When lost in the busyness of the city, it is almost impossible to notice that the many jacaranda trees in Nairobi are finally shedding their colorful light-purple flowers. Two nights ago, I stood at the side of the road outside the 680 Hotel waiting for the vehicle traffic to ease so that I could cross. And then, a tiny petal landed on my forehead and slid down my face like an exhausted butterfly that had lost the will to continue with the eternal struggle of flapping its wings. As I followed the petal’s downward path to the ground, I saw the carpet of purple flowery confetti on black tar that marked a huge circle all around my feet. A bright yellow security light shining through the jacaranda tree cast a sketchy shadow against the decorated pavement. The movements of the branches in the slight evening wind unknowingly made the shadows flirt lightly with the enchantingly beautiful ground.
Have you ever sat very still in the kitchen to listen to the ticking of the clock in the living room against the powerful hum coming from the refrigerator? That is the tap..tap..tap..tap of the pretty blooms as they hit the concrete in rapid succession amidst the incessant humdrum of man made noise. What about that fragrant whiff that you thought smelt vaguely familiar, and yet you could not seem to catch again in order to activate the memory? That is what the mixed city air around the jacaranda tree does to you.
As I walked and rediscovered the many other jacaranda trees that adorn the city of Nairobi, I could not help but wonder how much beauty literally throws itself on our feet everyday begging to be noticed.
love is like magic and it always will be for love still remains life’s sweetest mystery!
love works in ways that are wondrous and strange and there is nothing in life that love cannot change!
love can transform the most commonplace into beauty and splendor and sweetness and grace!
love is unselfish, understanding, and kind, for it sees with its heart and not with its mind!
love gives and forgives, there is nothing too much for love to heal with its magic touch!
love is the language that every heart speaks for love is the one thing that every heart seeks!
- Hellen Steiner Rice
The head of the goat, ‘mutura’, bones, and the part of the legs below the knees are used to make goat soup.
The fur on the head and the legs is usually burnt over an open flame and scrapped off with a knife. After being washed to remove the resulting soot, they are put in a huge pot of water together with the ‘mutura’ and bones and boiled for hours.
The result is a broth that is a sure fire cure for hangover that inevitable results after any party that warranted the demise of a goat. The soup is usually consumed late that night or early the following morning.
When do you know that the goat eating is officially over? When the goat’s head (or ‘engine’ as it is fondly referred) is finally cut over the chopping board and passed round to anyone who still has space in the stomach for more – as it turns out, it is always almost everyone.
‘Mutura’ is what we sometimes alias as ‘African sausage’. ‘Mutura’ is made by stuffing a goat’s intestines with minced meat and boiling it in water, before roasting it over a charcoal grill.
The intestines are detached from the goat and cleaned thoroughly. The usual technique is putting one end of the intestine under a water tap and running water through it like you would a hosepipe.
Next, tiny pieces of meat fried in onion and spices are stuffed in the intestine, together with the goat’s raw blood, and secured with sisal strings on both ends. The meat used in the stuffing comes from the less palatable parts of the goat – including the neck, the animal’s fat, and internal organs like the lungs.
The sausage is next boiled for some time before being put on the grill to dry off the soup. After that, it is cut into small pieces over a chopping board and passed round for anyone wishing to take a bite.
‘Nyama choma’ is the Kiswahili phrase meaning roasted meat. ‘Nyama choma’ is prepared by roasting huge chunks of meat over an open charcoal fire. Typically, the chunks could consist of a whole leg, or the ribs making up one half of the chest. The Kenyan ‘nyama choma’ barbeque style does not require the meat to be marinated in any way.
Special stoves are available to make sure that the grill holding the meat can be raised or lowered depending on the conditions of the fire, and the temperatures needed to cook the meat. The ‘nyama choma’ challenge is that after the countless raising and the lowing of the grill, the meat should be well done- meaning, not overly oozy with juices and not too dry either. Special care should be taken to ensure that the charcoal does not flare up into flames and blacken the surface of the meat. As any ‘nyama choma’ lover will tell you, it is undesirable to eat under cooked goat meat just as it is to eat burnt cinder.
It requires some level of patience and endurance to keep flipping the meat from one side to the other to ensure even roasting, while standing next to the hot fire in an even hotter afternoon. With ‘nyama choma’ cooking being a man’s thing, the grilling is usually accompanied by a few beers, brouhaha borne of soccer rivalry, heated political arguments, and perhaps a few whackily unbelievable stories. Needless to say, the roasting skills are highly valued among the men – only the qualified need attempt.
Once ready, the meat has an attractive golden brown color and a smell that could easily attract hungry crows all the way from Nigeria, given the right wind conditions.
