When chapati and first slice of bread were worshipped

Chapatis

Chapatis.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • I still have a vivid image of me sitting right next to the jiko that was bringing to life those chapatis, salivating in anticipation of the rare treat.
  • I remember us arguing over who would get the crust (of the bread) because it was always bigger than the inner slices.

Recently, a friend and I were marvelling at the fact that chapati is no longer the delicacy it was when we were growing up. Decades later, I still have a vivid image of me sitting right next to the jiko that was bringing to life those chapatis, salivating in anticipation of the rare treat, the smell permeating our small kitchen making my stomach rumble violently.

I’m not alone. My friend tells me that she finds it hard to believe that when she makes them, they last three days or even more. Yet she has three sons. In her childhood, she and her siblings fought over them, literally, on the rare occasions that their mother made them.

Bread, I recall, was also rare in my time. I remember us arguing over who would get the crust because it was always bigger than the inner slices; an argument that would sometimes end in tears triggered by a sense of unfair treatment.

During the December school holidays, for a number of years, we visited cousins who lived in Nairobi for a week or two. There were three of them, making five with my elder brother and I thrown into the mix. There was a lot of resentment during our time there, mostly triggered by the fact that they had to share the beloved crust with us, yet there were only two in a loaf of bread. 

Sliced bread

Sliced bread.

Photo credit: Pool

Looking back, the obsession with these foods that some of us take for granted today had to do with scarcity. I went to boarding school in high school, and like many public secondary schools then, (I don’t know about now) food was always in short supply, which made pocket money an essential commodity — most of it was spent on bread, which we would gobble up “kavu” to fill the big yawning space that the spoonful of ugali and teaspoonful of cabbage for supper had failed to fill.

When you’re hungry, you will eat anything, and in copious amounts. But when you have too much of it, or if you happen to have it regularly, you begin to take it for granted.

Unlike chapati, years later I am still obsessed with the crust, the difference this time round being that I don’t have to fight over it with anyone, a factor that sometimes catches me by surprise. I, however, believe that my longing for it is psychological. It is not that I like this specific part of bread so much, or that I cannot do without it. It is because there is a sense of satisfaction in being able to meet a “need” that I was denied during my childhood and which was a source of antagonism.

If you did some soul-searching today, you’d be surprised at how much your past experiences influence most of your habits and how you react to various stimuli.

On a different note, a reader, Filipians Philip, observed that the happy-looking mugshot that appears on this column was at odds with the topic I wrote about last week. It was about the rising cases of child abuse and abductions. I totally agree with him — I should have two mugshots to interchange depending on the topic of the week. 

The writer is editor, Society & Magazines, Daily Nation. Email: [email protected] ke.nationmedia.com

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