Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ode to East Africa (beginnings of a long overdue love letter)

My first encounter with East Africa happened the Summer of 2009. I was 3 months pregnant and this was my first time out of the country (heck of an initiation). I remembering being on the plane and looking down at Ethiopia, trying to see if I could see traces of people in what appeared to be an eternity of desert. Feeling that if by some chance, something were to happen to the plane, I could say "Look ma, I did it..I made it to Africa, and as a soon to be mom to boot." Fulfilled, and it just gets better.

My plane snuck into Nairobi, my final destination at night, a few hours late from Heathrow. There she was cloaked in darkness, hidden from my expectations and only aggravating them with angst and anxiety. I would have to exercise patience and hold tight until the morning with just my quick catches of scenery ("Yo, was that a Fanta billboard?"). But before morning's revelation, she would open her arms of hospitality, like mother, like sister, like friend... My travel beaten, pregnant body was nourished by her food, laughter and a warm bath. In that instance I knew I was in love with her, and this would be a lifetime courtship.

I remember her in flashes and colors, tastes and sighs. Like the first taste of passion fruit (wow!!). Or the memory of walking her streets and the greetings of "dred" from a passing man. So quick that had it not been for my companion, I would have missed it all together. I was absorbed in the act of trying to make sense of the produce street kiosks and oncoming traffic, not to mention the richness of pedestrians and street vendors.

My husband speaks of her like she's co-wife. I see her traces and influences in his paintings. After spending time farming her land, he speaks of her as only someone who has known her intimately can. She is constant in his conversation, and through their relationship, she has become like kin to me. I remember him coming back, excited that his boots were caked with Kenyan soil. Those same boots once worn, were filled with soil and planted in our front yard with flowers, in constant remembrance.

Sometimes I see East Africa and she is like a blur, so quick our time together (2 weeks). Other times, she's so close in my memory , I can smell her near me and there is no time or space to separate us. And she has been for me, what fantasies should be. Lush, inviting, challenging, as pursuable as she is attainable. Those two weeks are forever with me. They seem to have been too soon and I left feeling like a piece of myself stayed with her. It is the season, the time for reconciliation. East Africa, we are on our way to see you again. Soon. Love.

** The first time I had Shiro was at Habesha, a restaurant in Nairobi. It was the richest, most decadent thing I had ever tried up until that point. I've loved it since....

  • 5 tablespoons Niter Kebbah (check earlier blog for recipe)
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced small
  • 2 tomatoes roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves smashed
  • 1 tablespoon of berbere
  • 1/2 cup of Shiro/chickpea flour (can find at Ethiopian Market)
  • 3 cups of water
  • salt to taste
In a medium saucepan saute onion, garlic, tomatoes and berbere in Niter Kebbeh on low heat. Stir occasionally for about 10-12 minutes until you have formed a sort of tomato sauce.
Add the shiro flour, salt and water and stir really well, making sure to get rid of any lumps. Bring to a light boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 1 hr or until the mixture has thickened. Injoy!! We did : )

*Finished meal of Shiro, Greens and sauteed Potatoes on Injera.

*Shiro prep and ingredients.

*Fresh Collards and Broccoli from the garden.

*Niter Kebbeh prep and ingredients.

My Kitchen Sounds Like: Gigi on Shuffle...