We live in a confused world with desires that directly contradict. On the one hand we wish to be like our ancestors before colonial times.
We imagine that they were rugged independent folk living in harmony with the land, full of wise sayings only a few of which have been handed down to the less educated people of today. Life then had no mega corruption, no minor corruption – society would not allow you to stand by the roadside all day long, everyday, extorting money from people; when everyone else spent their time tilling in the farm trying to earn a living.
We admire how lean and strong people were then, able to comfortably walk long distances in search of water and brides. The arrival of the imperialists is something we have been unable to quite deal with, both at the actual time and subsequently in terms of how we should relate to the history and among ourselves. Europeans arriving to the shores of East Africa stopped the inter-ethnic wars that then went on. When their military forces departed, we resumed our skirmishes.
They may seem benign compared to what is possible and what happens in the Middle East for example, but people fighting each other with weapons however crude, through arson and beatings are still engaging in warfare. Only today many of them will not be lean and mean but ‘healthier’ while still mean.
Whereas 100 years ago the average warrior might live to only 32 years of age; today life expectancy is almost double that, which means a person who is not well schooled in how a good society should function and what their role as a decent member of that society has a much longer period to play mischief. Blame public health for helping people live longer.
This synopsis suggests that from a health perspective we are better off today than 100 years ago, and this is generally true especially when we look at diseases such as tetanus, cholera, and others that occur only when someone is negligent in their duties.
But we have introduced other conditions as a result of the changing lifestyles that we now lead. The mandazi is a symbol of the change that has occurred. In almost every office across the country, even in national government offices, who’s functions have been devolved to the counties, you will find a specialist employed to buy mandazi at tea time.
Over these Christmas holidays, as families visit each other, there are those who are very good at whipping up at short notice a plateful of mandazis. Either the visit starts with tea and mandazis or ends with tea and mandazis. It is hard to escape the conclusion that our national dish is not nyama choma as we romantically think but mandazi. Nyama choma is the myth that belongs to our ancestors.
A typical mandazi is made up of wheat flour, sugar, salt baking powder, and water. It can be enriched with milk and some add some spices to the mix. The dough is formed then cut into triangles and shallow fried in oil. A mandazi is at its best when eaten hot off the fire; if it stays for a while then the dough becomes chewy and cardboard like.
The list of ingredients when broken down one step are sugar to which sugar is added, salt then more salt mixed with water and fried with oil. Other than the energy you get there is little nutritional goodness in a mandazi and you need only look at the shape of the persons serving mandazi to realise that it cannot be a very wholesome food, to be eaten everyday. But before we beat ourselves thinking that mandazi is a unique Kenyan eating habit we need to realize that Kenyans are not unique in any of their behaviour. Almost every culture has a version of fried bread to be served either as a fast food or as part of a meal.
Our ancestors lived in a different time, with different challenges. But one thing is for sure they would not have been able to manage their lives if they sat down everyday at 10 am to eat a mandazi. That many are able to do so is a sign of an economy that has moved beyond the bare basics. We have been able to change our lifestyles to eat mandazi all the time but we remain quite stuck in the manner in which we settle disputes and differences? It may seem trivial to compare eating mandazi to warfare but both are choices we make about the society we want.