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September 15, 2012

THE HOME COOKED MEAL

by Erin Wilkinson Hartung

Food is fresh on Zanzibar. Villagers go to the outdoor fish market to buy octopus or the catch-of-the-day. Fishermen bring in their selection to display proudly and haggle with prospects over price, quantity and size. Retailers offer red onions, bell peppers and tomatoes grown in their own Shamba (food garden) to be mixed with rice or added to salad. The local neighborhood markets are a buzz several times a day.

To prepare the evening meal, firewood or charcoal is collected or purchased. These resources are limited and Zanzibar is running out of trees and charcoal is made from burning trash. This creates a heavy, acrid smoke. People often have sinus conditions from the smog in the air. Water is fetched from the local well sometimes an hour walk away. The fire is lit in the house, the fish is smoked or fried, and kitchen work is done on the floor. Sometimes a little stool is used in a squat position for shredding coconut and chopping vegetables. Dinner sometimes can take several hours to prepare.

The men return from work and children come home after school. Prayers are said at dusk and families sit together on a floor mat to eat. At night women tend to children, gossip on door stoops, and men congregate at local kiosks to sip Chai tea and discuss events of the day. Most cannot afford electricity so without power bedtime often occurs around 9pm. They live on $3 to $4 a day and have few basic necessities but they are still relatively happy and do not go hungry.

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