Sometimes You Need to Get Your Hands Dirty: 2012 – Part 2

After the exhilarating thrill of bungee jumping we are hungry.  How perfect!  We walk up to the bright blue stall on the street for our second celebratory event of New Years Day 2012.

Let the CHAPATI LESSONS begin!

As our instructors introduce themselves and walk us through the preparations.  I am surprised by my sudden realization that the roadside stalls making and selling chapatis I have seen across East Africa (and they are plenty) have been, equally surprising, manned by men and not women.  Food for thought… quite literally.

This roadside shop is now full to capacity with the three of us to-be-chapati-chiefs, three instructors, the stove, and workspace.  Kids and other curious community members come in and out leaving the stall bursting at its seams.  All are eager to watch us learn our new skill.  I am selected as the first participant.  They pour water from the jerry can over my hands.  I rub them together washing them as best I can.  The excess water falls onto the middle of the dirt floor below and it is quickly soaked into the ground -nothing unusual- and we carry on.  Into our large mixing bowl come the first ingredients: water, flour, and a little salt.  I mix and knead.  This reminds me of home being in the kitchen with my Mom.  I am happy.  I knead and knead until the batter is thick.  My turn ends quickly to enable the other two to participate in making this short recipe.

As I sit down, letting the others take a turn, one friend tells me I look like a natural in this kitchen.  As I listen I observe how different it is from the kitchen I have grown up with.  I smile.  I smile in part because there is something about people gathered together in a kitchen environment that reminds me of home (and I think her comment would make my mother proud); and, in part because it feels so right to be working alongside those who live here.  I love my job but I miss the opportunities to engage with the local community.  Here we are challenging the colonial stereotype.  Here we are respecting them as the ones with the knowledge allowing them to speak and share; to teach us.  Here they are respecting us by choosing to share their culture, their food, with us.  Here we feel like equals; one global community.  Cross-cultural misunderstandings and miscommunications occur and laughter rings out from all of us: Ugandan, Canadian, Colombian.  Realizing again that this is where I am content, where I belong, memories of working in Ghana flood my mind.  How I have missed this local connection!  I want my work to include these connections and friendships in the future.

The dough is soon rolled out into small balls.  One at a time we work the dough balls stretching them out and placing them onto a hot stove top.  We fry them using a makeshift utensil (of densely pressed newspaper?) to flatten the dough out into a circle-like shape.  With the heat drying out each chapati we quickly add oil.  Now the chapati is slowly fried until it is golden brown on each side.

Complete and serving customers our crepe-like chapatis are eaten differently.  Some eat it wrapped with a fried egg.  Some eat it plain.  Some tourists eat it with a version of natural peanut butter.  I eat it like any good Canadian-Italian girl should: with a thin layer of chocolate wrapped around a banana.

Sometimes the best things in life are simple.  They are best shared.  They require you to get your hands dirty.

*   *   *

Stepping off the bus in Nairobi we feel its familiarity.  The language, the currency, transportation routes and costs, streets, locations, familiar faces.  Returning to a home-away-from-home provides a great sense of relaxation and comfort to its travelers, but never will it come near that utmost sense of belonging one finds when returning home.  There is no place like home.  Home.

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