So it took a few weeks ( :/ ) but I finally have
lots of work to do. And of course, the busier I get, the
fewer things I have to write about. Hence, few posts. I doubt
anybody wants to hear about the thrills of searching for
information about diabetes and hypertension in Kiswahili, with
frustratingly slow internet. Or, better yet, trying to find
culturally-appropriate information; it seems kind of pointless to
say "eat less pasta" to a culture that, by and large, doesn't eat
much pasta. Though actually, maybe this gives me an excuse to talk
about food, my favorite subject…
Actually, food ties in rather well to some of the work I'm doing
with hypertension and diabetes (both under-recognized and growing
problems here.) It's unfortunate, but I get the impression that
food was both more nutritious and better tasting 50- 80 years ago.
As much as I love corn, I hate what it does to diet. Much
like America, it has become far too much of a staple. Here, it's
ugali: corn flour and boiling water. High calorie, low nutrient
food that may easily be ¾ of the plate. But it's cheap (I actually
don't understand why- it can only be harvested once a year while
some other plants can go through at least three harvest cycles).
There is an alternative. Brown ugali is made with, as far as I can
tell, millet and sorghum and some other things (I pretty sure there
were four grains mentioned). So it's less-processed and has more
nutrients. But I have yet to eat it, whereas maize ugali is
Typically, ugali is served with some beef stew and a small
portion of green leafy vegetable-of-choice. This ranges from sukuma
wiki (which they say is kale but it seems mis-translated as sukuma
has little to no nutritional value) to managu (nightshade leaves)
to cabbage (cabbage). There are at least a half-dozen other greens
to be found in the market, but those three seem to be the ones I
encounter most often. They are, of course, cooked in oil and
smothered in salt. There is a group in FPI that is working with
mboga kenyaji (native Kenyan green leafy vegetables), researching
and training farmers on better techniques. I do love projects that
work on multiple levels: economic empowerment AND diet
An alternative meal is githeri: beans + maize + whatever else
the cook feels like adding, usually potatoes. It's usually pretty
tasty, but today my portion had 2 pieces of carrot and that was the
extent of the vegetables (no, maize is not a real veggie).
And combining pilau (a general term for any spiced rice dish
that varies greatly depending on who makes it) with chappati (an
unleavened Indian-style bread with approximately as much oil as
flour) is the excepted norm. Carb + carb=yummy, but you may be
starting to understand why diabetes is an emerging
Chappati, too, can be made in a 'brown' form. Simply add whole
wheat; I've done it. It's not difficult, yet it's not common. My
guess is it is more expensive or harder to find.
Mid-morning and mid-afternoon is tea-time. Which is kind
of nice; I won't complain about scheduled snack breaks. To clarify
though, tea here is "chai": half-water/half-milk (whole milk of
course) as the base and approximately two tablespoons of sugar per
cup. A common accompaniment is mandazi (a deep-fried dough
concoction not unlike a plain doughnut). Or, at one of the training
sessions I observed, the tea served immediately after the lecture
on proper diet came with 3 slices of very white bread with Blue
Band (~margarine). Lunch that day was half ugali, with chicken and
beef and some greens. There were complaints that the traditional
soda had been replaced by bananas. Again, this is at a training
session on hypertension and diabetes!
I have not personally experienced this, but I have heard stories
of many lunches consisting of orange Fanta and white bread with
Blue Band. I can't imagine that is even the slightest bit filling,
but it will raise your blood glucose. Which, at times, is all you
need. But in someone at risk for or in the early stages of
diabetes, it's probably not a good call.
Needless to say, diet education here will be no less difficult
than in the U.S. and changing the diet may be even more difficult.
Try telling someone who has always grown maize that it is not only
a poor crop choice economically in many circumstances, but it's
also just not something you should be eating.
I could rant all day about food and diet and still not say
everything I wanted to. So I'll leave you with just that taste
(hehehe) of what I've seen here.