Day 20: Lang Suan

This is a guest post generously shared by Nicholas Jordan, a freelance writer who peddled his insatiable appetite around Thailand and wrote about it over at Im Still Alive. I met Nicholas walking the Routebourn trek in New Zealand’s deep south a couple of years ago, he was eating a bag of spinach because he reckoned it had “the best price to nutrients to weight ratio.” I got hooked midway through this journey, and have chosen to drop you there on Day 20, but if you like what you see, I encourage you to get back to Day 1. –Byron. Ed.


March 27, 2014

Alan told me he’s really slow. I didn’t believe him because that’s totally a normal thing to say to a stranger you’re about to ride over 100km with. We were both trying to suss the other person out and make sure they’re not a total gun and or a slothian slug from the slums of slowtown either. We didn’t ride very far today so I’m still unsure of how fast or slow he actually is.Read more

Letter from Kenya (seven)









‘So he is your husband?’ I ask. She nods yes.

‘How many years have you been married?’ I carefully choose my words; her English is quite limited (please note that my Swahili still only consists of pleasantries and my Kikuyu only happens by accident), and if I have learned nothing else from teaching English and living abroad for so long, I have definitely learned how to grade my language and construct sentences so that communication happens and less ???s occur.

’10 years’, she responds.

*Anne is a slight woman, and, to be honest, when I met her the day prior I thought she was an older grandson in the family. I had failed to notice that she was wearing a long skirt below her billowing boy-sweater. Given the short hair, and the fact that in this small village at a very high altitude everyone wears winter caps, a skirt can often be the only way of telling the sex of children … and very slight women.

Ten years seemed like a lot to me. I’ve realized that Kenyans can be very deceiving with their age (I mentioned this in my first post from Kenya). She also told me that she is 28, her oldest of two children is 9, and that she is from a small town very far away so she never sees her family. Ten years still seems like a long time to me.

The milk is at a rolling boil, and she adds the tea and stirs.

‘Yes, 10 years,’ she repeats and laughs. She seems to be a generally happy person, and around me almost everything that I do or say deserves a laugh. Sometimes even her own response deserves a laugh.

She pulls the pot off the fire using only bits of cardboard as oven mitts to protect her not-so-delicate fingers. She sets the pot on the mud floor and places a new pot on the fire and fills it with fresh water that she had fetched from the well in the morning. The family is lucky to have the well on their homestead. I’ve seen many women and girls carrying large 10 gallon jugs (at least I think it is 10 gallons) of water using a strap that is placed around their forehead, thus carrying the jug on their backs. Despite what, in my Western eyes, may be considered poor conditions, the family seems to do quite well for themselves.

She grabs a teapot and strainer from the free-standing cupboard with mismatched doors and pours the chai, in a not-so-careful manner, from the pot through the strainer into the teapot. As she calls telling the others to come because the afternoon chai is ready, she tosses the dirty silverware and some small dishes from lunch into the soon-to-be dishwater warming on the fire.

*Name changed for privacy

Nicole Rademacher is a currently in 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).

Letter from Kenya (five)

First she peels them, and then she grates them. She is *Faith the “house help”. Kenyans don’t like skins, she explains. Actually, she tells me, Kenyans don’t eat chopped carrots. She says that in her own family, as well, she would have to grate the carrots in order to cook them – even though carrots are grown here, she defends. She’s young, maybe 25, but has rarely been outside the kitchen. I am surprised that she is working in this particular home because she is from a different tribe than the family. Perhaps the mother is from the same tribe, but I can’t discern. A girl is from where her father is from until she gets married, at that time her husband’s homeland becomes hers. Names are changed easily, going back only three generations. Oral history carries more weight.

She tells me about her older brother, gentle, intelligent, went to university. He died at a young age, but was a very finicky eater – never eating carrots, greens, or onions. Once Faith was old enough to cook, she learned how to burn the onions so that he could easily identify them and pick them out.  Until he left for university, she recounts, they never ate greens in the house and only grated carrots and black onions.

*Name changed for privacy.

Nicole Rademacher is a currently in 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).


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).

official website • Nicole’ blog • follow her project on Facebook

Multiple Virtues

“How did it come to pass that virtue–a quality that for most of history has generally been deemed, well, a virtue–became a mark of liberal softheadedness?”

An excellent collection of thoughts from author Michael Pollan about reclaiming small scale positive actions such as gardening, because they do in fact make a difference . . .