Courtesy of the old man who just wouldn’t shut and let me read my book in peace while we waited in line, a memory has been sparked that involves the 1980 film Love Brewed in an African Pot.
I must have been 4 or 5 years old. My mum was talking to a friend of hers. I don’t remember the conversation itself but I remember that my mum said something about ‘love brewed in an african pot.’
I had no idea what love was. But I definitely knew what a pot was. We had a pot. It was a red earthen vessel that my Tanzanian ayah Maria had brought back with her from Tanzania as a gift to my mum. It was used to cook special meat stew that always tasted so delicious.
So the very next afternoon, I decided to make love brewed in an African Pot. I somehow knew Maria would not give me the red earthen pot to cook with. So I waited till she went to the market, and my big brother was busy with something, then I sneaked the pot out of the kitchen, stole away behind the house, past the big tree with those huge roots and wild tendrils hanging from its branches that my other brother had told me were called thina (also a kikuyu word for trouble).
Safely hidden from the house by the tree, I lit a fire with matches, also very definitely stolen. I had with me a supply of onions and tomatoes and some oil. salt and bizari, that I intended to use just like Maria always did. Once my main set up was done, I went off in search of love, different bunches of green leaves, some purple flowers, a red one and a wild berry that my named as ndongu when we were on a walk one day.
I cut everything up nicely, fried my onions and tomatoes, added the leaves. Then some water to make stew. I was a pro, adding salt, and the yellow spice bizari, stoking my little fire etc etc.
I was just about ready to start tasting my beautiful love brewed in an African Pot, just like Maria did while adding salt and spices, when my brother suddenly appeared. Then calling towards the house:
“Ndio haka nimekapata.”
Maria was there before I could swallow down the fear of a spanking. Then for some yet inexplicable reason she started screaming. Then she scooped me up, examined my mouth all the while asking with her panicked cracking voice:
“Umekula? Umekula hio supu yako, mummy. Si uniambie, aki. Umekula. Woi! Tuende hospitali. Bryan! Tukimbie hospitali!”
I did eventually manage to say I hadn’t eaten my special soup yet. And once inside the house, it finally trickled into my understanding that one of the leaves I had picked from my special soup were from a datura plant. It slowly dawned on me that if I had eaten my special soup my innards would have swollen up and exploded like those of the family that used to live there there in Kangemi. They were so hungry and new in town, so they picked wild greens from the roadside and cooked them only to die explosively hours later. (Probably urban legend, but you get the point.)
A number of things changed that day. Because of my innovative interest in cooking, from then on Maria always involved me in making meals for the family. My mother brought home a book on African Botany and when we went on walks we would try to identify plants. My brother also took a special interest in telling me the many ways I could die by fire.
The one thing that really bothered me was the demise of the special African Pot. Since I had used poisonous plants in it, Maria no longer felt comfortable cooking for the family from it. I had to watch as she broke it and threw away the pieces. I remember wondering why she hadn’t used it for something else if she couldn’t use it for cooking anymore. It would have been a great flower pot, like the ones in the front of the house.
Maria distracted me from that thought by telling me it was time for my nap, which usually meant curling up in my bed with another book. I liked that a lot.
A lot later Maria laughed when I told her what I was trying to cook that day.
“Mapenzi hayapikwi na jiko, mummy. Mapenzi ni mimi na wewe.” Never figured what that meant. Well, as an adult, I know what the well-adjusted view of love is. But sometimes, the sneaky thought that the pot was dashed to pieces creeps up on me.
But even more terrifying is the idea of innards swelling up and exploding. ( I was going to put up a photo of exploding human torso but my good sense has won over.)
Ha! Have fun psychoanalysing that one!