Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Madeleine # 3: Susan's Boiled Peanuts

Susan was our maid and my nanny when we lived in Kenya. She was from Uganda, but had fled Idi Amin's regime, like so many others. And like so many of her fellow country-men and women, she was very well educated. I owe her my first grasp of the English language, learnt listening to her stories and her commentary of the news when my parents were out in the evening. And the news was often fascinating, albeit heavily censored, as this was from 1980 to 1982 during the border dispute with Tanzania.

Susan came to us with her 2 children, one evening, looking for a job. Djungu, her eldest son, was the picture of a starving African child, with a bloated stomach and legs that could not carry him despite his 3 years of age. My dad gave him some UNICEF powder mixed with Fanta every day, and within 10 days, Djungu was running around like the rest of us. This was the ancestor of PlumpyNut, I guess. Which brings me to my third Madeleine. Susan's lovely hot, boiled peanuts. Plumpy Nuts, indeed!

Take as many peanuts in the shell as you wish to eat, put them in a pan of water with lots of salt and boil them for 2-3 hours, then leave them to cool slightly in the water.

Drain and serve with a nice beer (for the adults) or ... Fanta (for the kids).

I made some this evening, and the memories started to flood in, as I had hoped they would.

Eating ugali (maize meal) in Susan's hut. Not something I did alot, as I found it decidedly bland. But I loved when she cooked sukuma weeki, an indigenous type of spinach. Sometimes she would treat my parents and I to the best Ugandan food, but as I was only 8 years old, I did not think of taking notes of the recipe. But I do remember tilapia filets cooked with tomato in banana leaves and helping to knead chapatti bread (something to do with twisting it around my thumb, although I'm not sure why).

Susan also had a little girl. She must have had a proper name, but we all called her Shillingi - "Treasure" in Swahili -because it was derived from the local currency, the Shilling.

Thinking of Susan also reminds me of our house in Nairobi and how the black cotton soil in the garden would prevent the water, which was pouring down during the rainy season, from being absorbed by the earth. The whole garden was transformed into a slippery mud bath, which was hilarious to navigate bare-foot, while 'helping' my dad dig trenches to drain away the water.

Some less funny memories come back as well, uninvited. Hiding beneath the windows and crawling around the house, during the attempted coup in 1982 against the president Daniel arap Moi, who lived just around the corner. Just around the other corner was Nairobi's biggest slum, Kibera, where much of the unrest understandably was happening (for a glimpse of Kibera, I recommend watching the movie The Constant Gardener). This would be my first encounter with the violence and political turmoil of Africa, but by no means my last. How my parents succeeded in making me at the same time feel safe, while also explaining things so I could understand them, is still a wonder to me and something for which I thank them.

what an exquisite pleasure following you down memory lane!
Ah, les arachides bouillies ! Bien meilleur que les cacahuètes grillées ! Incomparable !
Je n'ai pas eu la chance de vivre au Kenya (veinarde !), mais par certains côtés cette Madeleine me rappelle le Gabon...
Je ne me lasse pas de te lire !
On se croirait presque à l'époque d'Out of Africa.
C'est incroyable comme tes notes me font voyager. En lisant je visualise bien l'ambiance qu'il pouvait y régner, même si en Mauritanie ce n'était pas pareil.
Je serai curieuse de goûter à cette Madeleine chez toi. Ca me parrait un peu bizarre...
I forgot to specify that the peanuts are best when filled with the salty water, so that when you pop the shells, it spills all over you... That makes the nuts really moist and yummy!
waiting impatiently for the next Madeleine. We are hungry!
Thank you for such an evocative post -- and for the recipe!
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