During my visit to the remote northern province of Kenya, I saw how life in Marsabit district is very different than life in Nairobi, especially in the kitchen!   Here are some tips for how to fix delicious food, even when water and electricity are in short supply.

Our host, Mama G, kept a very tidy outdoor kitchen.

Our host, Mama G, kept a very tidy outdoor kitchen.

1. Fill your water jug.

Since water is needed for virtually everything (cooking, cleaning, bathing) it’s best to have a ready supply on hand.  In my host family’s home, they carried water to the kitchen in 20 liter plastic jugs, emptied them into larger metal drums, then used the hose to get the water back out as it was needed.  After that, it was boiled for drinking.  I’ll never take a faucet for granted again!

Improvising running water is as easy as siphoning it through a hose.

Improvising running water is as easy as siphoning it through a hose.


2. Turn on the stove.

Traditional stoves are built with the three stones shown here, but more “modern” ones have clay walls to conserve heat.

Traditional stoves are built with the three stones shown here, but more “modern” ones have clay walls to conserve heat.

And by stove, I mean fire.  Even though Marsabit’s forests are in a fragile state, firewood is the only fuel most people can afford.  To keep the heat and smoke away from the rest of the house, kitchens are usually in a separate building.  The advantage of a wood fire is that they are reliable.  Since we only had power for a combined total of 10 hours during the week I spent in Marsabit, an electric stove wouldn’t have been much help.

3. Fry!

In Nairobi, it’s easy to find ugali and omena, which are popular foods from western Kenya, or chapattis from the eastern coast, but in the north, Ethiopian and Somali food reigns.  And that means all kinds of fry bread.  As guests, we were treated to lots of new foods: Injera (fry bread made from fermented dough), kiiqta (fry bread made with yeast), mini mandazi (fried dough balls), and fiiqay (a mix of flour, tiny green leaves, red beans and oil…a crumbly, colorful version of ugali).  Basically, it’s all delicious and comes in abundant supply, so bring your appetite!

Kiiqta made a mouth-watering breakfast, served with honey, avocado, egg, or simply chai.

Kiiqta made a mouth-watering breakfast, served with honey, avocado, egg, or simply chai.

4. Take your time.

As you can imagine, cooking is an all day job.  Since our hosts were feeding their family of 7, plus 3 guests and the 3 needy families we invited to join us, they had to recruit neighbors and church members to help in the kitchen.  Their joy and willingness to serve was amazing; it was hard work, but these women were fun to be around!

5. Don’t forget chai!

Chai is the one constant I’ve found all over Kenya…no matter where I go, I’m sure to find at least one plastic thermos filled with a steamy concoction of black tea, milk, and sugar.  It’s a staple of the Kenyan diet, and an essential part of Kenyan hospitality.  In Marsabit, chai was especially sugary, and it was served after every meal, no exceptions.

The chance to sample Marsabit cuisine, and to see how it’s all prepared behind the scenes, confirmed my love of trying out new foods and different cultures.  The challenge will be recreating the experience back home in the States!

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About the Author: Jessica Shewan is a journalist with World Next Door. She graduated in 2009 from The University of Evansville with a bachelor's degree in History. She loves making new international friends and is passionate about seeing the global church pursue justice and peace!

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Comments

  1. Calah said... 

    Reply

    November 12th, 2009 at 5:22 am  

    Ah, Jess! I share your love of trying new food!

    I recently had the challenging experience of trying to bake chocolate cookies in Viet Nam where ovens are quite rare. They were delicious :)

  2. Nick Kirongo said... 

    Reply

    November 12th, 2009 at 6:16 am  

    I am feeling so hungry now, great article

  3. Jim M said... 

    Reply

    November 15th, 2009 at 9:46 am  

    Are all of the 55 gallon drums for water made of metal? How do they obtain the larger plastic jugs to transport the water? Keep the news of your trip coming…great work Jess. Blessings. J.

  4. Jessica Shewan said... 

    Reply

    November 19th, 2009 at 10:55 am  

    It’s common to see large 5,000 litre plastic containers for storing water, too. Right now, Karura Community Chapel is working with the program in Marsabit to install some extra large containers that will collect the rainwater they are now receiving. The drought is finished now,so harvesting that water is the best way to help them through the next dry season.

  5. Breanna Sipple said... 

    Reply

    February 21st, 2011 at 3:24 pm  

    Yay, cooking! Sometimes cooking with others (along with learning from them) is such a great bonding experience and builds relationships in an unique way. I just had my first Chai the other day, thanks to reading so many WND articles by you and Barry about being in Kenya and drinking it. (It was good!). Also, thinking about how the people in Marsabit get water reminds me of my experiences in the villages/mountains of Mexico, and like you, to appreciate faucets :)

  6. Osman Ibrahim said... 

    Reply

    July 30th, 2016 at 5:06 pm  

    I was born, bred and still live in Marsabit. It was good reading about our traditional hospitality and cuisine.
    I’m happy to read how well your colleagues and yourself were hosted and appreciation of what it takes to undertake everyday taken-for-granted chores.

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