What I cooked in Malawi!

tastingMy hands-down favorite day in Malawi – and one I will never forget — is the day we visited Chimuti village in Mchinji District and the women dragged me into the “kitchen” to cook the national dish of nsima, a white, corn-powder concoction that looks like grits-on-steroids and tastes blandly divine.

Chimuti lies right near the border of Malawi and Zambia, and it’s a town so full of dazzling women and healthy cows, it’s like the poster child of what Heifer can accomplish.mom, baby & heifer

Before 2011, nobody in Chimuti raised dairy cows, but once they witnessed the prosperity brought about by cows in a neighboring town, they were all in.heifer

As we strode up to the house of Sophia Chimala, the women all began to clap and sing, and we saw her original heifer Shine, and the twins Shine had given birth to (after her first offspring was passed along to another needy family).sophia & heifer

Sophia is 45, beautiful, and spunky as all get-out. It was she who led me into the smoke-filled kitchen (that had me crying my eyes out after a minute or two) and told me to get to work with my two sous-chefs, Miss C & Miss P.

Miss C & Miss P - they're shy but powerful (in their Heifer wraps)

Miss C & Miss P – they’re shy but powerful (in their Heifer wraps)

And so I did get right down to work.

Me and Miss C, getting our cooking on...

Me and Miss C, getting our cooking on… (all photos of me taken by the fabulous Patti Ross)

Here’s what we made.

First, the beautiful vegetable dish:stirring vegs

Cut up leaves of the bean plant. Cook for ten minutes with some salted water in the pot. Add 3 cut-up tomatoes. Add ¾ of a dish of pounding nutsground peanuts (pounding them by hand and then sifting through basket weave requires a whole set of skills that I don’t possess – but my attempts sure amused everyone.) Cook the vegetables and nuts another minute and salt to taste. Don’t make Miss P. roll her eyes by requesting a hot pad to pick up the scalding pot cover … they never use them but somehow don’t get burned.

For Nsima:

Bring 3-4 cups of water almost to a boil. Sift in corn flour. Stir.

Me wimpily stirring...

Me wimpily stirring my nsima (with a lot of oversight)…

If lumpy, make a roux of water and flour in separate bowl and add back to the mix. Add about 5 cups of the corn flour. Stir very, very, very vigorously with a paddle – up and down, over and under, until you’re about ready to drop. Don’t mind if Miss C strongly urges you to stir a lot harder.

How it's really done by a pro...

A professional shows how it’s really done…

When it’s thickened, using a special spoon, dip in water then ladle out a mango-sized scoop of the mix, and plop it onto the plate, then dip the ladle in water again and use the back to carefully smooth the top into a big egg-like mound. Don’t forget to dip in water between every scoop or you will make Miss P very unhappy. Arrange the identical mounds of nsima carefully and make the plate look pretty.

making nsima

Wash all the dishes you will be using (and don’t forget to rinse thoroughly).  Clean pots with a bamboo branch and pretend you are not vastly entertaining every village child in sight.washing up

Serve the women and children outside, and serve the men inside. (And keep your mouth shut about that arrangement.) Be grateful that the children pretend that this is the best nsima they have ever eaten. my nsima!

Pretend you also fixed the fall-off-the-bone tender, mouth-watering chicken that Misses C & P made this morning.chicken

Stanch the river of tears still pouring out of your eyes from the kitchen fire smoke.tears

Eat one of the best meals of your life…lunch

…with some amazing, beautiful women (who were allowed to eat indoors), including the lovely Miss Sophia….  sophia1

…and Heifer’s project manager, aptly named Grace, who after lunch took us to visit some more beautiful cows and farmers in the village.

Heifer's Grace, walking through Mchinji village.

Heifer’s Grace Gopani Phiri, walking through Chimuti village.

See new tin roofs going up, cement floors being poured, healthy children, and the prosperity that these big Friesian heifers from Heifer have brought to Mchinji. mom & baby

Then visit Heifer’s BUA milk collection center that will allow 200 families from multiple villages to aggregate their milk and sell it commercially — a whole new income stream!collecting milk

Finally, thank God (and Heifer’s Victor Mhango, who master-minded my cooking initiation) for this amazing Mchinji day!! Farewell, beautiful Malawi …..girls2smiling boyheifer w girlsbaby heifersophia & hubbyFrangipani

Categories: Animals, Food, Heifer International, Hunger, Inspiration, Malawi, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

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30 thoughts on “What I cooked in Malawi!

  1. Didi

    That was wonderful Betty! Thanks so much for sharing the experience! Didi

  2. Marvellous post Betty. Heifer does wonderful work and you are doing a great job spreading the word.

  3. Judy Clements

    So wonderful – Heifer, you, the Malawi people. Thanks for the post and the earlier ones, too.

  4. Julie

    one of your best reports charming story, beautiful people

  5. Martha Radatz

    Ahhhhh, thank you for this delightful post. After your last disturbing entry about AIDS in Malawi, this was a most welcome antidote and a big shot of hope.

