Letter from Kenya (two)
*Wanjiru doesn’t like to cook, but she has been cooking her whole life, she tells me bluntly as she picks through the red mung bean (a bean that I will become very accustomed to during my time here as it appears at many meals). I am surprised that she doesn’t like cooking, only because cooking to me is a joy; it’s a hobby of mine. I ask about her hobbies. She doesn’t have any. After finishing sorting the usable from the not-usable, she proceeds to the kitchen to wash and strain them.
While her English is perfect, the dialect here takes some getting used to for me. When asked her favorite meat, Wanjiru promptly responds “leaver“. I give her a confused look and wonder if she told me in Swahili, certain food is commonly known in its Swahili name rather than in English.
She proceeds to spell it, L-I-V-
– Ahhhh, I say before she can finish, Liver! I repeat, as if correcting her. Am I correcting her?
I’m immediately ashamed for having said it in that fashion, but try to disguise it by asking her, Beef or pork?
With a scornful look she says, Beef! Not pork, and she gives me a disdainful grimace while shaking her head.
After washing and straining she lets the beans soak overnight, but says that she will have to get up at 6 am in order to cook them – she doesn’t normally cook on Sundays, it’s sabbath. Curiously I ask her about her plan for Sunday.
Usually, I go to church from 10:30 am to 1pm, she explains.
It’s not that Wanjiru isn’t forthcoming with information, but she simply doesn’t tell me much unless I explicitly ask her. So, I pry further: Do you come home after church?
No, she tells me that afterwards she either goes and visits with her mother or visits a friend, who owns a salon in Kibera.
That’s enough, she says almost already exhausted, That’s enough.
*Name changed for privacy.
Nicole Rademacher is a currently in Nairobi, Kenya until the beginning of May doing research and documentation for her current project investigating domestic ritual (made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, USA and many private donars/patrons).