Student News

Notes from Abroad: Tanzania #6 — Sweet Potatoes, Ugali and a Side of Beans

Christina Kopp – March 14, 2014

Christie Jok ’16 sends this reflection of her first few days in Tanzania:

Laughter and the smell of lemongrass tea filled the air as Mama Mariam danced around the enormous pot. We tried to imitate her but her simple dance moves just looked silly when we did them, and although we were making complete fools of ourselves, Mama Mariam’s smile made it more than worthwhile. This was one of the many moments I wished I could’ve captured on tape when helping the matrons prepare breakfast and lunch. 

 Today the “Refuge Group” (Sam, Ali and Katherine C.) spent almost all of the morning helping the mamas serve and prepare food. I was shocked to see how much there was to be done and how much manual labor there was. Although we were preparing a simple meal of steamed sweet potatoes and hot lemongrass tea for breakfast, and beans and ugali (cornmeal) for lunch, it was a lot more work than we expected. Not only did the Mamas lift huge pots full of sweet potatoes, ugali and beans, but they also carried large buckets of water for the tea back and forth from the kitchen to the outside fires. I could not believe how these tall, slender women managed to lift those pots up. 

 After preparing the meals, it was time to serve. A swarm of children rushed into the dining hall and the atmosphere totally changed. The quiet dining hall was filled with chatter and the sounds of clanging metal plates. Each child walked up to us, quickly took a plate of food, smiled and said thank you before diving into a sweet potato larger than the size of their head or a mountain of Ugali that almost filled the whole plate–with a side of beans, of course. The main lesson that I learned from the Mamas was to make sure not to serve too many beans. I promise I won’t forget.