Ashamed as I am to admit it, one of the first thoughts I had when I was told our move to Kenya had been confirmed, related to Parmesan cheese.
Of course the rational or “normal” part of my brain kicked in soon afterwards and I began to worry about more important decisions we were going to have to make – could I work out there; could we bring our beloved Airedale Terrier with us? My mind raced with all sorts of questions about what our life in Kenya might be like but, coming from quite a “foodie” family, I almost instantly thought about what our diet might be like too!
I really enjoy cooking, as do my younger brother and my Dad, and we enjoy sharing recipes and cooking methods with each other. My brother is a self-professed “purist”, making everything from scratch – he would make his own flour if he could; my Dad likes cooking large joints of meat and adding alcohol to every recipe he possibly can. I’ll have a go at cooking pretty much anything, but Italian cuisine is my favourite. My brother and I have a long-standing battle over who can cook the best Spaghetti Carbonara (me, obviously) and any family celebration will involve serious discussion beforehand as to which (Italian) restaurant we will grace with our presence.
I have been to Kenya before. In 2003 I took part in a “Gap Yah” programme, which placed British teenagers in Kenyan primary and secondary schools, where we worked as volunteer teachers for four months. We were paid a local teacher’s wage, which was meant to ensure we lived within the same means as our teaching colleagues. I’m afraid to say we did supplement this a bit (there was a Barclays branch in our local town) but we were not living extravagantly – we had a weekly “treat” of bangers, chips and beans but for the most part we ate lots of plain pasta and rice with vegetables.
I’m a bit older now and have become a bit softer in body and mind; I like clean sheets and new underwear. I have a favourite hairdresser, manicurist and I know exactly which coffee shop to go to for my preferred hazelnut latte. In short, I have become a bit “comfortable”, never pushed too far out of the zone (a new, untested, restaurant or going to a party where I only know a couple of people might be my limit). In contrast, my brave husband travels to the far reaches of the globe, his preference, as far as I can tell, being for places that are a) extremely dangerous and b) have no form of communications.
Kenya will probably change all that. My hopes for our two-year stint here are different from my “Gap Yah” aims. I’m not trying to “find myself”, (if I ever was) and I am not hoping to amass a museum’s worth of carved wooden animals to be received by not-so-grateful family and friends on my return. I do, however, hope I will learn many new things about the culture, people and wildlife of Kenya, which I know my four-month stay, did not quite do justice to, though we did try.
Living in Nairobi, albeit in a nice “suburb” will surely present a number of challenges on a day-to-day basis. Anyone who has travelled abroad, or moved to a new area, even within the U.K., will know how it feels when you are trying to settle in. “Where IS everything; how on earth am I going to find my way around?” Before we left the U.K. lots of people had commented on the possibility of us really living the “ex-pat” life, “not having to lift a finger” and having a full compliment of staff, including a cook. The idea of having a cleaner definitely appeals, but I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to the kitchen and the thought of having a cook actually panicked rather than delighted me.
“Cooking on Gas”, however, is not intended to be a cooking blog (there are lots of these already which are far-superior, including my friend Kate’s excellent thelittleloaf.com. Instead I plan for it to be a record of our time living in Kenya; not just a list of the number of “Big Five” animals we have seen on safari, and the fun trips we take at weekends and holidays, but daily life in Nairobi and observations about Kenya in general
When I was last here, my friend and “hut-mate”, Kat, and I were given a gas canister to use for cooking. It was placed on a worktop and had a little “hob” placed directly on top of it. Being used to U.K. living, we burnt through it quite quickly, not understanding this was a luxury and that most locals used charcoal and a grate to cook with. We trotted down the road to ask for another canister from the estate manager, which was promptly refused to us. When we insisted, we were told this was impossible, as the gas factory had “blown up”. I’m still not sure whether this was true, or if he simply wanted to get rid of us. I suspect the latter. Either way, we could no longer cook meals as we had been accustomed too (I remember eating a lot of raw carrots) and it was a wake up call as to how much we take for granted in the U.K.
As a rule, things work there, though we like to grumble. The feeling I remember from my previous short stint in Kenya is that you have to make things work (and you won’t always succeed). “Cooking on Gas” therefore seemed like an appropriate title for this blog. It will be a record of our attempts to “make things work” while living in Kenya as well as a way for me to share some of the amazing places and things we will undoubtedly see while we are here.