Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Eating Snacks in a Kisii Village, Kenya

A snack is defined as a small portion of food or drink or a light meal, especially one eaten between regular meals. In our minds, the emphasis is on small. Snacks come in a variety of forms including packaged and processed foods and items made from fresh ingredients at home.
Cassava chips

In the world around us snacks can be dumplings, noodles, meatballs, fritters, omelettes, (banana, plantain, and cassava) chips, grilled meats, fish, corn, and any sweet or savory food or that satisfies between meals urges to eat.

In Europe,  instead of dumplings, we think of chocolates, biscuits and crisps. If you in Switzerland where I live, “snack” in German is translated as “imbiss”, or “Zwischenmahlzeit” which means “between meals.” Most say they eat fruit (apples, oranges, bananas) or yogurt.  

There are special occasions where other types of snacks are indulged in. See my blog: http://aromaproductions.blogspot.ch/2014/03/snacking-in-switzerland.html

While attending the 2014 Kistrech International Poetry Festival in Kissi, Kenya, our host, Christopher Okemwa, told us that were going to visit a Kisii village and that they had invited us for snacks.

The trip to a Kisii village was greatly anticipated.

Upon arriving in the Kisii University bus, the village women, dancing and singing, greeted and led us to their compound where they provided us chairs. 

The children were excited to see us too.

While the women were preparing the snacks, we got better acquainted with each and admired our surroundings.

Snacking was preceded by hand-washing and prayers. 

After that, the women presented us with snacks of roasted sweet potatoes and a variety of bananas in large plastic bowls.

 The snacks were accompanied by a millet drink,
 a kind of light porridge.

Dessert, in the form of sugar cane, was later placed before us. A Kisii university lecturer showed us the art of peeling and eating sugar cane. 

However, coming from the Caribbean none of the snacks were strange to me. I knew how to peel and eat sugarcane.  I felt at home.

The millet drink, however, was a new experience. The drink had a subtle, sweet pleasant taste. I was happy it was not fresh cow’s blood as I had seen in documentaries. Of course, that would have been silly. They were Kisii people; not the Massai.

After the snacks, and more entertainment led by a traditional poet, we followed the villagers along a dirt road.

We passed locals at work near their homes before we entered a nearby forest where visiting poets, university students and professors were greeted enthusiastically by villagers.

As soon as we were seated and settled, (the villagers, old and young, sat on the grass), we were introduced to a traditional beverage, a very mild alcoholic millet drink.

It was the beginning of an afternoon of recited traditional poetry,  tales and music played on local instruments.

The looks of joy as the villagers responded to the entertainment were priceless.

Here in the Kisii village, snacks were neither light, small nor some sort of processed food—the sweet potatoes, bananas were freshly harvested from the village’s fields.

Back in Your Arms Again
(tribute to Kisi villagers)

Every day you walk in dirt and dust
live on the land, live in the warmth
of earth’s bosom, smell daily
her dewy breath as you dig
into her fertile sod.

You share the joys of earth’s giving.
They are the fruit of the seed,
The fruit of the roots you planted.
They are placed before us,
strangers on your soil.

You give us all you have--
plump, roasted, sweet potatoes,
bananas, long, fat, and short,
succulent sugarcane stalks
and cups of millet porridge.

You dance and sing for us.
The joy you spread is measured
by the bounce in our walk,
the loudness of our laughter.

What we have seen, shared,
what we take with us
is more than postcard memories.

© Althea Romeo-Mark 08.08.2014

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Culinary Journeys: Bucaramanga (Colombia), Kisii (Kenya)

Althea Romeo-Mark in Bucaramanga, Colombia. Our host holding my carry-on.
Bucaramanga, Colombia: Part 1

A culinary journey becomes an adventure when it takes place in a country not your own. Faced with food you are unaccustomed to, it can be like bungee jumping. You can put on a brave face and take the plunge, or be boring and safe and return home with a stomach free of ailments.

As a visitor, you worry about eating unwashed fruit or experimenting with fresh, pressed tropical juices or an exotic dish you have never heard about.

In Medellin, Colombia, fresh, sliced fruit wrapped in plastic bags can be bought on the street and you can easily be tempted to indulge in healthy eating.

At the hotel where I and fellow poets stayed, I gulped down fresh sour-sap juices.  Sour-saps are rarely sold in Switzerland. When one is seen, you whip out your Smartphone and take a photo. It is a fruit I love and I can only indulge in its sappy sweetness when I am in the Caribbean. 

So in Medellin I was in sour-sap juice Heaven. I knew very well that it was a natural laxative but drank many glasses of it anyway. My stomach later gave me notice.

In Colombia to attend the 20th International Poetry Festival of Medellin, I read along with one hundred invited poets at designated venues around Medellin. It is a city where poets are rock stars; a city where the masses hunger for the words of poets, a city where people sit in the rain and listen to poets; a city where fans line up to get autographs and take photos with poet-stars. 
Italian poet signing autograph

The poetry festival has become a tradition and is part of the social and cultural fabric of sprawling Medellin.
Poets were also flown out to different parts of Colombia to bring poetry to the people. 