When each huge chunk of ‘nyama choma’ is ready, it is cut into small chewable pieces over a chopping board and passed around for everyone eagerly waiting to sample the delicious morsels. What is the conventional way of consuming nyama choma? A person picks a single piece from the chopping board, dips it in some salt before eating it. While juggling the hot piece in the mouth, the person watches the chopping board go to the next person…then the next…and then the next, hoping that there still will be more pieces of ‘nyama choma’ when the board comes round the next time. Fortunately, one does not have to wait too long before the next piece of ‘nyama choma’ is cooked, diced, and passed round.
It is imperative that a goat loses its life whenever we have a party of any significance here in Nairobi.
Where goats are concerned, the uncastrated he-goat is a favorite to the seasoned goat eating Kenyan due to its unique taste. A grown he-goat requires a few strong men to hold it down during the slaughtering operation.
After that, the carcass is hung from a high point to facilitate the unsheathing of the skin.
Next, different parts of the goat are removed and used to prepare the various dishes that one can choose from at the buffet, including:
“When mystics use the word love, they use it very carefully – in the deeply spiritual sense, where to love is to know; to love is to act. If you really love, from the depths of your Consciousness, that love gives you a native wisdom. You perceive the needs of others intuitively and clearly, with detachment from any personal desires; and you know how to act creatively to meet those needs, dexterously surmounting any obstacle that comes in the way. Such is the immense, driving power of love.”
- Eknath Easwaran
“Therefore, when I say that ‘I love,’ it is not I who love, but in reality Love who acts through me. Love is not so much something I do as something that I am. Love is not a doing but a state of being – a relatedness, a connectedness to another mortal, an identification with her or him that simply flows within me and through me, independent of my intentions or my efforts.”
- Robert A. Johnson
“When you are aware that you are the force that is Life, anything is possible. Miracles happen all the time, because those miracles are performed by the heart. The heart is in direct communion with the human soul, and when the heart speaks, even with the resistance of the head, something inside you changes; your heart opens another heart, and true love is possible.”
- Don Miguel Ruiz
The ‘leso’ is to many Kenyan women, what the blue pair is overalls are to the motor vehicle mechanic. ‘Leso’ is a simple sheet that is wrapped around the waist and serves as an apron during manual tasks that would otherwise mess up the beautiful dress.
May it be in the farm, kitchen, market or any other place where dirt stains might be encountered, the ‘leso’ will be easily wrapped around the middle.
The ‘leso’ is as essential in the older woman’s weaved basket (kiondo) as a mirror is in a young secretary’s purse. Though the two serve different functions, I could compare the Kenyan woman’s ‘leso’ with the Somali man’s ‘maawis‘.
The ‘leso’ is made from simple fabric with colorful print. One of the most unique features of the ‘leso’ is that it always has a Kiswahili phrase or wise saying printed across one of its edges.
‘Mukimo’ is a dish that is popular with many Kenyans. ‘Mukimo’ is a word that is derived from the Kikuyu language and it implies ‘to mash’. The food is prepared by mashing potatoes mixed with green maize, green peas and pumpkin leaves.
‘Mukimo’ is one of the foods that are prepared during traditional Kenyan parties, often, in one of those large aluminum pots that you can easily boil an elephant in. It is especially tedious to prepare the dish since you have to ensure that each of the many pieces of potato is completely pulverized and blended with the rest of the ingredients into a medium heavy cake.
‘Mukimo’ gets its greenish tinge from the vegetables. It sticks to the spoon, and has the consistency similar to that of peanut butter. However, in the mouth, that smoothness is regularly interrupted by the pieces of green maize that are embedded in the cake.
To make ‘mukimo’, you would need to boil peeled potatoes, green maize, some green peas and pumpkin leaves until they are soft. Next, drain the water from the pot and then mash the mixture with a huge ladle. This exercise might take up to one and a half hours. You would occasionally have to add hot water in order to control the consistency of the food. Take care to ensure that the salt is evenly distributed within the whole dish.
The only style of serving ‘mukimo’ at a party is by making a high mountain in a wide plate accompanied by meat stew swamped in plenty of gravy.
Like any other African country, Kenya has its share of people going abroad for prolonged periods of time. Most of these people prefer going to the ‘first world’, and do so for two main reasons; education and work. Before the big day of departure comes, it is usual to have a send off party for the person going abroad.
I recently attended a send off party for a lady called Jayne Njeri, who left the country last weekend for the UK. As Jayne’s relatives and friends, we gathered in a public hall in Nairobi for an afternoon and evening of fun – consisting of food, drink, socialization, music and dancing.
Slaughtering one of the 2 goats used to prepare ‘nyama choma’ (barbequed goat meat – Kenyan style). Nyama choma is one of the ‘must have’ foods at any Kenyan party.
On arrival to the party, each person was adorned with a ‘flower’ to identify him or her as one of the guests.
‘How long can we make this line of money?’ one of the playful ways used to raise some cash to help Jayne start off her new life in Diaspora.
Jayne Njeri and her husband Robert Kuria talk to the guests.
Jayne will be gone to the UK for studies for the next 3 years. I wish her all the best while she is away from us.