Tuesday, September 21, 2010


One question I hate is, “What will you EAT in Africa?” I understand if it’s asked in the way of, “Italians eat this, Chinese people eat this, what do Kenyans eat?” Unfortunately, people ask it with the impression that all of Africa is starving. I understand that, when it comes to the biggest continent in the world, people hear mostly about corruption, starvation, poverty, and ethnic violence. However, I’m here to say that this is not the case for everyone. When Kenyans feed you, they feed you. You can get a feast for under $2. Seriously, I can get a plate of rice, beans, and beef stew for about that much with at most a dollar extra for a bottle of either water or soda. Yes, there are people who go hungry (60% of the city just lives barely over $1 a day, if that, I’m afraid ). I can assure you that the wealthy American students are not included in those numbers.

OK, Katie, thanks for the update. Now, what do Kenyans eat? Lots of French fries. Chips are included with mostly everything (yes, I am using British terminology here). They are at least on the menu. Most places sell sandwiches, burgers, tacos (which aren’t bad, they do make decent guacamole here. I can get better avocados than in the States), pizza, pretty much fare you’d find in the U.S. Of course, there are quite a few local delicacies here. Matoke is boiled bananas and potatoes in some kind of sauce (can’t really recall what kind). Ndengu is crushed lentils mixed with spices and some other things and is absolutely delicious on chipati (a bread similar to Indian naan or Neapolitan pizza crust, but very thin and fried). Ugali is corn meal porridge with the consistency of polenta, just white instead of yellow. It will fill you up like nothing else. Pilau is a mixture of rice and beans and meat. I haven’t had it yet, but friends have. Kachambari is basically pico de gallo (chopped onions, tomatoes and cilantro). Nyama choma is basically barbecue. They eat a lot of chicken, beef, goat, some fish, and pork. Seriously, we came on this trip with about six vegetarians. I think only three have held out in the week we’ve been here. In addition, you can get bananas, mangoes, passion fruit, papayas, avocados and a variety of other foods for much cheaper prices, because they’re local. I expect to not fit my clothes by the time we leave.

What to drink? Chai  Chai is actually the Kiswahili word for tea. Yes, they boil milk and water together and steep some black tea. They add real sugar (real as in, unprocessed). Chai masala is tea with spices. It’s incredible. Coffee also exists here (so you all LIED to me  :D :P). Fruit juice comes in all the fruits that I mentioned and it’s all NATURAL!!! It tastes so much better. For alcohol, I haven’t had that much yet (they paid for our meals the first week but if you wanted alcohol, you had to pay and I didn’t have cash till Thursday), but I have tried Tej, which is Ethiopian honey wine. That one, I’m a bit skeptical on but it seems to be an acquired taste. Personally, I think it’s too sweet. I want to try Tusker, which is the local beer. People said it tastes like Stella, which I don’t mind.

One thing I love about the food here is that it’s very natural. The idea of putting a bunch of chemicals in meat is foreign to Kenyans (though sadly it’s changing, at least with the chickens). It’s actually cheaper to buy food that’s not full of chemicals here. I understand, you’d have preservative issues, but if you prepare it right, they’d go away. Personally, I’m outraged that, in the U.S., that type of thing is a privilege. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten better than I have this week. What’s sad is that so many people (just in Nairobi alone) don’t have access. That’s what pisses me off.

Helping the World? Or Imperialism?

I get very uncomfortable when people tell me I’m going to “help the world” or how great of a person I am for daring to go to Africa. To me, that amounts to telling me that I’m going to “save the pagan babies” or that I, as an inexperienced twenty-one year old, have so much to teach Kenyans who are old enough to be my parents. Honestly, I find that arrogant. I do not think it does any good to come to any developing nation with that attitude. I think we all need to improve our communities and learn from each other. I think we all need to be good to each other. At the same time, we have no business putting ourselves into the role of Messiah.

I find that these sentiments come with the assumption that all Africans, all non-Western people, and all who live in poverty are children that need to depend on our enlightened ways to save them. I find that they neglect the positive changes coming to places like Kibera (Nairobi’s largest informal settlement), the people’s innovation and work to improve their communities (for example, the creation of eco-toilets to solve problems of sanitation, waste disposal, and pollution), their own intelligence and drive to change the issues in their country. These sentiments neglect the presence of Kenyan intellectuals, activists, community leaders, and professionals. They also neglect the hearts of the people, who simply want to be treated with dignity.

Yes, Kenya has issues. Corruption is rampant, Nairobi’s pollution is more of a threat to the lungs than cigarette smoke, and over two thirds of the city alone lives in poverty worse than I’ve seen in the States. However, to act like the Western kids need to save the Kenyans is to make the Kenyans dependent on us. These problems will never be solved until the Kenyans themselves rise up to demand change. Some of that is already happening. It’s a wonderful thing to see.