Bob Holman, poet

American Poet, Bob Holman and I, were flown to Bucaramanga on the 14th of July 2010 to do readings along with a local poet and artist, Negro Navas.

  Public sources tell us that Bucaramanga is the capital city of the department of Santander, Colombia. It has the fifth largest economy by GDP in Colombia, has the lowest unemployment rate, the highest GINI index, and has the eighth largest population in the country, with 530,900 people. 

Girón was the first and most significant town founded by Spanish colonizers in the region, and Bucaramanga (founded on December 22, 1622) did not overtake Girón in population or economic significance until the early 19th century.

One of the most interesting experiences about our visit to Bucaramanga, in addition to reading and some sight-seeing, was our introduction to local dishes. One of the foods we were tempted to try was “changua,” a soup made of potatoes, egg and bread. It is a traditional breakfast meal.

Potato eggs and bread soup
Our host in Bucaramanga.
Our generous host wanted to make sure we had this local dish before returning to Medellin. We also had tamales cooked in banana leaf cups.
Typical dishes from Bucaramanga include: the Santander-mute (a soup made from various grains and accompanied by various types of meat), the fricassee, a preparation of viscera and goat blood mixed with white rice, oreada meat, arepa de pelao', and the tamales. We did not get around to trying all of them.

We were informed that the hormiga culona (roughly large-bottomed ant) is perhaps the most striking and unique of the dishes in Santander, these ants are abundant in the months of March and April. 

To make this dish, they remove the head and wings of local giant ants and roast them. They are then generally sold on platters on the streets or in jars of hundreds.

We learned that other seasonal foods found in abundance are: traditional sweet celery, lemon, citron, rice, caramel, and pineapple. Most are produced in neighboring Floridablanca. The Oblea wafer and veleño bocadillo (candy) are two other dishes found in great quantity in Bucaramanga.
 I bought a hormiga culona (fat ass ant)  from a man on the street as a souvenir. It was kept in a match box size container and was used for show and tell in my classroom. In the end I threw it away some months after returning to Switzerland. It was not something I found appealing.

I would love to see the beautiful Spanish, colonial architecture  Bucaramango again. I found  the structures fascinating because of the history.  I would try “changua,” tamale cooked in banana leaf cups once more but will give “fat ass” ants  a pass.

© Althea Romeo-Mark, 2016

Next: Having snacks in Kisii, Kenya.

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Friday, August 5, 2016

A Chocolate Encounter

                         A Chocolate Encounter

This micro-fiction piece( short-short story) is dedicated to all exotic-looking women who have been mistaken for prostitutes while simple standing on a corner or waiting at a bus stop and minding their own business.

A Chocolate Encounter

     The wind swished leaves, swirled dust into the air and lifted skirts.  Hans stared at a pair of long brown legs as he staggered out of the bar opposite the tram stop.  His eyes crept upwards, halted at the face that could belong to any exotic place.  Its beauty, a fusion races, urged him closer.

     Seen her at that stop before, thought Hans.  Makes me think of chocolate. Is she’s as sweet as she looks? Face flushed with wine, the bony man stumbled across the street.

     “Hello, Miss” He said tentatively.  He rocked unsteadily on the sidewalk’s edge.


     “Waiting for someone?”

     “Sort of.”  Small eyes, full strawberry-painted lips seemed to fill her brown, oval face.  Dark hair flowed to her waist.

     “How much?”

    “How much what?”  She glared at him.

    “What’s your price?”

    “You… mean…. to do you?” Her laughter rode the night wind.   Plucking a mobile phone from her purse, she spoke a strange language in a tone bordering on hysterical, then flipped the phone shut and folded her arms.  “I’ll give you an unforgettable time.”

     They waited at the bus shelter. Hans drew a cigarette out of a pack and lit it, then stared at her stern face and pouty lips, watched her fight the wind to hold her skirt down.


     He jumped, startled by a car’s honk when it pulled up.  The woman rushed to the car, leaned into the window and spoke, hands waving in the air, voice rising and falling like a roller coaster.

     “Come,” she said, sweetly.  “Get into the back. Meet my girlfriends.”

     “God damned.  So many chocolate faces.” Hans’ face lit up; every nerve lit up, too.

     But then they began to pummel his head, stomach and crotch and slowly the faces melted.

(c) 2007 Althea Romeo-Mark

Interesting. Are we so easily pacified?

Micro-fiction is a subset of flash fiction—those super short stories typically told in 1,000 words or less. Definitions vary, but for the most part, micro-fiction is any story told in 300 words or less, and could even be as short as a few words.

I was encouraged by my friend and fellow writer, Irene Kaesermann, to participate in a fifty-word (50) short story contest that was sponsored by The Daily Telegraph in the UK in 1999. To my surprise, my fifty word story, "The Claim" was published in the anthology, MINI SAGAS.

Not only was I published in MINI SAGAS, but my short story was featured alongside other short-shorts written by Salman Rushdie,Doris Lessing, Ralph Fiennes and other internationally respected writers and artists of specific trades. Their pieces were commissioned, of course.

Interested in writing short-shorts. Have a look at these websites:


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