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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.
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!
2. Turn on the stove.
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.
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!
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!
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!