Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nyama Choma

Kenyan restaurants usually serve nyoma choma which means cooked animal and that is exactly what it is. They will bring a leg of lamb, goat or cow right to your table and cut it into little pieces and you eat it with your hands and dip it into salt.

(Our server cuts Choma for us at our table)

They also serve the basic kenyan dishes that I wrote about in Everything and Hot Sauce. Choma is actually really good (and after spending months at Daraja only eating meat once a week it is sometimes VERY good). The problem with choma is that the Kenyan restaurants have a series of mzungu scams. I am pretty sure that most of them have been tried on me, often successfully.

The first time I went for choma was the first day we were in Kenya. We were in a large group and the waiter went and pushed two tables together for us and talked to the bartender and ordered our drinks for us. Upon ordering our food the waiter said that for such a large order they needed to get half of the money up front. Fortunately I was not one of the decision makers on this journey and we insisted on talking to the manager. We soon found out that our “waiter” didn't even work in the restaurant as he ran out the front door.

As we found out the next time we went (to a different restaurant) scams aren’t just limited to people who don’t work in the restaurant. We went into a well known restaurant in Nanyuki and we were greeted by the manager who sat us down at a nice table and began to make suggestions. We admittedly did not know what to order so we were happy taking his suggestions. To the table he brought the biggest leg of choma I had ever seen and 10 side dishes for 3 people. Way too much food for us, but not blatantly dishonest.

When the bill came I was a little surprised. It was around $25, which for a night out in the states is nothing, but for a meal for three at a local Kenyan restaurant is pretty outrageous. I started to feel a little ashamed for letting him order us so much food and then I looked at the bill and realized that the prices were twice as much as what was advertised. We called the manager over and asked him about this. “Those are the correct prices” he says as he reviewed the bill.

“But here (on the bill) it says pilau costs 120 shillings, and there on the wall it says 60 shillings,” my girlfriend pointed out.

“Oh yes,” said the manager, “those are the OLD prices.”

I looked at him incredulously and said “I see, you have the wrong prices posted on the wall of your restaurant. Perfectly clear.”

“Let me see that” he said as he quickly snatched the bill from my hand and ran into the back with it.

Later he came out with a reduced bill costing $10 less than the previous. We paid and got out of there but we were pretty unhappy.

The last time we went to Choma we were veterans in Kenya so we knew what to expect. Before we ordered I asked the server how much each dish cost and wisely compared it to the menu. We ordered one KG of choma. As it arrived at the table we were very pleased to find that it was quite large. Later when we got the bill we found out that they had charged us for 4 KGs. When the manager came out he explained that he had seen how many people we had so he had decided to order extra choma for us. He had ordered us 2 KGs.

“We were charged for FOUR” I said shaking my head.

“I know,” he said, “that was a mistake by your server. But you do have to pay for two.”

“If you had given extra choma to that table that they hadn’t ordered,” I said, pointing to a table with a Kenyan family “would you have made them pay for it?”

“Of course not,” he replied, “but you need to pay your bill.”

Such is the life of a Mzungu in Kenya. It’s a good thing it was tasty.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fainting: A Kenyan Pastime

I have a lot of experience with young people. I have in fact lived most of my life being one of them and consorting almost exclusively with them. I went through elementary school, middle school, high school, University and years working with kids as a camp counselor. Never once had I seen someone faint.

I have seen people faint in movies, and every time I dutifully suspended my disbelief, the whole time knowing that it doesn’t happen in real life.

Very soon upon my arrival in Kenya I was made aware of the fact that fainting is actually a Kenyan pastime. After playing a particularly heated football (soccer) game against another school one of the girls on the opposite team abruptly fell down onto the ground and did not move. Her teammates rushed to her side and carried her off of the field. She soon returned to consciousness and stood up and walked away. As an isolated incident this was surprising to me but no big deal.

The Daraja girls have recently been conditioning for long distance runs by running around the outside fence of our campus with staff members. One evening a girl had ran around the perimeter and sat down for a nap. Twenty minutes later her friends tried to wake her up but to no avail. Twenty minutes after that someone came and got me, distressed that she had still not woken up. I arrived at the scene to find her surrounded by her classmates holding up her legs and fanning her.

My first Aid training did not cover fainting, but I thought that maybe that was what you used smelling salts for. I didn’t know, I just knew that whatever had been done wasn’t working. The fact that everyone seemed so worried got me worried. She was breathing and had a pulse so I felt like it would probably be okay. I tried to calm everyone down and have them give her space.

Then she opened her eyes. But not in a good way. He eyes were glazed over and rolled into the back of her head. She wouldn’t respond to hands in front of her face. I felt her pulse again and I wasn’t sure if I could find it. I asked a teacher and she wasn’t sure either. Lets get her to a doctor I said. I pretty much had to insist, but I figured it is better to be safe than sorry.

We started speeding to the hospital over the terrible roads (previously mentioned). About two thirds of the way there (after an hour of being unconscious) she started responding. We took her to the doctor anyway who insisted that she get a blood test to make sure it was nothing serious.

It wasn’t anything serious. The biggest repercussion of the episode was that the entire Kenyan staff of Daraja made fun of me for days for insisting on taking a fainted girl to the hospital (even though it was admitted that 60 minutes is a long time to be unconscious). Since then we have had the regional athletic events. At the end of virtually every track event girls would drop like flies (pictured). Now I don’t pay any attention to it. It is just another aspect of the Kenyan landscape.