Never Ceasing to Amaze...

This may be stating the obvious, but I think to live in a completely new country is to be in a state of constant wonder.  As one might expect, when surrounded by a new culture, its what's different and therefore new that tends to captivate our fascination.  It's about witnessing unimagined human feats and failures and coming to understand completely different life philosophies.  And yet the other day, what astounded me was not something so different but rather something very familiar.

We recently discovered that the produce shop we frequent at Yaya Center has a treasure trove of Japanese culinary delights.  Tucked in the corner, between the vegetables and the cash registers, is an unassuming fridge full of Japanese miso, fish cakes, soft and firm tofu... even natto and konnyaku!  It was like meeting  old friends again and I was grateful for the strange comfort it gave me.  T and I decided to sample some of these newly found treats by making oden for dinner.  I grew up with odeng (as it's called in Korean) being a simple fish cake soup or more commonly a street food snack.  But I learned from years of cooking with T that oden in Japan is more of a hearty stew that includes a wider myriad of ingredients (see below).  As we were looking to make a full meal of it, we went the Japanese oden route. 

Not pictured here are the eggs that we hard boiled in the broth as well as the mustard we used as a dipping sauce for the fish cakes.  Also something of note, tofu is not difficult to find in Kenya, but we've found the texture to be off putting and more importantly the taste to be overpoweringly sour and almost smoky.  After multiple tries to like it, we recently decided to give up.  The tofu we got from this magical cooler on the other hand was blissfully soft and nutty.  I'll also add that the konnyaku was legit and the fish cakes impressively delicious.  

A few days later, while reflecting on my glee and amazement at the availability of quality Asian groceries in Nairobi, I started to delve into some deeper thoughts on Kenya and myself.  Nairobi is certainly more developed than I think most Americans imagine it to be.  However live here for a couple months and it's "developing world" status becomes a harsh reality.  In the past several months that I've been here, I feel like my experiences have knocked me around a wide spectrum of sentiments, leaving me largely ambivalent about how I feel about living in Kenya.  Some days I despair at how much Nairobi has to "catch up" and on other days I am impressed at how cosmopolitan it all is.  And occasionally, when I have the mindfulness to take a step back, I start to wonder whether I'm imposing my Western ideals too much.  The Western picture of 'development' has been that of optimizing efficiency for greater consumption.  Is that what is best for the world I wonder.  Perhaps there is something to learn and appreciate in the way our Maasai askari can pass the night with only the quiet company of stars, the way Kenyans can cheerfully endure quagmires of traffic, and how keeping time is but a guideline and not a rule. 

I continue to struggle with how to view and accept Kenya but my experience here has helped me to see and own certain aspects of myself more clearly.  Yes, power outages make me miserable.  Yes, the fact that our plumber arrived 2 hours later than his appointed time without even calling to say he'll be late annoys me to no end.  And yes, I am willing to pay for overpriced Asian groceries just because they make me happy.  While all these things may be true for some Kenyans as well, I think I feel them far more viscerally as I am, despite what may be "good" or "bad," Asian American in every sense of the word.   


Post a Comment




Follow by Email

Be sure to get the latest and greatest of oinge by signing up for email updates!