tourist at home

I love houseguests. Aside from an excuse to cook big family dinners (accompanied by more wine than usual), hosting friends is the push I need to stray from familiar stomping grounds. Kristy was visiting from Mombasa over the weekend, and she soldiered through some “slight malaria” to have some serious fun.

Saturday was a trip to the National Museum. I head there regularly to stroll around the botanical gardens, but this was the first time I laid out the shillings to actually go inside.

lucy

happy family

The museum has an extremely extensive collection of birds, as well as some interesting art, exhibits on the origins of mankind and the development of Kenya, and the requisite hall of taxidermied animals.

On Sunday, we saw animals that were actually alive. And when I say saw, I mean got hipchecked by a baby elephant and got covered in giraffe spit.

The David Sheldrick Trust is an elephant orphanage located on the outskirts of the city, near Nairobi National Park. Elephants are fiercely loyal and family-oriented, so the only time a baby elephant finds itself alone is when its mother is dead or severely injured. The trust rescues and raises young elephants that have been orphaned by natural causes (unlikely), human greed (likely), or animal-human conflict (also likely), such as farmers killing elephants that encroach on their land. The elephant-keepers raise the orphans, socialize them, and then after a few years they begin the years-long process of  reintroducing the young elephant into the wild at Tsavo National Park.

There is a fantastic episode of The Nature of Things about the Sheldrick Trust, here. It’s equal parts heart-warming and fascinating, as is attending the 11 am feeding at the trust.

big smiles, running towards lunch

when all goes according to plan, the older elephants "adopt" the younger ones -- these two are about two weeks and two years old, respectively

After the elephants, we headed to the Giraffe Centre. It’s run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, in an effort to protect the Rothschild giraffe. They have an info centre, walking trails, and a raised platform where you can come face-to-face with the giraffes that live at the centre.

When I reached the top of the stairs and emerged onto the viewing deck, I was momentarily paralyzed. A giraffe was staring right at me, and — not going to lie — I let out a little shriek of joy.

why sure I'll take that food pellet -- you know what? I'll just make sure to suck all your fingers clean, too

Giraffes are way cool. Their faces feel just like a horse’s. Their little antennae might look soft, but they’re actually fur-covered horns. Their tongues are huge.

pure joy

When we cleansed ourselves of giraffe spit, it was time for lunch in Westlands. Gorgonzola cheese, avocado, pesto, bacon on a baguette — as if the day couldn’t get any better. Plus, bonus: it barely rained all weekend.

NIMBY? actually, it is.

How closely do you pay attention to what’s happening in your backyard?

Yesterday afternoon, I stretched out on a beach chair beside my apartment complex. Birds were twittering away in the trees and a warm breeze rippled the pool. I had a John Irving novel, a sweating bottle of chilled club soda, and a stylin’ pair of knock-off Ray Bans. Before long, I dozed off in the glow of the late afternoon sun.

A mere five kilometers away, people were losing their homes. Bulldozers tore through concrete, shredded furniture, and sent debris crashing to the ground. While I was inspecting my skin for signs of sunburn and flipping the pages of A Prayer for Owen Meany, my roommate was trudging through the mud, documenting what may be the worst day in some Eastleigh residents’ lives.

the demolition in Eastleigh -- photo: P. Aarhus

Eastleigh is often called “Little Somalia” — it’s where most of the Somali diaspora lives, a population that is generally discriminated against in Kenya partially due to the al-Shabaab link. I’m not going to pass judgement on the government’s motives, because I don’t know what they were. The official line is that the demolition was due to security concerns (the buildings were located next to a military airfield); some say it was a land grab. Here is what we do know, and what I will judge — the residents of these buildings got ten minutes’ notice.

“Lucky” doesn’t even begin to cover my living conditions here in Kenya.

But let’s broaden the lens a little. Imagine a community where many live in makeshift sheds without water or electricity. Where their toilet is a bucket, emptied into a ditch outside their home. Disease and infection are a constant concern. Children run free — there’s no elementary school, let alone high school or post-secondary education.

