fried Irish potatoes. They call this dish fish and chips or chicken and chips. I have to confess, I tried this a few times. It tastes like the chicken and fish are just an excuse to eat-drink oil.
For my days there, I desired to eat proper food. To do so, I had to buy organic food. Now this is expensive. But it was something akin to what we eat back here, at home. But the majority of the people in the host country ate fast fatty food.
Coming back home, I was in for a surprise of my life. I believe my son and daughter (your niece and nephew), and may not say so. I found Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in the neighbourhood. I am not sure whether this is a sign that we have more population of Americans in Bongo-land, or the Americans are trying to make all of us get into the junk and fatty food eating culture?
I do not want to make anyone uncomfortable. But if I were to do so, my children will be the most uncomfortable as they have now made it a point to ask me to take them to KFC every time I suggest going out for a ride. It seems as if our traditional foods are being pushed out the door.
All that we may remain with is a society of junk eating generation. A sure business field for weight watchers and other weight regulating companies. The West recreating business opportunities for itself in the South by deculturising our society off traditional foods.