This all starts in late June 2020, you probably won’t remember what was happening in your life back then unless you look at a photo or something.
We are at home, we have just hired our new Help and I am a few months away from birthing our son.
Our new help is from Busia, she’s the third help we’ve had in our house in just three weeks. I let our old help go because… well, because it was time for her to go. The two helps who have come in after aren’t the right fit for us, I asked them to leave before the ink on their contracts had even dried.
Now here we are, at our wits end, trying yet another help.
My big sis offers to come over so we can light a candle and pray together. I don’t think invoking the heavens is necessary but she insists, ‘Let’s just try. You have nothing to lose, anyway.’
We don’t know it yet but this is the help who will grow with our newborn until he’s almost three. Maybe it was the candles, maybe it was chance.
Anyway, it’s late June 2020 and we have a new Help.
She’s from Busia. She’s tall and gentle, like a Nubian giraffe, she moves with grace and silent rhythm, as though in slow motion. She’s never in a hurry yet she’s never late. Time seems to warp itself around her. It’s mesmerising.
She’s also meticulous in demeanour and with her cooking and cleaning.
She reminds me of a quote from the movie ‘John Wick’: How you do one thing is how you do everything.
“How you do one thing is how you do everything.”
No sooner has she unpacked her carry-on and settled into her room does she get down to cleaning. We wake up in the morning and she’s cleaned, sorted and organised that ugly cluttered corner in the laundry that everyone pretended not to see.
In the weeks after she does the same to the pantry, the cupboards, the cabinets. Then she cleans the walls, all the windows in the house, the ceiling. She removes the curtains and sheers and washes them as well, same goes for the covers on the chairs and cushions, the rugs.
We always hear the tap running as she collects water to clean… something. We buy more detergent, more bleach, more brushes to support her cleaning.
If you visit us and you leave your shoes outside the door, she’ll clean them for you.
When she’s finished cleaning the outside of things, she gets down to cleaning the inside of other things: the fridge, deep freezer, oven, toaster. Things go south when she cleans the toaster.
Ours is a silver Moulinex toaster with a vintage posture, it looks like it time-machined here from the 1950s.
No one can reach its insides to clean out the old bread crumbs but our Help tries anyway.
We wake up in the morning to a sparkling toaster no one can recognize as ours. Hell, even the toaster can’t recognize itself. It’s halfway into toasting our breakfast when it coughs and sputters like an old man taking his last breaths. It heaves one last time then goes silent.
GB takes it to a fundi in Buru who can fix anything that’s broken, even your heart.
The fundi takes one look at it and says in his Buru slang, ‘It’ll cost you about as much money to resurrect it as to buy a new one.’
We leave it with him and move on to toasting our bread on a pan, on the cooker, and this, my dear reader, is where it truly starts.
Put a pin on this moment because this is where the story shifts.
Bread toasted on a pan is so delicious, my goodness. It’s fluffy and browned to a controlled degree, and when it comes from piping hot from the pan and you lather on layers of Blueband… it elevates the experience to ethereal.
I don’t mean to be dramatic but I imagine that this is how God Himself intended white bread to be consumed.
GB and I stop eating boiled ngwacé for breakfast and feast on this white bread.
When we’re not eating too many of our Help’s pan-toasted bread, we’re eating all the other delicious things she cooks for us. Everyone has a favourite day of the week because of her food – GB loves Thursdays for the chilli beef fry, Muna and Njeeh love Fridays for the chips and burgers, I love Wednesdays for the chapatis.
One of the reasons her chapos are so sweet and so soft is because she puts sugar in them and about 20 litres of cooking oil. They’re very unhealthy but very delicious.
And so sunrises come and go, the house is immaculate, the food is delicious, the children are thriving, pages peel off the calendar, the hands on the clock turn as the years segue into the next and the next.
What we don’t realise while we’re stuffing our faces with all this delicious food is that it’s gradually killing us. Especially me and GB. We’re both almost 40 and if we don’t stop eating long enough to ponder our choices, we’ll both be kicking down the door to lifestyle diseases.
The warning signs are already here. I regularly get excruciating headaches that cripple me – I can’t work, I can’t talk, I can’t do anything but lie comatose in a quiet dark room. Even Panadol doesn’t help.
I always have to stick a finger down my throat before I lie down, to empty my stomach.
GB is struggling with his weight. One moment he was a lean, mean machine now he’s a bloated, ballooning bazenga.
It’s for this reason that for the next 30 days, GB and I are embarking on an eating-better challenge.
I’m writing this after our meeting with our ‘eating consultant’ – he’s a South Sudanese who’s now a well-travelled global citizen, a spiritual and self-aware man who makes a waist bag seem so chic.
He too was teetering on the cusp of lifestyle diseases until he pulled himself out. Now he guides others back to safe ground with this wisdom.
Under his guidance, GB and I are cutting out all the delicious deadly food from our diet: wheat, red meat, vegetable oil, normal salt, sugar, margarine, processed food like sausages and burgers.
We’re replacing it with sorghum, millet, white meat, ghee, sea salt, honey, moringa and a host of other superfoods.
We shall do this for the next 30 days then we take stock.
My headaches should have gone, GB’s weight should be under control.
We start our programme next Monday, Inshallah, after one last hurrah this weekend with our delicious deadly food.
Put another pin here, dear reader, because this may be where the story shifts again.
An edited version of this story first ran in the Saturday Nation on May 27, 2023. It ran under my ‘Culture’ column.17