If home is where the heart is, then the front door to my house is the stomach. For me to feel at home in a new place I have to taste it – is it hot or cold? Salty or sweet? Fresh or canned? Since arriving in Nairobi one week ago I have eaten (roughly in this sequence) pizza, banana bread, a potato-vegetable-chip jambalaya, peanut butter and toast, bananas, cornflakes, a veggie burger and fries, fish stew with ugali, a Lebanese vegetarian dish, spaghetti and garlic bread, yogurt and granola, more fish stew with ugali, a vegetarian stew with matoke (mashed plantains), an omelette, beans with chapati, and a vegetarian plate of delight. Within this picnic basket of my belly, eating ugali and tilapia in a delicious stew sauce fuelled my heart, as well as my body. I love ugali, and chapati, and matoke, and sukuma wiki (kale or collard greens served with most meals), and kidney beans in sauce, and taking apart a whole fish sitting on my plate (its head and all!) with my fingers as I separate the meat from the bones. I love the taste and the textures and the smells and I love experiencing something foreign to me, but common in the place I am staying. Those foods bring me comfort and I finish my meal satisfied and smiling.
On my walk home from my first afternoon at work today my roommate and I stopped to taste a food native to Canada in a Kenyan context. Stalks of corn roasted on charcoal burning portable stoves are a common sight in the streets of Nairobi. Nearing our apartment, we spotted a man roasting and selling maize. We crossed the street. We paid for two. Another man was sitting on the curb and almost finished his stalk. I couldn’t wait to try mine. The vendor wrapped our corns, some of the kernels blackened from the heat, back in their leaves. Beside him, limes sitting in chilli salt called out to us and we drizzled the spice onto our snack. But I didn’t try my corn there. I think the reader needs to understand how much I love corn on the cob. I love corn on the cob a lot. I don’t know when my love affair with corn fist began and I think that’s because I’ve always loved it. The only thing I love more than corn, is roasted corn. And this delight is presently wrapped in its leaves, in my hand, waiting for me to bite into it.
I eat my corn on the cob sitting on my balcony. I’ve been here a week, all the time partaking in an intense, interesting, and exhilarating whirlwind of an orientation. I will be starting my first full day of work tomorrow. Life has been so busy, my roommate and I still need to meet with the apartment manager to sign our contracts. As I’m sitting on the balcony eating my corn, a staff member from the building complex walks through the courtyard. We introduce ourselves and explain we still need to see the manager. The woman tells us when the manager is working until and to go to the office this evening. But first, she says to enjoy our maize.
And I do just that, sitting in my home.