I have to say that teaching at a Christian school is giving me a totally new perspective on my students. It is awesome being able to use scripture in my classroom and being able to help them to see what took me 30 + years. Combining science and faith is an awesome experience. When students have questions that in the states I couldn’t answer, I get to pull out the bible and tell them what the bible says.
I also get to worship with my students in chapel once a week. But this week was spiritual awareness week at my school, which means chapel everyday and prayer at lunch and class discussions. We had a really good series that led up to this week that did a really good job at explaining what sin was, that we are all sinners, and culminated with this week’s message of the good news that we aren’t without hope, that Jesus came willingly to die as a penance for our sins so that we could have eternal life with God in heaven. I just hope and pray the students understood that in order to receive that gift of eternal life, they have to invite him. Revelations 3:20 says, “Here I am. I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” I tried to help them understand what it means to truly be repentant for their sin and to turn to Jesus to overcome that sin, as we cannot do it by our own means. We need the Holy Spirit to come in and guide us and the only way to get the Holy Spirit is to invite Jesus into our hearts and into our lives. I just hope and pray that they got it.
Something to bite? (I was asked this at a local café when I stopped for coffee).
I thought today I would tell you about some of the food experiences I have had here. Some will be restaurant and some school and some grocery type things. But apparently one mention of missing a food item (grits) has raised a lot of questions about whether I am eating ok. So I am eating fine, actually healthier than in the states. There are no fast food restaurants here, at least not if you don’t count the street vendors, which are not safe to eat from. And I have actually lost a few pounds, but I don’t know how much since I don’t have a scale.
So let me start with the grits. If you are a southerner in the US, then you know what Grits are and how to fix them. So here I am in a country that has corn as one of its main staple food items. Really, the most common street vendor is roasted corn on the cob. Consequently, corn products and things made from corn meal are very common. So I thought just maybe there would be something comparable to grits. So far I haven’t had any luck in finding something comparable. There are plenty of corn meal products and I haven’t tried them all, but I’m not hopeful at this point that I will find something the same as grits. So far I have tried corn based porridge. It was really not appetizing even with a ton of sugar and cinnamon (not that I eat grits that way). Then I tried not one but two different types of course corn meal, one was Ugali, which is very popular here. Let’s just say that cooked corn meal does NOT taste like grits no matter how much stuff you add to it. There are still some other types of porridge I haven’t tried, but I’m not optimistic. Ok so enough about not having my yummy grits.
Basically, other than, very specific or regional type items like grits, most things can be found here. That is if you are willing to pay the price for them. Locally grown things like fresh fruits and veggies, can be cheap. Here are a few we keep in the fridge: zucchini, corn on the cob, green beans, okra, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, pineapple, peppers, and onions. A few others we are planning to try soon are butternut squash and a variety of pumpkins. There are also other ones that are less common here and therefore more expensive but are available like snow pea pods. We can go to the produce store by the mall and get two bags of fresh veggies for under $5. It is amazing.
Processed things that are made from locally grown products can also be cheap. A bag of corn meal for example costs about 34 shillings which is about 43 cents (80 shillings to the dollar). The whole meal bread we are buying costs 39 shillings. Pasta and rice are staples here so they are not expensive either. However, the Italians that are here have some pretty strong opinions about the pasta brands. Not once, but twice, when we were at the store buying pasta, Italians gave us advice on which pasta we should buy. One was insistent that we should only buy Barilla, which is of course the most expensive brand in the store. But another guy gave us another brand that was the next expensive brand. We decided to go with one of the cheapest brands and it is just fine. Sugar, from sugar cane, is cheap as are most spices. My best find yet is actually candy that is very similar to M & M’s but ¼ of the price. I can get some of the major candy bars here but I’ve learned not to expect it to taste the same. Same with cookies, a fake brand Oreo look-a-like is actually more like a real Oreo than the Oreo brand. Go figure!
But don’t think all food is cheap, it is not. Anything in a can or box is going to be expensive. When I compare dollar amounts it is about equal to or MORE expensive of what we would pay in the states. I bought a small box of oatmeal and it was the same price as the huge Quaker oatmeal canister back home. All of the boxed/processed cereals are more expensive here. And anything canned is absolutely ridiculous. I did break down and buy some cans of tuna, but you would have thought I was buying caviar. I bought it for convenience but that won’t be something I keep in the cabinet. Condiments and salad dressings are also expensive and unless they are imported they don’t taste the same as they do back home. Ketchup is the one that really surprises me. I can get Heinz but it is made in Africa and is completely different than back home. I’m not sure how to describe it but it is waterier and not much flavor. And it is cheaper to make spaghetti sauce from scratch rather than buy it in the can.
