Face it! You know NOTHING about Africa.

by Kathryn Baldwin

My aunt’s newly released memoir, Ruby’s World, only solidified my worries: my knowledge of the African continent is as pathetic as a drooping, over-boiled asparagus stalk. Luckily, this knowledge is multiplying thanks to random African connections in my life (like when my boyfriend learned the word “lethargic” and suddenly everyone around him was using the word ten times per day for a month straight).

It started when I learned it took some people a 19-hour flight to get to the 2010 African World Cup. If they hadn’t passed out by the time they got there, extended periods of vuvuzela blowing got the job done soon enough. Some time later, I had to memorize the location and capitals of thirty African countries for a class at Saint Mary’s. Trying to ignore 2/5ths of the continent was so distracting and arbitrary that by the time I made my flashcards my pen had run out of ink. Then, my aunt, Karen Baldwin, got home, “a reviled outcast” after teaching in a rural Zulu school in the Provence of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Her experience skewered her life, leaving her paralyzed until she could work out all of her pending questions…which she did in her novel that just released this winter. She’s still removing that painful rod of confusion, but for me, her riveting novel tacked on a whole new set of questions about Africa. Finally, my brother and his fiancé spent this Christmas on an African, four-wheeling safari jeep, watching lions feed from five feet away and locking their sliding doors at night for protection from rogue African elephants. (I seriously hate them. Grr.)

Through all these recently fated encounters with Africa, some fun-facts I’ve learned include:

-South African wine tours are the new Napa, California.

-African political boundaries change often today because they were originally drawn by delusional, European white guys (during the 1880s) who seriously thought five tribes could share a single space.

-A particular African beetle pushes a ball of shit to his prospective mate as his biggest expression of love (only true love has no sense of smell, right?).

-The first acclaimed apparition of the Virgin Mary on the continent (Our Lady of Kibeho) happened in Rwanda in 1988; a warning right before a massive genocide.


…And finally, I learned this week, in preparation for my aunt Karen Baldwin’s book club reading at my house tomorrow that I know NOTHING about African food. I tried to make Khandvi Rolls (from my Ayurveda cookbook) …

…by whipping up a type of garbanzo-flour polenta, pouring it out to dry flat (even though I didn’t spread it thin enough) and then rolling little strips and topping with toasted seeds.

Their wiggly, squishy texture and gelatinous smell startled my tongue and confused my nose. Even my dad said they were… “interesting.” Then my mom held her tongue and said I was a “brave cook.”

If we love Mexican, Spanish, Italian, French, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Peruvian, Argentinean (and more and more) food , why is African food so confusing?! Again, how pathetic! It’s time to build our African palates. What shall I try next time??!?!?


3 Comments to “Face it! You know NOTHING about Africa.”

  1. Vuvuzela has to be one of my favorite words. Nice job on this blog. One of my favorites.

  2. At least they look pretty! I agree with Isaias, vuvuzela is an amazing word.

  3. Don’t you love how one word, in the middle of all the jibber jabber, can stick to your brain without asking permission?! Thanks for the guacamole-love guys.

    And thanks Bethany! Isaias said they look like a mixture between a twinkie and a ho-ho. Trust me though, they didn’t taste that way. They tasted more like hummus jello… hard to describe.

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