We learned a ton just hanging out with the family, observing, cooking, washing clothes, and going out around town with them. Almost every day new extended family members or friends would come by. One day one of their older daughters who no longer lives at home stopped by with her twin 6 month old sons and I was loving holding those sweet babies!
Over the last week I spent most of my days with T (their youngest daughter in high school who speaks some English) and Mama F (the matriarch of the house who speaks no English). I think in one week I spent more hours in the “kitchen,” which is a small room separate from the house, than I spent in my own kitchen all last year. One morning I spent almost two hours just peeling like 10 entire bulbs of garlic with a knife that may have never been sharpened. Despite the fact that I normally do not desire to be cooking that long I did learn so much and was crazily writing down the Kiswahili words for the ingredients, the many spices, and tools. I also just enjoyed being with the women and sharing in their time together. Here is a brief list of my new skill set: how to get the bugs out of rice, how to start the fire burner, how to peel and chop just about every vegetable around, how to grind spices by hand, how to wash rock salt, how to make butter, how to make chapattis (flat bread) from scratch, and how to scrub dishes clean using just a coconut husk. Everything is labor intensive: No microwaves here folks. In addition I saw many things I do not think I will repeat in our home like using fish that had been sitting outside for 2 days in the stew for our dinner. It was actually harder for me to eat the days I cooked with the women as I knew just how much oil was in the food and just how long the meat had been sitting outside in the heat before serving it (about 8 hours one day). Don’t judge me, I am a boneless, skinless, want-to-deny-it-was-ever-alive prepackaged girl, in other words I have been a veg gal since arriving here. So far I only have gotten quasi- sick once from some questionable milk in my chai. Other than those minor but not so fun digestive issues (I will spare you the details) we have been fine. I am very thankful as I learned a ton about how to cook and prepare food here. One night as I was frying the chapattis T was asking me questions about American movies and other things when Mama asked her to tell me “when you cook, no more talking” because I was charring the chapattis (in my defense they tasted fine to me). I guess even cross culturally I talk too much. Once Mama discovered my affinity for spicy food she taught me to make homemade hot sauce or as they call it pili-pili. It is fabulous and I had it at lunch and dinner every day on anything and everything, it will definitely be a staple once we move into our place. Annikah got in on the cooking as well and she made the women laugh with her mad chapattis rolling skills (I have a video I will post later). She managed to keep away from the army of knives lying around and many open flames at toddler level and I surprised myself at how quickly I became less paranoid. She also learned how to sweep and loved moving dirt around for at least a half an hour each day. In my brief observations it is really the women who hold everything together here, they work so hard all day preparing food, washing, taking care of the home and children, cleaning and even the youngest girls are involved. Everything happened in the outdoor kitchen; they talk, give the babies a bath, cook, and just spend hours together each day. In one way I see that it creates solidarity and a sense of stability and closeness among the women and in another way I am tempted to stand up and burn my bra in protest. Maybe it is just because the spheres for what is acceptable for men and women are separate and clearly defined, more than I am used to, that a part of my cultural lens sees much of it as unfair. It will take a while for me to unpack these issues but for now I will head back to the sweaty kitchen and cook up some food for the man folk.
One morning as I was leaving to run Mama told me I must not wear the skirt I had on. I thought maybe it was because it was just a kanga wrap and because of my abundant height it does not go all the way to my ankles and may have been considered immodest. I changed into another kanga that was a bit longer and Mama-approved. I thought nothing of it until a few nights later when I was doing dishes with T after dinner and I asked her what the writing on my kanga meant (all the kangas have a Kswahili phrase on them). My kanga that I selected based solely on the pretty purple, white, and black print says “I know you, my enemy and I am boiling medicine for you.” Suddenly it was all making sense as to why Mama did not want my white butt running around the neighborhood inciting a major smack down, Oh vey for cultural opps!! At least T’s kanga said “my enemy should not talk about me.” We had a good laugh and now jokingly call each other enemy as we say good night, good morning, cook together, etc. She is such a sweet and beautiful young woman and she is so awesome with Annikah. Every day when she come home from school she yells through our window “mama Anni?” to see if we are here and gives Anni high fives at least 10 times a day. I told her when we get our place she will be invited for chai and she is very excited to stop by.
So back to the insanely hot weather….It is a blessing that there is a cool ocean breeze and at night the temperature goes down to at least 75 degrees (I know, break out the flannel). Most days we usually just sit around and wait to see what the family is up to. Some days this is cooking, going to the market, or school. We asked if we can accompany them places just to learn about the culture. Jason got to visit a local school and hospital. We also walked to the beach a few times and saw kids swimming and fisherman hauling in their boats. Most days something totally unexpected just seems to come up. The funniest example to us was one of the first days when we were just sitting around chillin’ with the kukus and Baba O came out and announced that Jason was to come with him to a wedding of a neighbor. Jason jumped at the chance and was gone only about an hour. I wanted details when he returned; he never even saw the bride who must have been in another house with only women. He did see the groom taking vows which Baba translated to mean “I will not beat my wife and if I divorce her I will do it quickly without taking anything from her.” Not exactly our idea of romantic fairy tale, eh?
*we have had an INSANE time getting access to the Internet, a five day epic journey so far that I will post about soon but for now I am using a friend’s computer. We hope to have better access soon. Thanx to everyone who has sent emails, we love you all & miss everyone!