Then there is the meat. Ok so you would think that since this country has a huge cattle industry that beef wouldn’t be too expensive, but it is very expensive. And chicken is MORE expensive than beef. Pork is cheaper than either. The two least expensive are lamb and goat. I love lamb and tend to get it when I eat out as it is cheaper, but I am not fond of goat meat. So far we have been buying our meat at the local supermarket (Nakumatt) and haven’t ventured to the meat markets although we really need to go check them out. Our dilemma is that neither of us knows how to order it. We don’t know what cut to ask for or even what we are looking at when we go in there. Someone needs to teach us these things. And we have really avoided the butcher shops as they look a little on the unsanitary side. Not sure what to think of a shop with a beef carcass hanging in the window, un-refrigerated I might add. We tend to buy and keep ground beef (mince) as it is easy to fix lots of ways. We cook it when we buy it and freeze it so all we have to do it reheat it in a recipe and eat. So if you have any great from scratch recipes using ground beef, please send them on. Then there is the fish. There is a fish fry place near my apartment and they bring fresh Tilapia from Lake Victoria every day. They clean it and salt it and then deep fry it. It is almost as good as fried catfish and really good. I bought a fairly large one for 300 shillings ($4) and made two meals out of it. It was so yummy, not healthy, but yummy.
We have tried to cook a number of things so far and found some good recipes. Some of these are soups and stews, balsamic chicken or pork, arroz con pollo, sweet-n-sour pork, tacos and burritos, fajitas. (We have a lady who makes us homemade tortillas as you can’t buy them at the store). I made biscuits and while they weren’t my best effort they weren’t bad, but it may take a few times with the higher altitude. And when we don’t feel like cooking, we have peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Peanuts, in case you didn’t know, are from Africa, so peanut butter is cheap and available.
Another thing that is locally grown and inexpensive is Kenyan tea. I think it is one of the best teas I have ever tasted. Very mild and not bitter. Kenya is a major grower and exporter of tea in the world. They also grow very good coffee here. But it is not as cheap as one would think, but I am really enjoying my morning coffee. And there are two major local café franchises, Java House and Dormans. Java is actually begun by a Californian and caters to the American and European tastes, with sandwiches and pastries like we would have back home. Dormans is locally begun and has some pastries and local items as well. If we are out shopping we usually end up at one or the other to get a house coffee for about 100 shillings ($1.25).
Then there are the restaurants. Other than Java house there aren’t any that are traditionally American. But there are many other nationalities, such as: Ethiopian, Italian, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, British, and even German. We saw a restaurant near our school that is ‘Que Pasa” and thought yeah Mexican, only to find out it was Italian. But it was very good Italian. And I have to tell you about the food courts in the mall. Ok, so there is a burger place (Mr. Wimpy), a fried chicken place, and then an assortment of Chinese, Indian, Italian, Greek, German, etc…depending on which mall you are at. So you’re thinking ok they are just very international, what is so special about that. Well, you don’t go stand in line to order. You sit and they come to you with the menus for ALL the restaurants in the food court. When you have decided which restaurant you are going to choose, you signal the waiter for that restaurant and he takes your order and brings it out and you pay him. Only it is a food court. And even in the biggest one, where you do go up to the counter, they give you a number for your table and bring you your food when it is ready.
Ok so I also said I would talk about school food. I can give you a list of what is on the menu but it really wouldn’t describe what I am eating because what it says and what it is are two different things. For example, Hot dogs do not taste like hot dogs. The buns however are more like sub rolls and would be awesome for a meatball sub. But then there are the meatballs and spaghetti. The pasta is the same but the meatballs???? I’m not sure what they are made of and they are smaller than a large shooter marble. Pizza is OK but not my favorite. The beef stroganoff should just say beef with noodles. Shepard’s pie I passed on but it was mostly mashed potatoes. The hamburgers were predictable but the sloppy joes were very good. Many things are served with French fries or some other version of potatoes as they are staples here. We have Kenyan stew and chapatti’s (kind of like a thick tortilla), and it is not bad but not something I want to eat every week. Then there are some other local favorites like Ugali and Zukuma wiki (collard greens). And most days there is either cole slaw or tomato and onion salad. Water to drink and few desserts. Occasionally fruit in season. If I don’t like what is being served on the main line, I can get a sandwich which has a yummy roll, ground chicken, carrots, cabbage or lettuce, cucumbers, green peppers, onions and tomatoes. And of course condiments that don’t taste like the real thing. And the portions are small, so no wonder I’m losing weight.
Small portions and no junk food (or at least very little), combined with climbing up and down the hill to my classroom and it results in weight loss. Now I just have to have my trousers tailored since a few are falling off.
I hope you have enjoyed my food experience diary. I am sure there will be more to tell as I get exposed to more things. Right now our goal is to stick to our food budget, which means not eating out often and cooking from scratch (no canned foods). So send those recipes, especially if it is lamb or ground beef.
Have a great week, Blessings, In Christ’s service, Pam