I first encountered some Zimbabweans when they were sent by an agency to my place of work. They were all approachable, friendly and well educated. During conversation when I first introduced myself, I asked them all the same questions. Did they have pre-conceived ideas of how the UK was going to be? And was it as they expected it to be? The answers were universally negative. They expected things to be so much better than they found them. They were disappointed. They had heard so much about what was the old colonial mother country; Great Britain. They found it not to be so great anymore. Surprised by a broken society and the inequalities faced, especially the under classes, of which they were shocked to find were many; uneducated, unemployed and unemployable. Shocked to see so many homeless people living on the streets and disturbed at the attitude of so many of the listless and idle young. But at least they welcomed the glorious British weather. Hmmmm, right!
This brings me to some examples of supreme ignorance. When in conversation with English people back in the UK about the time I spend in Africa, I’m asked about all manner of subjects and believe you me; sometimes the ignorance of some knows no bounds. No, I wasn’t attacked by lions, I tell them. Nor did I have to avoid stampeding elephants. Neither have I been in danger, caught Malaria, Leprosy or Ebola. Is it safe to drink the water? Did I get food poisoning? And the classic; Do people walk around with no clothes on? Their lack of knowledge and common sense would be understandable if I was talking about young children asking questions of such idiocy, but not when it is adults. They are shocked when I tell them that the large cities are as modern and technologically advanced as anywhere in the world. They are amazed when I tell them that the shopping malls have designer labels and there are hotels, cafes, bars and restaurants as good as anywhere in the UK.
When questioned about the food I eat, I inform them that other than in some restaurants, I eat most meals in the traditional way with my hands. This often prompts a grimace and an assumption that this is surely unhygienic, followed by the ridiculous notion that it must be because of a lack of sophistication or that cutlery is not available, due to their cost. So, I then ask them how they eat their pizza; which is with their hands of course, in the traditional way. I rest my case.
The very first time I observed sadza being eaten, I had given a lift home to a work colleague and been invited in. I was offered food, but declined as I had eaten earlier and settled for a cup of Rooibos tea. When I entered, I smiled at her child who had just been presented with a plate of sadza, beans and rape leaves. I watched as she rolled up the sadza into balls with which she expertly scooped up her meal. She ate the lot and it was noticeable that she had made less mess than most English children of her age would do using a knife and fork.
Pic cred: tripadvisor.com
Since getting together with Mercy, I eat sadza and traditional indigenous Zimbabwean food on a regular basis. The first time I ate it, at a family celebration, I was firstly confronted by a young girl who curtsied and offered me a bowl of water to wash my hands and a paper towel to dry them, before another girl presented me with a plate with a massive lump of steaming sadza. A young woman then arrived with a pan of beef stew which was offered and accepted. As she spooned a generous portion onto my plate, a queue of other women formed behind her. The second one gave me a chicken leg, and the third some bitter leaves. My plate was now full. It smelled delicious and I was dying to start eating this sumptuous feast. However, while all around me tucked in to their food; proficiently using their sadza to scoop up the contents of their plates, I found I was struggling. Surely mine had been served
at a much higher temperature than to the others. But no, it was me. Every time I tried to separate a piece of sadza it felt like my fingers were getting burnt. My English murungu fingers were obviously not fit for purpose. By the time it had cooled down enough for me to commence, the others were on their second helpings.
Pic cred: theseraphineproject.com/
It took a young boy to show me how he rolled the sadza from the outside of the pile into balls which he then placed around the rim of the plate to cool. It was explained by one gentleman that when a large family sat down to a meal at home and sadza was served in a communal bowl, it was competitive. You would have to be quick and efficient in claiming and eating what was on offer, otherwise you would be left hungry; it was the survival of the fittest.
Sadza is the mainstay staple food to be found in Zimbabwe and is stiff maize meal which is like a thickened porridge. The most common form is made with white maize (corn) mealie meal. It is cooked in boiling water until it reaches a stiff or firm dough-like consistency. Those making it, make it look easy. Wielding a big wood spoon like a weapon, I’ve attempted to make it myself and have got in a right mess splattering the walls, ceiling and everything in the near vicinity.
Pic cred: instructables.com/
Different consistency of mealie-meal is available. I prefer the course, unrefined sadza. There are also different varieties: Rezviyo sadza millet-meal is a wholegrain variation with a unique faintly nutty flavour, which is brown coloured and is often called chocolate sadza. Yellow sadza is made from cornmeal and is commonly referred to as Kenya, as it was historically imported from Kenya. Sadza is a universal food which is eaten at all times of the day and can accompany anything.
Pic cred: twitter.com
My personal favourite sadza meals with nyama (meat) are mbudzi (goat), mutton, oxtail or huku (chicken) especially roadrunner and of course, Boerewors – sausage. I’m not completely in love with mazondo (cow’s feet), guru (tripe) or other varieties of offal, but will never say no. I also like my hove (fish): talapia or kapenta (same-sized boys) – small dried fish. And on the side: imibhida (spring greens), especially with peanut butter, cabbage, creamed spinach or nyemba (sugar beans). I also wouldn’t argue if someone was to offer me a good portion of chakalaka. Oh…and as a snack, I’m quite partial to munching on crunchy madora (mopane worms), which are absolutely lovely fried in garlic. Actually, if the truth is to be told; I eat anything and everything put in front of me.
On occasion, when I’ve been invited to a meal at someone’s family home, I’ve been asked to say grace before we all sit down to eat. What I say is…
Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls….count your blessings, as we are fortunate to be here together to be able to share a meal. Please be upstanding for our national dish…..
Praise the Lord and pass the sadza.
Pic cred: food-of-africa.com/