In Kenya, a First Taste of Hunger

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Photos by Pascale Brevet


I never experienced hunger. In fact, my life has revolved around avoiding it. Three meals a day was my rule. My grandmother Odette was from Lyon. She'd drool over the saucisson lyonnais, quenelle, gâteau de foies de volaille she'd serve us, or anything really that included cream or butter, cheese or meat. My grandmother Marguerite is from Villeveyrac, in Languedoc--a region more Mediterranean; her repertoire plays around bouillabaisse, ratatouille, and barbecued lamb. I was spoiled. I am spoiled.

When I decided to go to Kenya, I didn't think about food. After years as an executive in big companies, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. Work with the poor, live their lives, and try somehow to change something. I read about NECOFA. I talked to Samuel Muhunyu, its coordinator for Kenya. He told me about the country's food security issues; how people deserve the right to access a culturally acceptable food; how they should have access to it with dignity--all ideals I believe in.

Samuel suggested that I join them for two months, basing myself in the city of Molo. Food and nutrition security is an even bigger challenge for families affected by HIV, he said. And nutrition is all the more key for the infected, as a balanced diet improves people's immunity as well as adherence to anti-retrovirals. He wanted me to meet these families and understand the problems they face. Speak with institutions and NGOs to identify what kind of support already exists. And come up with ideas on how to empower the families to achieve their food and nutrition security. Don't give me fish, teach me how to fish, a Kenyan proverb says.

Food has always been for me a haven in difficult times. But what I find here does not give me what I'm longing for.

My aunt worked in West Africa for more than 15 years, and my childhood was bathed in her stories of friendly people, mesmerizing landscapes, and exotic animals. Life is simple there, so much easier, she said. She was the adventurer, divorced in a seriously Catholic family--a woman alone in Africa, threading her way through a foreign land. And so her Africa became my fantasy.

When I arrived it was raining. Through the cars' fumes I could see run-down buildings covered with grime. We finally arrived in Molo. My new life was beginning.

Most of the roads here are made of dirt, and those of asphalt have been ruined from the heavy rains that frequently flood the country. People walk with heavy loads on their heads. The lucky ones have bikes that they load with bags of potatoes, jerrycans of water, or metal pipes and push up the hills. Many of the children go barefoot.

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Photo by Pascale Brevet

My arms hurt on Sunday nights after a day of washing. Electricity is rationed on Mondays and Thursdays. Though sometimes on Tuesdays too, without notice. Invitations are hand delivered, even if it means driving two hours from the office. I'm the mzungu that people point at. The baby girl at the vegetable stall cries each time she sees me; I terrify her.

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Pascale Brevet is a French freelance writer, food consultant, and compulsive traveler. More

Pascale Brevet is a French freelance writer, food consultant, and compulsive traveler. After working for years as an executive at Christian Dior, she gave up her job and moved to Colorno, Italy, where she received a master's degree in Food Culture and Communication from UniSG. Most recently, she worked for NECOFA in Molo, Kenya, on food and nutrition security for HIV/AIDS patients.

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