What do we eat in Kenya? Part 2

Joyce makes us lunch Monday through Friday. Tamara is vegetarian when possible, and I told Joyce I prefer not to eat meat, but we both will eat fish. She makes us lentils, beans, rice, and sukuma wiki, the local kale. We sometimes get pasta with a tomato sauce, and even pizza. (You have not lived adventurously until you have had Joyce’s pizza with Nile Perch and vegetables on top.) Tamara scored some mozzarella cheese at the supermarket, which we keep frozen. That can be used for pizza and pasta. Parmesan cheese does not seem available anywhere in Kenya, but we have a tiny stash that Jack sent (thanks, Jack!) that greatly improves the pasta. Usually when she gets a perch, Joyce cuts it into chunks, fries it, and then makes a stew with vegetables. It is quite yummy.  She made potato salad one day, which was very good, and she also makes a nice potato soup. The vegetables we have plenty of are cabbage, kale, red onions which are incredibly sweet, firm plum tomatoes, green bell peppers and potatoes. Sometimes we have some green onions, but not as commonly. When I first got here we had carrots, but I have not seen any lately. For fruit we have green oranges that are orange inside, pineapple, and bananas. Papayas grow here but I never see them in the market. Watermelon grows for people with irrigation, but the season is short here and we haven’t had it for a while. Just got one in the supermarket in Migori, imported from heaven only knows where. Mangoes seem quite seasonal, and July and August are not the season! Joyce bakes cookies and cakes, but we have to store the cookies in the freezer to keep them from the ants. I think we have given up on cake for a while—we didn’t get to eat any of the last one she made because the ants found it first.  I don’t really enjoy ugali, the corn flour staple, so Joyce makes chapatti or really good corn bread.

For dinner we usually eat leftovers, unless one of us is inspired to make pasta, rice, eggs, potatoes or lentils, or some combination thereof. Joyce will make popcorn for us, and that is nice to snack on.

As you can see, we are quite spoiled and none of us is losing any weight–no danger of undernourishment for us. The poor people are always at risk–more on that tomorrow.


What do we eat in Kenya?


My darling step-father, who gave me his Tilley hat for my journey to Africa, asked for this topic. Stefan, this one is for you!

First I will tell you how we mzungus eat in the cookhouse with the luxury of Joyce’s experience, years of cooking for visitors from all over the world, and the specialized tools here: gas burners, a stove-top asbestos baking set-up, and the solar oven. (The freezer comes in handy, too, but the refrigerator has apparently outlived its rubber seal and no longer keeps things cold OR free of ants.)

We prepare our own breakfast for the most part. We have oatmeal, homemade granola (thanks to the solar oven), scrambled eggs with vegetables, or cold cereal. The Kenyan cold cereal is called Wheatabix and Tam likes it but I do not. It is soggy, which makes sense after I learned that it is used to make porridge—hot cereal. I found some corn flakes that taste breakfast pretty good and stay crispy long enough to make me happy. We have whole milk, so of course that tastes delicious. We have a good brand of Kenyan instant coffee and black tea. I occasionally stop somewhere for mendazi and chai. Mendazi are fried dough, and are often served with a weak, very milky and sweet tea called chai. I’m sure it is the unhealthiest breakfast ever, but I actually enjoy it a lot. We miss toast, but occasionally we buy the terrible white bread and “toast” it over the gas stove or fry it with margarine. I have also found some natural peanut butter and will eat peanut butter and banana, sometimes with bread. The rest of the peanut butter in the stores is full of sugar and tastes terrible to me. Macadamia nuts are grown here, so sometimes we put them in cereal. They are expensive, but available in the bigger towns.

This week we had french toast! We had it for lunch, but still, it is a good breakfast food to keep in mind. There is no maple syrup here, but honey works, and I like it plain, anyway.


Tomorrow, lunch!

Fishermen, RIP

I feel so bad that I posted the last post about fishermen being at high risk of infectious disease, and that I had not heard of them drowning. The very next day, a young man  drowned here in Matoso. He was out fishing with another man, and the waves were higher than usual. I guess the boat tipped, and they both went into the water. One survived, and one was not found. He was apparently quite young–not yet married–and from a family in this area.

I have been told that the family must stay in the village center, near the small fishing dock, for at least three days, or until the body is retrieved. So please forgive my insensitivity. Fisherman die here, in the same ways as they do all over the world.

Fishing in Lake Victoria: High Risk Occupation


Matoso is a fishing village. Because of the way things work here, being involved in the fishing industry is very high risk. Not of drowning, or having fingers and limbs cut off, but of contracting HIV. I mean, maybe fishermen drown and lose fingers and other parts here like they do in the rest of the world, but here, they are also at very high risk of contracting HIV.


It didn’t make sense to me at first, and I confess I still don’t completely understand, but here is what has been explained to me. The fishermen go out in their boats and spread their nets, and pull them in to the beach in the morning.  Then they have fish to sell, and the fishmonger women come to buy them. It turns out, the women compete for the privilege of buying the fish, and the competition involves sex. So they won’t get to select from the best fish unless they are willing to have sex with the fisherman. Then, maybe he lets them buy fish from him. Anyone who is not in on the game gets only the tiniest or poorest fish, if anything.

So maybe the fisherman has a couple of “fish wives”, as well as one or more wives back tending the farm. And I suppose the fish-monger women may have to barter with more than one fisherman in any given week. Anyone making their living fishing here is in a very hand-to-mouth existence. There is not a lot of money in fishing with nets, in wooden boats that are not even watertight. I suspect there is even less margin in buying and selling fish in the market.  The desperation is evident, and the price is the high rate of infection in fishing communities.


Can We Take a Picture?