I could be describing any number of communities in the developing world… until I add this little tidbit: imagine the winter temperatures in this community reaching 45 degrees below zero. Hey there, Canada.

a makeshift tent home to a family of six -- photo: HuffPo

Governments treating their citizens like shit doesn’t only happen in Kenya. Welcome to the lives of many of Canada’s First Nations. On Monday, NDP MP Charlie Angus wrote an article for HuffPo Canada about the current situation in the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario. Read it. No, don’t open it in a tab on your browser to “come back to later” — read it now. It is chilling. But it is not a one-off.

In June of this year, interim Auditor General John Wiersema released a report detailing the failure of the federal government to honour its commitments to improving the quality of life in aboriginal communities. In fact, the report found that conditions had deteriorated since the turn of the millennium: shortage of housing (and poor conditions in existing housing), lack of access to safe drinking water, high levels of high school dropouts, and lack of appropriate family services. This document was the final report by the previous AG, Sheila Fraser. In it, she wrote: “…a disproportionate number of First Nations people still lack the most basic services that other Canadians take for granted.”

This is not a partisan rant. The mistreatment of Canada’s aboriginal populations has been a longstanding political tradition under the authority of multiple political parties, both in government and opposition. In fact, it has been going on since the Europeans first sailed up the St. Lawrence. Canada turned 144 this year, shouldn’t we be old enough to know better? Regardless of background, ethics or political stripes, I don’t think any Canadian would like to believe that this is how we treat our own. Maybe you don’t believe in using tax dollars to fund development in faraway regions through CIDA or IDRC. But these are people living within Canada’s borders. They’re Canadians. It’s happening in our backyard, and we’re ignoring it.

The federal government recently committed $500,000 to the Attawapiskat First Nation, but when you consider the gravity of their situation, it’s almost an insult. Angus’s article estimates that the community needs 268 new houses just to deal with the current backlog of homelessness… that $500,000 isn’t going to go far.

Let’s make a little comparison, shall we? How much did the feds spend on the G8/G20 summit in 2010? Well, they spent a roughly similar amount ($517,983.40) just on baggage handling at the airport in Toronto, according to a CBC database (if you trust those pinkos). All told, the final House of Commons calculations peg the G8/G20 summit costs somewhere around $900 million. And despite being a proud member of this exclusive little economic club, Canada is letting its own citizens live in poverty. Let’s get some frigging perspective up in here.

sukuma your wiki

Well, I’m still running into a few consistency challenges with these kale burgers but who has time to wait for perfection? Just eat your greens.

Sukuma Wiki Burgers
makes 4 patties

stay together for the kids

I adapted this from a couple different recipes for spinach burgers, adding my own flavours and using sukuma wiki — Kenyan kale, literally meaning “stretch the week” since it is extremely inexpensive and therefore popular with those who need to stretch their grocery budgets. (Lots of people here hate it because they ate it so much as kids, but it’s way more nutritious than the staple “fill kids’ bellies” food in Rwanda: green bananas.)

Kale is a lot coarser than spinach, so I did significant tweaking from the recipes that used spinach… therefore I don’t know if this is backwards compatible with a spinach substitution. If anything, I used more liquid because I think kale’s stiffness requires more sticking power, so if you want to try this with spinach maybe err on the side of less wet ingredients. Also I think maybe the spinach in those recipes was supposed to be cooked, and my kale was raw. So… yeah. Have you decided yet that you don’t trust me, or this recipe, at all? LET’S JUST COOK AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS. With sesame oil and parmesan in a frying pan it is doubtful this will taste bad.

Combine in a bowl:

  • 1 + 1/2 c roughly chopped kale (packed)
  • generous 1/4 c grated parmesan (plus a slice to eat while you cook)
  • 1/4 c chopped coriander
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1 tsp garlic powder, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp ginger powder, or to taste
  • chilli powder to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste

Toss those ingredients to combine well, then add:

  • two eggs
  • 2 tsp tamari
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

Mush it together with your hands! Once everything is goopy and fantastic, slowly add:

  • 1/2 c breadcrumbs (approximately… just add until it seems like its the right consistency to be burger-ified.)

