Friday, October 31, 2014

The Circles that tie us - by Muthoni Njogu

Muthoni Njogu visited us during our class on Haiti and sent us this lovely poem inspired by our session together.

The poem is proof of how Haiti is so close to our heart as black people. It is such a strong symbol of our humanity that just wont fade, no matter how much trouble and disaster is thrown at her by the gods and by human beings.


not to long ago, i gladly and joyfully sat through a session of ‪#‎IntroductionToFrancophoneWorld‬ class offered by Wandia Njoya.

the country of discussion was Haiti/Ayiti.

classrooms can offer sites of independent thought, creativity
and critical thinking. wandia, in my opinion does that.
sometimes, without much accolade or recognition.

she still is here
we are still here


The Circles that Tie us

i was almost nineteen years of age
when i said goodbye to daystar
my heart
my voice
muted by self censor
my body
limp with exhaustion

twenty years later

i was back in a classroom in daystar
i was no longer almost nineteen
my body having adjusted to stretching into spaces
of nonconformity
my tongue used to speak for self and others

i was different now
so was the space i had previously abhorred
i sat with students who were me at nineteen
bodies agile & firm
eyes focused on the infinite realm of possibilities
their legs
unaccustomed to the weariness of disappointment
Revolución for Ayiti
Revolución for Ayiti
the first for former black slaves
in western hemisphere

congo square
beat of the drum

Revolución for Ayiti
Revolución for Ayiti
the food for the body
recipes dug through searches online

White rice
Sos Pwa
Mayi Moulen
Poule en Sauce
Pen Patat
Coz revolutionaries need to eat
Revolución for Ayiti
Revolución for Ayiti

words of creole
scribbled on the board
reminding / remembering
cries of those
whose lungs
whose limbs
whose eyes
whose mouths
whose tongues
whose ideas

Because I was almost nineteen once
Because we were nineteen once
Because we could still be nineteen once again

& because we are

the children of the children of the children of the children
of the children of the children of the children of the children
of the children of the children of the children of the children of
the children of the children of the children of the children of the
children of the children of the children of the children of the children
of the children of the children of the children of the children of the
children of the children of the children of the children of the children

cast away
because we are

Ayiti from highlands
Ayiti from the shores of the lake
Ayiti from the tips of the northern parts
Ayiti along the coral relief

because we are
all Ayiti

Ceebu jen and kunde

Ceebu jen (rice and fish)

During the class discussion of Francophone Africa on October 3, our class picked on the countries of Cameroon, Senegal and Mali. As we usually do, we researched on recipes from these countries, and during the week we discussed the menu on whatsapp before we brought the dishes to class on Friday.

Ceebu jen, which comes from the Wolof words for rice and fish (Wolof is the widest spoken language in Senegal), is spelled in French as thieboudienne. It is kind of like pilau - it is an elaborate rice, fish and vegetable dish that is prepared in three stages. You have to first cook the fish, set aside, then cook the vegetables, set aside, and finally add the rice. Then combine all three. gives an interesting story about the origin of ceebu jen:

According to oral tradition, Thieboudienne is the creation of one woman from Saint Louis, Senegal.  Penda Mbaye, a cook at the colonial governor’s residence, created the dish of fish and vegetables first using barley. Amid a barley shortage, she decided to use rice, at the time still a luxury good having just arrived in Senegal by way of Asia in the 19th century.  Eventually Thieb became a favored dish throughout Senegal and was elevated to national dish status. 
It was kind of exciting to be cooking a dish linked to a woman in the 19th century.

Ingredients in the different recipes of ceebu jen vary. For example, some recipes ask for plantains, while others say that sweet potatoes can be a substitute. I badly wanted plantains because I love them, but I couldn't find plantains anywhere! I knew that Uchumi sometimes stocks them, but when I went to several stores, I didn't get any.

The other interesting thing about this dish was that the vegetables are cooked almost whole, unlike us Kenyans who cut and slice up everything. The entire cabbage and eggplant are cut into quarters, and the carrots are cooked whole. I found that visually interesting, but it didn't quite work on the table because no one wanted to eat a whole quarter cabbage.

Now the fish...that part was a disaster. I went to City Market because my Nigerian colleague told me that that's where I could get palm oil. So I decided to buy fish there as well. I wasn't too sure about the fresh fish, so I decided to get some smoked fish as well. So the fish was wrapped for me. By the time I got home three hours later, the fresh fish had gone bad. So we still ended up not eating fish, although the small smoked fish added the flavor to the rice.

When we were sharing our adventures in class, Bonaventure told me that fresh fish is not supposed to be wrapped for long. Lesson learned.

Kunde in peanut sauce

Final lap of cooking the kunde in peanut sauce
Since we needed a vegetable dish, I decided to cook cassava leaves in peanut sauce. I found this passionate Guinean lady, Oumou Bah, who has a website (Kadi recipes) and a youtube channel of African cuisine. She's so charming, and I had a lot of fun just watching her.

As expected, there was no way I was going to find cassava leaves on a Thursday afternoon, so I substituted the cassava leaves with kunde.
And just as well, because I discovered from the comments and further research that cassava is poisonous if it is not thoroughly cooked.

Personally, I think this kunde was the best I've ever made, and the best I've ever tasted. It was tasty, fragrant and just plain nice. And yes, I say so myself.

Enjoying cooking

Cooking for this class has made me excited about cooking in general, because now I feel I'm connected with the world through food, I'm not just cooking to eat or to prove I'm an African woman. Maya keeps saying in our classes that we Kenyans need to be more adventurous with our food, experimenting using local ingredients and not just cooking the same dishes in the same old way. This kunde dish proves her right.

That said, West African dishes take a longer time to cook than I'm used to ...

Friday, October 24, 2014


In last weeks class I got to learn a few interesting bits about France. For instance the french had their own Angelina Jolie by the name Josephine Baker for she adopted children of different nationalities. She had a total of twelve children.

Josephine was an American born dancer who later became a french sensation. Popularly known for her banana dance and song J'ai Deux amours The song translates to the love of her life her country America and Paris.Her dance rhythm wasn't your normal for some that were present at that time explained that her dance moves were often comic and the Broadway shows she starred she often stood out.She is referred to as the first black international superstar. 

I was also fascinated  by the  l'Ossuaire Municipal which is famously known as the Catacombs of Paris. It was opened in the 18th century in Paris and has gained a reputation as the worlds largest grave for it hosts a total of six million people. 

During the 9th century most of the french dead bodies were buried in church yards or around the churches. By the end of the century the burial sites were overflowing. The popular being Les innocents Cemetery. To the point that to make room for more burials the bones of the long dead were exhumed and their bones packed into the roofs and the walls of the galleries built to the inside of the cemetery walls. This still didn't help the situation and so did the decrees  they put up limiting the use of cemeteries.
 They opted to  Ban parish cemeteries within city limits. Which was hastened by the collapse of the basement wall in 1780,  a property adjoining the cemetery collapsed.

Louis Etienne Hericart de Thury, he is the one known to have directed the stacking of skulls and femurs into the patterns seen today and used the cemetery decorations he could find to complement the wall of bones.