The weekend eating of charcoal grilled nyama choma, loud rumba music in the background, bottles of beer on the table, is one of defining images of Kenya middle class.
Even gender roles reflect our society. The person serving drinks is typically female, carrying her bottles around in a basket; while the meat is served by men with low BMI, who come to the table and cut the grilled piece of meat. Unlike food cooked at home, typically by women, grilling meat is taken to be a man’s job and not without reason. Meat cooked over an open flame takes us back to the original man, who went to the supermarket with a spear.
The temperature of good quality charcoal can reach 2,000 degrees Celsius, enough to melt iron. What makes the meat cooked over charcoal tastes so good is how the direct heat interacts with the meat. Unlike say, boiling food where the water is at about 100 degrees Celsius, the grill’s high temperature rapidly browns the meat on the outside creating the intense flavours we desire. The skill of the person grilling the meat is then to manage the process of making sure the inside of the meat cooks sufficiently without burning the outside of the meat.
The person who is able to grill well becomes a celebrity. It is therefore not surprising that when persons are named in a list of shame, they almost look forward to being ‘grilled’, taking on society to show that these high temperatures mean nothing to them.
But like all things good, there are always risks and in the case of nyama choma, eating a lot of grilled food has been associated with various diseases, primarily cancer. Many people on reading this will sigh, but everything is associated with one disease or another, best to just live after all, one has to die of something!
The challenge however is that most of us are living longer and chronic diseases such as cancer have the capacity to make the best years of our lives miserable. Avoiding them for as long as we can therefore makes sense. Cancer are a group of related diseases in which some of the body’s cells divide and grow non-stop invading surrounding normal tissue. Cancer can be a solid tumour or in the blood and affect any part of the body.
There is no specific cause, but four factors are commonly cited; genetics, the environment, socio-economic status’ and your personal. In many ways cancer is just like corruption and it is interesting that we use many of the same words to describe corruption.
The word ‘corruption’ is mid fourteenth century European meaning the breakdown of material things especially dead bodies but also of the soul. Today it is defined as the misuse of public office for private gain. Just like cancer, corruption is a group of practices.
Four types are recognised; bribery, nepotism, fraud and embezzlement. Corruption can be grand or petty and it can be systematic where corrupt individuals dominate major institutions and the practice is integrated into the social and political system. A cancerous tumour can be benign, growing slowly and localised or it can be malignant aggressively invading surrounding tissues and spreading to the entire body.
Signs and symptoms depend on the type of tumour, where it is located and whether it is malignant or not. A benign tumour can usually be removed and often does not recur. A malignant tumour usually has spread from its’ original site, symptoms are varied and management requires extensive, aggressive and prolonged treatment, often at great risk to the life of the patient. Many patients do not survive the treatment.
Holistic management of cancer therefore requires that we look at prevention. The problem as always is raising an alarm to something that appears invisible. But think about it the way we have managed polio. We still have in our society people who suffered polio, because it is only in the last ten years that it has been aggressively tackled globally and most of us cannot imagine that polio used to be so common.
And it has been done by immunizing one child at a time. In similar fashion preventing cancer is about understanding the risk then managing our lifestyle one day at a time. By all means eat your nyama choma but do so in moderation. This quantity and type of meal that you are having is it really to be had every day? Corruption too is a big monster, but it is about daily practices. The World Bank talks about transparency and reciprocity, whether I would be happy letting others know what I was doing and if I would object if others did the same thing?
Corruption does not allow us to enjoy the benefits of government because the health facility never gets built or the health worker does not get paid on time. As long as you remain healthy this might not be a problem, but one day for all us in our lives the day comes when we have to face this cancer. What then?