Mabibi na Mabwana (ladies and gentlemen) welcome to the inaugural edition of my First World Problems series. In this series, I will write about things that are problems only because I live in the United States. Meaning, if I tell my mother about this “problem”, she will shake her head and say, “you people don’t have real problems”. And she will be telling the truth. Donge?
Like most boys his age, our son is obsessed with all things engine and/or wheels related. Construction trucks, trains, planes, bicycles, and even motorcycles (which he constantly reminds me he cannot wait to ride, much to my chagrin) occupy most of his play time.
This past weekend, we took our son to Tilden Park’s steam train and animal farm, so he could enjoy two of his favorite things. Trains and domestic animals. As a child being raised in the Bay Area, his interaction with chicken, cows, goats, sheep, geese, rabbits, pigs and other domestic animals is limited to various forms of media, as illustrated in the following paragraph.
Last week, while playing at the park, he found a dandelion and proceeded to make a wish before he blew its seed-head away. I asked him what his wish was. His very confident response was that he wanted a chicken riding a unicycle. So, if, in your travels, you encounter this acrobatic chicken, please send her my way, I will win the award of Supermom of the century, and may generate some income from this once in a lifetime oddity, thank you very much.
As you can imagine, my son’s non-exposure to domestic animals seems unfortunate to me, seeing as I grew up in close proximity to chicken, turkeys, ducks, goats, sheep and cows. I was very familiar with the annoying jogoo who would crow at the crack of dawn, unceremoniously waking me up from deep slumber.
Avid sports fans know Kenya for its world-class long-distance runners. They are unaware of Kenya’s other class of elite runners, the chickens known as “road runners”. These birds are always on high alert at lunch-time, dinner-time, and on double high alert when guests arrive at their host’s home. Case in point, a few years ago, while staying in Nairobi, our host could not make us chicken for dinner because our dinner had run away, as in, high speed, jumping obstacles, turning the corner without slowing down – literally running for their lives. And they succeeded that night. Let’s have a moment of silence to recognize the immense abilities of the steeplechase road-runners of Kenya.
Since a petting zoo is our only avenue for our child to meet a ng’ombe and hear a moo live (or IRL as the kids say), then to the petting zoo we shall go. And so it was that we found ourselves at the petting zoo, feeding the cows, goats and sheep (who I must point out, are very finicky eaters- perhaps next time we should bring air chilled lettuce instead of the bunch we received from another parent at the zoo?)
When all of our lettuce was gone, and all the animals seen, our rumbling stomachs informed us that it was lunchtime. Because the zoo is located in what my lakeside relatives call the bungu (bush), there was no cell phone reception. We had planned to visit my brother after our zoo visit, and as we were getting hungry, I wanted to see what we would have for lunch. My brother lives alone, so one knows not to ask if he will make a hearty meal. He makes healthy yet delicious juices though. We all have our strengths.
Ten minutes later, we finally had bars on our phones!!! Shangwe na vigelegele (joy all around). I quickly texted to ask my brother if we could order lunch for delivery. He recommended Miliki, a Nigerian restaurant located in Oakland. Having had their delicious food before, I began salivating in anticipation of the jollof rice, pepper chicken, iyan and puff-puff (donuts) that were about to arrive in my empty stomach.
I want to state for the record that I love Jollof rice, whether it be Nigerian, Ghanaian or Cameroonian (I will not become mired in the Great Jollof Rice Debate). This love of Jollof rice makes sense to me, seeing as my DNA tests show a healthy amount of West African blood flowing through my veins. They are my cousins oooooooo.
It was around 1 pm, an hour later than our usual lunchtime, and we hungrily searched a popular food delivery app for Miliki’s menu, only to find less than ten items on their menu, none of which were my beloved Jollof rice. Not to be deterred, we Googled the restaurant, and their online menu was the same abbreviated version we had seen before. At this point, I asked my brother to place the order for us, and he assured us that it wouldn’t take long to get the food, so we should proceed to his house and we would order then. Twenty minutes later, both my husband and my brother were repeating the order to the lady on the phone- It was almost as if they were reading from two separate menus. After three rounds of repeated requests, made in two different accents (Kenyan and Colorado), they gave up.
My husband then decided to take matters into his own hands and personally collect the food while we waited. Forty minutes came and went, but still the no scent of jollof rice. My brother occupied my son by giving him a tour of his nascent orchard. My son helped himself to some goji berries and mint, as well as an insanely delicious vegan avocado chocolate chip cookie freshly baked and procured from the farmer’s market that morning.
Hunger comes in phases. First there is anticipation, then hope, followed by hanger, then, when your energy reserves are waning, the heavy weight of despair settles in your stomach, the food you were anticipating a disappearing mirage. Your body loses its impetus to fuel the anger, and instead goes into hibernation mode, not knowing when and/or if nourishment will arrive.
Seemingly hours later, my husband appeared out of that mirage, bearing our food. There was a lot of it. Jollof rice, chicken, tilapia, puff-puff (donuts), bean fritters (delicious- tastes like bajia), and iyan, a cassava flour fufu, completed the feast before us. My brother ordered tripe (and can my Nigerian cousins confirm this please- is tripe supposed to be really hard and chewy? In Kenya we boil it first and then fry it so it’s not hard when bitten). We sat down and devoured the delicious food.
Miliki in KiSwahili means to own, or to possess. And that is exactly what Miliki’s food will do to you. The smooth texture of the iyan accompanied by the peppery chicken dulls the bitter taste of disappointment that had settled on your tongue. They accompany the satisfyingly crunchy yet moist bean fritters, making their way down your parched throat, landing on the desert that is your stomach, nourishing it, so that the previous tenants, hanger and despair turn into a warm fuzzy feeling, and bloom into forgiveness. And that, my friends, is why I will be returning to Miliki. They might just have the answer to world peace.