Making Chipatis

Saturday evenings, I pull into the driveway and lay on the horn

Summoned by the sound, four teenagers unfurl too slowly from beneath their laptops

Drag leaden limbs out through the garage to haul bags of groceries from the trunk

To the kitchen counter, where each item is unpacked, appraised and rotated into

The fridge, broad and stately, a queen holding court in my kitchen, gleaming white

It’s chicken for dinner; my husband didn’t see the packages of hamburger defrosting inside since Wednesday

Men lose the ability to hunt once faced with the shimmering glow of a fridge light

Now the Hamburger may spoil, rancid as my mood

I would like a black fridge to match the appliances some day

Then, I could retire this old queen to the garage, to hold

Two spare gallons of milk and the kids’ Costco packages of string cheese

But the fridge is white

As the flour she used in the slums of Kisumu, demonstrating the art

To me, a mzungu, outsider, white woman, of making chipatis

She added oil, pressed and folded

Drizzled precious water hauled just this morning from the well

Let drop a smatter of salt; slapped and kneaded

Tearing off gobs of dough, her hands rolled and collided like a playful ocean

Finally pressing flat the ball she had formed with a plastic rod

She squatted again and again, tucking swathes of faded fuchsia fabric skirt between her legs

Flat discs of dough on black stone heated by fire, bubbling up golden warm

This dance lasted an hour, as her stack of doughy chipatis grew, an offering to her brood

Twelve grandchildren, not one of her children remain, the lost generation

Her husband gone too, all carried away by the sickness that hollows out cheeks and devours health

Chipatis heavy with grease and her good intentions, served with ugali and sukuma wiki, it’s more than many get

Maybe there will be meat tomorrow, sometimes the church people come by with a chicken

Today she carried home the flour, oil, maize and greens from the corrugated tin booth; there was no money for a boda-boda

Last time that she had the money, it was a waste anyway, the boda-boda man flipped the bicycle

Avoiding a wily goat busy scavenging for his own meal, and the children’s dinner- every bean and an onion- rolled out into the dirt

Of course, she tells me, I picked them up, brushed them off, but hmmmphh, I didn’t give him a shilling!

That ugly man chased me down the street- where’s my money?– so he could buy chipatis for his dinner

And my daughters take turns opening wide the groaning fridge, searching its crowded depths

Letting the door slowly sigh shut as they retreat, empty-handed

Finding nothing inside to eat


Photo Credit: Chipati- Frying the Flatbread from George Wesley and Bonita Dannell’s Photostream on Flickr. Used under creative common license.


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