  6. Beautiful smiling faces!

  7. Of course, I sent the great Coke product placement shot to all my friends at the company.

  8. Deb Morrow Palmer

    You are so wonderful at capturing the soul of the people you photograph. It is wonderful to see how this one community is beginning to feel the prosperity of their work. It was obvious in the children’s faces they are getting nutritious meals. What an amazing year!! I hope you have an opportunity someday to re-visit the communities that were just starting. I have never found myself bored throughout my day even though I am completely retired, but I have seen way too many couch potatoes to know that people can sit and do nothing. Have they had areas that just didn’t put in the energy required? Is there a study to see what percent of efforts have failed? These programs seem fail safe if the people are truly interested. Would so love to see a program developed for our welfare recipients. One of teaching and training.

    • Deb – you always have such thought-provoking comments! I would truly love to go back and revisit all the places I went a few years from now — to see what has happened with the families I’ve met and how they are doing! wouldn’t that be amazing/? I know how busy you are and I know you appreciate the value of hard work & dedication to a goal — that is one thing that I found most tragically missing in Appalachia, which has such a culture of dependence on the “dole” and government programs, particularly disability.
      That dependence has taken a huge toll on the self-esteem, health and dignity of the community — because if you don’t work, and you’ve learned to expect everything to be given to you, it kills something inside you. But — you almost never see that in the developing world. Quite frankly, there is no safety net there(which is tragic in its own way) — and the energy, dedication and unbelievable work ethic of the people is almost beyond imagining. We have it SO easy — we really do!

  9. maybe your next gig, Betty, will be with the Global Cookstove Alliance – getting rid of that smoke improves life even more. The project looks wonderful. http://www.cleancookstoves.org/

    • Hey, Betsy — you are SO right !! I could not believe how much smoke I choked down while making that one meal — and I am totally convinced that the women’s eyes are compromised by being subjected to all that smoke, not to mention their lungs. I asked repeatedly why they didn’t vent the room with more windows, but I think they were afraid animals would get in and eat the food… although that didn’t seem likely to me. This project WAS amazing and had really had a powerful positive impact on the village!

  10. Pat

    Betty, Please, please publish a book of your wonderful photos and essays about the countries you visited this year.

  11. How totally cool that you got to cook, Betty! And the photos are so, so cute. You’re darling! Sorry to be so behind on my blog reading! Hope you’ll forgive me, my friend!

    • Kathryn, you are always doing SO much, with all your crafts AND all your blogging AND all your memoirs, I have no idea how you have time to read anything!!! I am always so honored that you take the time to read my blog — thanks a million for your comment & don’t worry … my blog will be around for months!!! xoxoxo b

  12. jaybob46

    Betty, thanks so much for sharing this. What a wonderful experience, for you, for all those beautiful women and children, and for us.

    • Jaybob — It WAS a glorious experience for Patti & me (I’ll never forget it that’s for sure) and I think it was probably a lot of fun for the women, too. They were so proud of their cooking and even with this simple food, they took a LOT of pleasure in making it as attractive and yummy as possible… even when they make nsima for practically every meal. I loved that — as well as the confidence, dignity and assertiveness (to say the least) of these women. And how adorable were those kids???

  13. Talk about hands on experience! Must have been a lot of fun.

  14. I hear people say all the time that we have to get out of our comfort zone. It’s great advice, and you’re my role model for that idea, Betty. Your willingness to enter someone else’s world and expose yourself to that feeling of being inexperienced — and therefore dependent on others for guidance — is a beautiful thing to see. The people in your posts always have a sparkle in their eyes. Even the animals seem to. I think it has at least something to do with your presence there. And, of course, the Heifer programs are accomplishing wonders.

  15. What a great comment, BB — I’m saving it forever! I do think one of the reasons my photos of people have a special liveliness is that I’ve generally spent time with the people whose pictures I’m taking, so they are truly looking at me (and I’m always grinning like mad behind the lens) — and I always try to show people their photos, too — which delights them to no end. I certainly have gone outside my comfort zone this year, but into another entirely unexpected comfort zone .. as I have experienced the Family of Man that makes up this planet, all the things we share despite our many differences, and how deeply connected we are. Which makes me feel very hopeful about the future, despite all the many difficulties we face! And Heifer is doing such great work — I’m just so happy I’ve had the chance all year long to see it and write about it!!

  16. Brilliant post Betty. I echo Charles comment and also applaud your willingness to go out of your comfort zone into all these totally different worlds and expose your inexperience to the whole village –
    I know how hard it is to make the “mealie-meal” and you were working on the floor over an open fire! Sheesh!

    I read on the weekend (and can’t remember where) that the smoke from those open fires causes more cancer among women and children.

  17. Pingback: Celebrating a Memorable Trip | Coca-Cola Scholars Quest

  18. Pingback: Giving Thanks for All Y’all … and for Malawi! | Heifer 12 x 12

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