Set the mixture aside. Add to a skillet over medium heat:

  • olive oil or other fat for frying — these suckers soak up oil, so add the amount you’re willing to ingest. The more, the crispier.
  • a few drops of sesame oil

While the oil is heating, make your burgers.

This is where I ran into technical difficulties. It can be hard to make your little burgs stay in one piece. I roughly formed each burger as a ball in the palm of my hand, and then placed it on a chopping board and really pressed down to make it all flatten out and stick together — then transferred it to the frying pan with the spatula. Once it hits the heat of the pan, everything on the outer surface binds together, so it holds together pretty well… the hard part is just handling the raw burger.

Fry 3-4 minutes each side in a covered pan. Watch carefully — mine burned. (Both times I made them. Ok now you definitely don’t trust me.)

Enjoy with your leftover Spiced Lentil Rice from last night, and a side of smugness. You are eating kale burgers, you are so healthy. (Just exercise selective memory when it comes to how many “one more small one” slices of parmesan you ate while you were waiting for the burgers to cook. Ahem.)

kale patties + spiced lentil rice with yogurt and curry powder on top + the tail end of a lonely cucumber = dinner

feed me something

My food strategy is simple: eat real. I don’t go for a lot of packaged or processed foods. No shame, friends. It’s just that I like to cook. I think it’s fun. I think things taste better from scratch. And I think it’s a good way to challenge myself. However, “real” foods are not always low-calorie. Such as… butter… cream… maple syrup… cheese… almost-mooing ribeye. Just a few of my favourite things.

Cooking (ok, fine, eating) gives me a sense of stability, so I tend to do it more when I travel. I also find myself wanting to sample all the new snacks I come across, much of which are far from diet food. Examples in Kenya: bhajias (battered, fried potatoes w/ cilantro and tumeric), battered and fried sausages, fried samosas, fried tilapia (head still on!), fried chicken (head removed – thankfully), mandazi (fried dough… theme?). Also the local pizza chain makes a killer Hawaiian.

glorious mandazi, made with rice flour. just right.

Gaining a few extra pounds is no big deal, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? Normally, yes. However. I’m going home to Canada for Christmas, and it is entirely possible that none of my jeans will fit. Somehow I don’t think my forgiving Kenya wardrobe — skirts, dresses, wraps — will be so useful in a Canadian winter.

Therefore I am making a few last-ditch tweaks: less wine/fat/carbs, more water/vegetables/lean vegetarian protein. Strangely, what’s keeping me going with the health-craze is perusing recipes for disgustingly rich holiday treats… the kind that only North Americans can dream up. (Such as my personal favourite LeBreton Flats, made entirely out of Breton crackers, melted chocolate, butter and brown sugar. I also came across a recipe today that involved baking mini chocolate bars into globs of cookie batter and then covering them with frosting. YES.)

So, in the meantime…

Spiced Lentil Rice

This makes enough for a decently-sized dinner for two, if you add some other dish (stir-fry, curry, big salad?). Or just scale it up. In my sad little case, it made dinner for one + leftovers. Awwwwwwwwwwwwwsadface.

Add to a medium saucepan, over medium heat:

  • a splash of olive oil
  • 1/2 c lentils (I used green)

Saute the lentils for a minute or two, then add:

  • 1 + 1/2 c water

hello my pretties

Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until lentils are beginning to soften. While the lentils simmer, dice:

  • one medium red onion
  • 3-4 green onions
  • half a head of garlic

Heat in a skillet over medium heat:

  • a blurb of olive oil (so precise)

Then add your onions and garlic. Saute until soft, then add:

  • 1-2 tbsp garam masala (or a cumin-ish curry-like spice mix sort of thingy… yeah)
  • chilli powder, salt, and pepper to taste

Once the spices seem to be getting a little toasty (you may need to add more oil to prevent sticking/burning), add:

  • 1/2 c raw brown rice

Toast the rice for a minute or two, then add the whole mixture to the lentils. Be sure to scrape in all the good stuff that stuck to the pan. Add water to cover. (A little too much is better than not enough, you can always boil it off.) Then add:

  • 1 medium tomato, chopped

Simmer for about 30-45 minutes, or until the rice is cooked. When you think it’s close to being done, add:

  • a whole ton of fresh cilantro, chopped… or less, if you’re not obsessed with it like I am. (It’s 12 cents per bunch here! I can’t stop! Someone get me help.)
  • optional: more spices/seasonings, to taste
  • optional: I made mine too spicy so I added 1 tsp raw cane sugar to counteract the mouthfire. Tomato paste would also do the trick.

