I am one of those people who believe that when you go to Rome, you should do as the Romans do. Being such a believer, I make an effort to fit in wherever I go, making a mental note to keep an open mind, to go with the flow.
That is how I found myself eating a meal called ngûnja gûtû, in my mother tongue, (loosely translated, it says ‘fold my ear’) somewhere in Kirinyaga. I am told that this is a meal that my forefathers used to eat, and of which, apparently, many of us still partake.
If you’ve never heard about this meal with a strange name, it’s simply a mixture of potatoes and maize flour, though there are those that have tried to glamourise it by adding a variety of things you’d add to sweeten a stew, such as onions, tomatoes and dhania.
The real thing is made by adding maize flour into a sufuria of boiling potatoes cut into small pieces and then mixing it until it takes on the consistency of ugali. That’s it. No frills attached.
The meal I was served mercifully came with a steaming cup of black tea, otherwise I would have probably chocked while trying to swallow the mixture.
I pride myself in being able to eat just about anything and coming out unscathed, and often joke that the only thing my stomach can’t handle is murram. This is because I am that strange person who is perfectly fine, healthy as a horse, as everyone around me nurses a running stomach, rushing to the toilet every five seconds yet we all sat at the same table and ate the same meal.
I did not get a stomach ache after eating my inaugural meal of ngûnja gûtû, but I was unable to eat anything else for the next two days. That meal was so heavy, it settled in my stomach like a stone and refused to move for the next two days. I was so full, I could barely get up from my seat afterwards.
If there ever was a labourer’s meal, this is it. It is the kind of meal recommended if you plan to spend the day tilling the shamba or hauling heavy sacks from a truck.
It should certainly not be eaten by someone who spends most of her day seated in front of a computer screen, barely moving at all and therefore expending almost zero energy.
If I had that for breakfast for a week, I’d probably look like a drum.
Finish the meal
Anyway, I partly blame my predicament that day on how I was raised. It was drummed into me that it is impolite to decline what you are offered when you visit someone, and that it is disrespectful and insulting to your host if you failed to finish the meal you are served.
And so, shingo upande, with a look of impending doom on my face, I demolished the mountain of ngûnja gûtû against my better judgement until my plate was clean, sweating like a pig in the process.
Did I mention that this is the kind of meal that requires you to take off your jacket before you dig in?
Were it possible, I would have carried my heavy stomach in a handbag when it was time to bid my hosts goodbye.