Unsurprisingly, there isn’t really a foodie culture in a country that the World Food Programme deems as suffering from ‘chronic food insecurity’. Like a lot of Sub-Saharan Africa, the staple crop (when rains allow) is maize. It is usually boiled with water and cooked into ‘pap’, a filling, but essentially nutritionally valueless meal. Beans and spinach are also favourites, although lots of families in our area can’t afford these. Many are reliant on food aid and making sacks of donated mealie meal last well longer than they should. You may remember from my previous post that feeding orphans and vulnerable children is a particular difficulty. Farming the land is a complicated issue. Lots of amazing stuff grows here, but drought and taxation make it difficult for subsistence farmers.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen with my own eyes the effects of food insecurity on local families. Just before Christmas I was called to see if I could help a family with a 20 month old who weighed less than my then 8 month old. The child was eating soil due to iron deficiency. His social situation was heartbreaking, but featured some key elements I hear way too often… Loving aunties and a mother who were unable to provide for him. Why? Because their own parents had passed away when they were young teenagers, leaving them to raise themselves, unable to afford school fees… a cycle that looked set to continue. They didn’t qualify for food aid… they are deemed ’employable’. But there are no jobs.
Fortunately there are wonderful people working towards change in this area; stewarding, cultivating the land in a responsible, sustainable way, providing employment and using forms of agriculture that are feasible in this drought-afflicted land. Elsie is super excited to have picked some beautiful greens from One Heart Africa‘s farm. Farms are pretty much her favourite places… she can often be found ‘sampling’ the produce. Her latest discovery is baby okra. I’m enjoying raw milk, still warm from the cow who is happily grazing on delicious grass all day long. We love that so much of our food is locally produced… even if it’s horribly ironic to revel in these small pleasures in the face of such food insecurity. Such are the tensions of living in this setting; so much potential, but so far out of reach.
In the more affluent west of the country, fast food chains are becoming popular with the wealthier Swazi middle classes. We don’t have a McDonalds, but we do have a Nandos… and several South African chains. Sugar is cheap… but that needs a whole post of its own to explain… Unsurprisingly, obesity is on the rise, and it requires a bit of mental twisting to balance food insecurity, malnutrition, hunger and rising diabetes and obesity on the same plate…
But of course, fried chicken is no stranger in Africa. This is a ‘chicken dust’ stand (named for dust off the road beside which it is cooked). Unfortunately, I later came to blame this particular eatery for a rather nasty bout of what I reckon to have been salmonella… We ate this meal with a colleague of Nick’s on a trip to the big city. Whilst we ate, an old guy sat next to us at the roadside table. I thought he was just chilling… We stood to leave and put our leftover food boxes (it’s physically impossible for a foreigner to finish a Swazi portion of pap) in the bin. When I looked over my shoulder, he was eating the leftover pap and picking the remnants off the chicken bones, which I already thought we’d cleaned.
I was asked to inclue a list of foods we miss from home. If I’m honest, we don’t miss a lot (especially when wonderful people send us care packages full of gourmet chocolate!) It feels rude to think about ‘extras’ when you so regularly have people coming to your door asking for food… When you have friends who struggle to feed their kids. There isn’t much you really need that you can’t get in Swaziland, or neighbouring South Africa, if you look hard enough and part with enough cash. And to be honest, I’ve surfed from litchi season, to mango season, am entering pineapple season and anticipating avocado season with great joy… Noah has mastered the perfect pancake-making technique and we know we are blessed to have plenty in a place where so many do not. I’ll leave you with some pics of our favourite foods.
Noah’s perfect pancakes and Micah enjoying a South African favourite – the rusk, followed by many mangos!