If everything’s cooked and soft but it seems a little soupy, either boil off the excess water or just remove from heat and let it stand for 10 minutes. I had it with kale burgers (recipe tomorrow maybe, still tweaking) and salad… but I’ve also eaten it on its own, with just tamari (and an episode of The Wire).

all of my photos came out blurry. whatever this isn't Pioneer Woman, deal with it.

spices, slaves and giant tortoises

Zanzibar. Just the name evokes images of spice traders, slave ships, Arab sultans, and palm trees shading white sand beaches. These are all accurate — or were at one point in time.

beach bum on Prison Island

Zanzibar has been on my life list for years, and I finally crossed it off last week. I had an amazing time there… although surprisingly not because of the beaches. I don’t know if it was just because I visited in the rainy season, but I was underwhelmed by the shoreline of Unguja, the main island in the Zanzibar archipelago. Don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely beautiful, but I wouldn’t say the beaches I saw were a cut above Kenya or Sierra Leone.

Stone Town, however, blew my mind. Navigating the maze of alleys, shaded from the sun by crumbling coral stone buildings, it feels like a slave trader or Persian prince might be right around the next corner. Breathing deeply, your lungs fill with hundreds of years. I spent hours just getting lost and found in the narrow streets.

the alleys of Stone Town

Second highlight: I gorged on seafood. Lobster, tuna, shark, octopus, squid, king prawns…

nightly seafood BBQ in Forodani Gardens = heaven

My second night in town I had a memorable birthday dinner at Swahili House, a rooftop restaurant on one of Stone Town’s tallest buildings. As the sun sank over the ocean, we could hear children playing in the streets and the call to prayer echoing over the rooftops. There was a warm, dusky breeze and a full moon. I’m still not convinced it was real.

looking west over Stone Town from Swahili House

My friend/guide/host in Stone Town gave me a trip to Prison Island for my birthday. The giant tortoises who live there are pushing 150 years old, which made me feel better about slipping another year closer towards infinity.

I also took a spice tour. I thrive on making a mess in the kitchen, and I tend to be heavy-handed with the seasonings. Learning about spices in their raw forms gave me a whole new layer of enjoyment when I pop the lid off a jar of cinnamon.

red ribbons of mace wrapped around nutmeg

cocoa comes from a pit inside each of those white.... globs.

fresh peppercorns -- still pack a hell of a punch

the cinnamon tree: roots, bark, branches and leaves all have different (delicious) tastes and smells

a spice trader in Darajani Market

My last afternoon in Zanzibar, I rode out the rains in the slave chambers at the old slave market. After the abolition of slavery the British built a church on the site of the market, but a couple holding cells remain. Although few Zanzibaris were sold into the trade (their labour was needed on the island), Stone Town was a hub for the East African slave trade.

a cell designed to hold 50 men for 3 days... those that lived were deemed strong enough to be sold as slaves. That canal down the middle would be full of sea water and poop.

slave memorial: the chain is one of the originals used to bind slaves in Z'bar

church built on the site of the slave market after the British abolished slavery in the 1800s. On this spot, the slaves were whipped to test their mettle. Those who cried out in pain were sold for a lower price.

the abolition of the slave trade just meant that it went underground -- literally. Slaves were hidden in caves with channels to the ocean, and ferried on and off of the island in the dead of night.

After a glorious week, I flew out just as the sun was sinking on the horizon. As we cruised north-west at 31,000 feet, I had a perfect view of Kilimanjaro almost directly below my window.

the sun setting over the mainland

Zanzibar was wonderful, but descending into Nairobi’s web of light pollution (you can see the traffic jams from a remarkable altitude), I realized I really missed this city. Yeah we don’t have white sand beaches or the catch of the day, but there’s something to be said for reliable electricity, grocery stores and, most of all, the sleeping temperatures at 5000 ft.