I have been welcomed everywhere I go in Kenya–and people love to take their picture with the white lady! The pictures are just snapshots of daily life here, with friendly Kenyans, both familiar and brief acquaintances.

I need a lighthearted topic today, as we await the outcome of the election.

Here we are, in the cookhouse.

Tea with Dorothy and Valerie
Dorothy on the right, her younger sister Valerie, and me. The girls made tea the Kenya way: One liter of milk, and equal amount of water, and then they heated that to boiling and colored it with one teabag. It certainly didn’t keep anyone awake!
Michael, one of the guards, and I in front of the tuko.
Maxwell shoots the “selfie” of all of us: two friends from Migori town, me, and Tamara.


This boy let me hold him for quite a while at a friend’s house.


I took two pictures to capture all the kids hanging out at our friend Joseph’s house. One boy made sure he was in both!
On the shore at the Victoria See Lodge, our place to go have a meal or drink with friends.

Pictures of Nairobi

Tubman Lane
Several streets in Nairobi were named after famous African Americans. I assume this street was named for Harriet Tubman, but I do not know for sure.
Buildings in Nairobi
Random buildings in close proximity to each other.
The frustration of the religious poster in front of the graffiti–or is it a statement itself? The Nyayo Era (Era of Daniel Moi, second Kenya President), is sometimes called the Nyayo Error. Nyayo means “footsteps”, and reportedly Moi often said that people should follow in his footsteps. “Ni wakati” means “It’s time” in Swahili.


Sorry I have been out of touch for several days. We (Tam, the public health director, and I) had to fly to Nairobi in order to straighten out our applications for work permits. It took two days, but we have gotten them submitted! It took two full days, two visits to NyayoHouse which contains the Immigration Department, and the services of Wangari to get it done. Wangari also got my work permit, and a slightly bent clerk in Immigration extended my visa all the way to November.

Fly 540 Air Kenya’s low cost airline

Wangari (she tells us the name means Daughter of the Leopard) is Henry’s wife, and of the two I think she does all the actual work for us. She is educated, fluent in English, Swahili, and Kikuyu, her mother tongue, and a charming and cheerful lady. Henry has another job managing a drilling rig which apparently digs wells for water. Together, they have a vision of improving water and sanitation for rural Kenyans by drilling wells as sources of clean water and building good latrines for private and clean ways to take care of the calls of nature.

While in Nairobi we stay at the Flora Hostel, a lovely Catholic Guesthouse for travelers from all over the world. The price includes three meals a day (If you can get here during the thirty minute window for each meal), free wi-fi when it is working, and hot showers in the morning. And while there are mosquitoes here, there are no lake flies so it is possible to leave the lights on and work in the evening, or to read in bed. This is real luxury for us. Also, their grounds are filled with lovely gardens and plants, with manicured lawns and groupings of potted plants. I am getting ideas for plants in the ex-pat housing areas of the Matoso compound.



We met another American here, an anthropology graduate student at Michigan State doing research into the diversity and “intersectionality” of Information Technology workers here. He explained that intersectionality has to do with multiple group identities residing in a single individual. So someone could be an IT worker, for example, and a member of the ruling class, and that intersection might have profound influences on the government, especially if it is true for many in the IT field. Like Tam, he is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer and truly loves Kenya. He stays at the Flora for weeks at a time.

The big city is like cities everywhere, with pockets of horrible traffic and diesel exhaust, and lovely suburbs with huge houses or apartment buildings behind big walls and hedges. The sprawling slums, among the largest in the world, were pointed out to us as notable landmarks. I have managed to buy some of the medical supplies I wanted, including tourniquets, a Doppler for fetal heart tones, and a couple of thermometers for the lab. And I have managed NOT to buy, so far, any crafts or fabrics or scarves/wraps. I am trying to save my tourist dollars to buy crafts closer to home, at the  Ochuna Craft Cooperative for instance. Ochuna Craft Coop Facebook Page And so far I gave only 100 shillings (about one dollar) each to two charming con-men—I am quite proud of this because I am such an easy mark.


Nairobi seems quite safe as long as one is reasonably alert. We are warned of robberies and to be careful with our cell phones when out on the street, and we don’t go out alone at night. People who know the city and the country feel that conditions are quite different than those that led to violence after the 2007/2008 elections. People are preparing for trouble, but are hoping there is little.

Lake Flies

They are here–clouds of them. I’ll let you find your own images. I will not honor them with a photo. They don’t hurt anything, and I heard that in the old days people made a soup out of them, but they are pesky, uncomfortable and I don’t like them!

The Camels

Arrival after ten days
The gate to the compound is on the far right, and you can see some of the school children following the Masai drover.

We have had an exciting few days here at Lalmba, Kenya. A group of Lalmba supporters from North America, both Canada and the US, walked for ten days across southern Kenya, and through the Rift Valley to raise money for the Lalmba programs. They walked just outside of the Masai Mara Reserve, seeing a great deal of wildlife, and then through rural farmland where they were greeted by hundreds of school children and villagers. This is the second, biennial “Big Walk” done as a fundraiser, and involved ten walkers, 20 camels, 5 or 6 drovers, and one of the owners of the camel farm. A huge undertaking for these folks—I am impressed that they can do it as often as they do.IMG_2028

It has been a great way to support Lalmba for people who cannot spend a year or two volunteering. I believe that people at home sponsor each walker, and one can follow their route on their Facebook page, Tembea na Mimi, which shows the yellow logo of Lalmba.

IMG_2001Camels have never been seen in this part of Kenya until Lalmba first brought them two years ago for the first “Tembea ne Mimi,” (Swahili for Walk with Me.) The children are so excited to see them that they stop, for a moment, their refrain of “Mzungu, how are you?”

Camels at the beach
They are uninterested in the fresh water of the lake, but instead chew enthusiastically at the thorny, scrubby beach plants.