A Village Walk

At 4:30pm Katana, one of the many people we had met living in Kuruwitu, arrived to show Cam, Yael and me around the villages of Kuruwitu and Sharyani. We put on some shoes for pretty much the first time that week and started walking along the dusty track down towards the villages. It was still hot even though the sun sat low in the sky and it was a little bit blinding as we went. Katana was giving us a bit of background about the villages, but soon we were asking him questions about his own experiences of life in Kuruwitu.

“How many children do you have?” I asked, shaking a pebble out of one of my sandals.

“I have eight children,” he said smiling. “The oldest is twenty three and the youngest is eight.” He then told us how he had named all of his children after members of Bob Marley and the Wailers.

“Oh Katana what’s this?” Cam asked, picking up something that looked like a hugely swollen bright green broad bean with a tumorous growth on top .

“Ah this is the cashew but it is not ready,” he explained, “This oil,” he pointed to a patch on the side of the casing where it had leached through, “is bad and will make the skin peel,” Cam, Yael and I laughed and eyed each other anxiously whilst surreptitiously wiping our hands on our shorts to rid ourselves of the oil on our fingers. He pointed to the growth “And this is the fruit, when it is ripe it is very tasty, I will bring for you tomorrow if I can find one that is ready.”

After about fifteen or twenty minutes of walking along the path through rugged shrubs we started to reach some houses. Near one of the houses stood a very tall palm tree and at the top someone had tied a two litre plastic bottle of water.

Katana stopped and said, “This is to make the coconut wine. The farmer will climb to the top of the tree using the ladders,” he pointed out notches cut into the trunk of the tree, “and gather the wine. It is made using the sap from the trunk of the tree. At first it is very sweet but when it ferments it becomes much stronger,” Katana grinned at Cam when he grimaced and said,

“I’ve tried some before and it was really, really bad,” Katana laughed and we kept walking. There started to be more and more houses, a lot of them made from matted mud and branches of wood, but also some made from stone.

Katana told us that he would ask some of the women in the village to teach us how to make a traditional cake made from bananas and maize flour. They mash the ripe bananas together with the maize and then wrap it up in banana leaves and cook it in the embers of a fire. We enthusiastically agreed and Katana said that he would speak to some of the village women for us.

We could see and hear animals all over; goats, cows and chickens especially. They scurried around the ankles of small children who gawked at us. They would run up behind us as we walked but if you turned around they would freeze and giggle uncontrollably. It was adorable.

“They not used to seeing mzungu this close,” Katana said, gesturing at my, Yael and Cameron’s comparatively pale skin tones. Yael and I bent down to have a closer look at some of the children, who can’t have been more than five or six. The bolder ones squealed in delight as we high-fived them, with others sheltering behind timidly. As we turned to walk away they erupted in shouts of laughter, waving to us and periodically running after us to catch up a bit.

We walked on through more houses until we reached the busier centre. There were little stalls selling fruits, nuts and seeds as well as larger shops with huge piles of coconut flesh outside. Katana told us that these were being dried for processing in a nearby factory to make coconut oil. As we were walking past a fruit stall Katana stopped to chat with the vendor and bought a couple of mangoes which she wrapped up in newspaper. He also insisted on buying us each a packet of baobab seeds, which were covered in a vibrant red powdery layer. The seeds were the size of an edamame bean and the tangy, flavoursome coating was very thin and once you scraped it all off with your teeth you were left with a big smooth stone. I gnawed on this for some time before turning to Cameron and asking him whether he ate the pits.

“Oh no,” he said, “You’re definitely supposed to spit them out.” I nodded as if this was exactly as I had expected and subtly spat the now slightly dented stone into my hand and dropped it onto the floor. The dye that coated the seeds was strong and soon the insides of all of our mouths were a ridiculously radiant red. We had scarlet smiles for a good hour at least.

We continued through the village centre towards the main road which had recently been tarmacked, which made life much easier for people in the area by hugely reducing journey times along the coast. It was bustling with people selling clothes, nappies, piles of dried sardines (tempting but we did all pass on that one), shoes and just about everything in between. We definitely attracted attention by being the only ‘muzungus’ around and vendors tried to charge us nearly double what they would charge locals. Luckily we had Katana for back up if we needed haggling support so we weren’t too concerned.

Women squatted by the side of the road with woks over small gas burners. One woman had hers filled with about an inch of oil and was frying potatoes in a thick yellow-ish batter at speed. Next to her was a covered plate of mandazis, basically small doughnuts coated in sugar, and Katana insisted on buying us each one of these as well. We protested but he wouldn’t hear any of it so we were soon on our way once more munching on yummy mandazis. We also passed a fruit stall at this point and I stopped to buy some bananas for myself – as my love for bananas is almost as profound as my love for fish (I said almost). This turned out to be a tricky decision as I was then walking carrying three very ripe bananas, as well as my water bottle, through the village looking like a bit of a wally.

At this point we had nearly reached the end of our village tour and we stopped at a well to wait to be picked up by the boda bodas. Again small children watched fascinated as we went, including one very sweet boy who was a real poser when Yael started taking his picture.

When the boda bodas arrived we thanked Katana heartily for giving us such a fun tour and being so generous buying us local treats.

“Not to worry!” He said with a big smile and waved at us as we disappeared off on the motorbikes. We didn’t go along the main road so the ride was pretty bumpy and I joked to Yael, who was sharing the bike with me, that if I was about to fall off she would have to protect my beautiful bananas.

The next morning we woke up and sat down for breakfast and we were very confused by what we saw. Thick lumps of something slightly pinky-grey sat on a plate, looking alarmingly like some sort of meat.

When we asked what it was Godfrey said,

“This is the banana cake. Katana came and dropped it off this morning so you could try for your breakfast,” We were all touched by the thoughtfulness of this gesture and this feeling only increased when Godfrey brought out a plate of cashew fruit with two perfectly ready cashew nuts. The fruit was bizarre, with a taste kind of like a mango but with the texture of a mushroom and a mouth drying effect like nothing I’d ever eaten before. It was a little bit like the dry feeling you can get sometimes when drinking cranberry juice, but scaled up by a factor of about one hundred. The banana cake was very dense and Yael was too scared to try more than the smallest square given its resemblance to some kind of rhino meat. It was quite nice, not very banana-y, but was very much improved when you added a little extra honey.

We ate our new and exciting Kuruwitu breakfast and then took on the day’s activities.

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