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When Christmas was a festival of chapati

Peter Ngila  @peterngilanjeri

Chapati may be as common as ugali on the dining tables of many – particularly urban – Kenyan households nowadays. But back in the day, chapati was a Christmas-only delicacy. Christmas wasn’t Christmas without chapati.

As children, we would use every trick to ensure we had maximum helpings of chapati not just at home but also at the neighbours’.

I would use ingenious tricks to find my way into the homes of neighbours making chapati.  One such was to make salt “disappear” to necessitate a trip to the neighbour’s to borrow some.  And how did I know where the stuff was being made? The unmistakable aroma of chapati gave directions!

At the neighbours’,  I would actually borrow the salt and hope I was offered one (chapati) for the road. If the size of the neighbour’s heart was big, I would get one.

The gift would be wrapped in the packet that originally contained the baking flour. I would walk back home with my precious cargo, pinching bits on the way.  But I would walk slowly to avoid getting home with the choice bits and my cousins begging for a share.

If by chance the chapati was still there by the time I got home, I would shove the remaining bits into the pockets of my torn pair of shorts. Never mind that at home, the aroma of yet more chapatis was in the air.

Eating chapati was an event, perhaps because it came only at Christmas. Well, Easter and the New Year tried to make a mark, but Christmas remained the chapati festival.

For the rest of the year, ugali and githeri were the main meals unless your folks took you out for a wedding on a Saturday.

It was like an unwritten rule to eat not less than five. It was actually a competition of sorts among my cousins. I was the quietest but with the keenest appetite. Perhaps that’s why I was of generous proportions.

Fast forward to 2018. These days I don’t need to go borrowing salt to eat chapati. All I need whenever the craving strikes are to walk to the stall near my flat in Nairobi and buy freshly baked chapatis. When I’m really hungry I eat a maximum of three. In my childhood, three was an abomination. The availability of chapati has stolen its magic.

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