(Note from Sam: the other day Ray and I were watching a movie where some American kids were having a food fight. The scene reminded me of my high school days, so in an attempt to elicit some fun stories from my husband, I harmlessly turned to Ray and asked, “Did you guys ever have food fights in school?” He looked at me like I had six eyeballs and said, “No… we can’t afford stuff like that. People are dying of starvation here. How can we have food fights?” That was part of the inspiration behind this post.)
1. Eating bananas
It’s true that people die of poverty in some parts of Kenya every year, so from childhood we are raised with sayings such as, “Anything that’s not poisonous is food,” or “Put on your plate that which you can finish,” and so on. On several occasions I have passed by a grocery shop to get a banana or two for my wife, with the aim of bringing my A game as a husband, only for my wife to give me a crestfallen look when she realizes the banana is kind of old or has black spots. She typically bites off a section of the banana that is purely white, and for a moment thinks of throwing the rest, but then she remembers Mama Jeannette’s voice saying, “Sam, kids are dying in Africa.” It’s usually then that she remembers she has an African for a husband, so she gives me the rest to finish.
2.Tomatoes, green pepper, avocado, and cilantro
It would be nothing more than wishful thinking for me to say that we are a wealthy couple. Every shilling and scrap of food we have in the house counts. If my wife notices the tomatoes are a bit squishy, she will remove all the inner parts and just use the skin. When she first moved here, she would just throw them away altogether. Same thing with avocado. Here we don’t throw avocado away until it has turned black on the inside. My wife will throw it away as soon as it gets too squishy for her liking, which is what we call ripe. If a green pepper is slightly old and soft or the cilantro has like two or three black leaves, my taste buds will have to go without those flavorful ingredients for a meal. See, we don’t have a refrigerator, so if we use half of a green pepper in a dish, the other half will stay on the counter until we need it in another dish. Sam has to force herself not to throw them away even when the edges start curling in.
3. Piling up utensils
This one isn’t wasteful as much as it is weird for me. From childhood, Kenyan girls are raised to believe they are helpers, like in the physical sense. It would be so rude after dinner for a young girl to sit there with the elders watching TV when dirty utensils are all over the table. Culturally it’s her duty not only to take it to the kitchen, but to clean it as well. My wife lets the dishes pile up and washes them at her own time. She blames the fact that aside from the last place she lived, she always had a dishwasher, so she’s not a fan of washing dishes. At first I never used to like it, but once I realized that she has her own way of doing housework, I had to accommodate her way of doing things. She reminds me of my sister who, when it comes to cleaning, is slow and may appear lazy, but once she gets to cleaning, the house will be sparkling clean.
(Sam: I’m also learning to accommodate my husband by changing my habits around the house so as to honor him and his culture. As much as I hate dishes, I’ve grown to hate having Ray come home to a sink full of dirty dishes even more, so that has helped pushed me out of some of my lazy habits [though I’m not going to lie, I still go a day or two without doing the dishes]. And to this day, I’ve used old, soft, or blackened vegetables in recipes and I have yet to get sick. It’s sad to think about all of the vegetables I’ve wasted in the past. Once we get back to the States, I think I’ll be able to get more value out of our fruits and veggies, so I’m very grateful to the Kenyan culture for that.)