Friday Essay

Mashakura: 5 reasons for not marrying a Kenyan wife who does not know how to cook!

It is slightly harder for men to cheat on wives who spoil them with a variety of their favourite delicacies

Kitchen Confidential: Women without cooking skills are not only more nagging, more quarrelsome and less patient, but men also men find them easier to cheat on.

By Mbatia wa Njambi

Visiting Thinker

@Undercover KE

The healthy adult male in Kenya has a problem with the so called modern woman who has no cooking skills- and does not think it’s a big deal in a marriage. She just graduated from university, a Master’s degree in Transport Geography, you know.  Educated women, most wrongly think, did not chew books only to ruin their mascara with steaming managu or crack their French manicure scrubbing sufuria ya ugali. After all, as career women, they can earn enough quid to employ domestic managers mostly the high school dropout daughter of the maternal auntie, but who ends up frying more cooking oil than food.

Research shows most men prefer food prepared by their wives even when the house help is the better cook. Men also eat more in the company of women, preferably the wife, as a 2016 study found out. This explains the sudden body weight for newly married men with wives who know how to stuff chicken with onions, nyanya and waru before wrapping it in aluminum foil for slow roasting on the grill.

 For women whose idea of cooking does not extend beyond warming sausages in a microwave, money talks, then cooks for them in the name of take-aways.

Yet, food, when served late in some households has caused domestic slaps and on a wider scale, wars and revolutions. Rome conquered Egypt to access grain for bread in 30 BC and hence the term ‘breadbasket.’ The 1917 Russian Revolution was precipitated by shortage of bread. The Indian government is often changed like the diapers of a toddler suffering diarrhea whenever prices of onions and pepper go up.  

It is not uncommon to hear about family murders over ugali and ingoho in Kakamega County

In Kenya, every election sees the resurgence of ‘Unga Revolution.’ During the 2017 General Election, President Uhuru Kenyatta fearing a revolt over the high cost of basic commodities subsidized the prices of maize flour to Sh90 as ugali is Kenya’s staple food. It cost taxpayers Sh6 billion to keep voters happy.  

Food in marriages is so serious it is not uncommon to hear about family murders over ugali and ingoho in Kakamega County. In Tana River, a man divorced his wife on the strength of badly cooked pilau in October 2018. Said Kofa divorced Miriam Hiribae-who confessed her hubby of one and a half years pushed her into preparing a dish for which she was at sea.

For other women though, deliberately being clueless in the kitchen is part of women empowerment.  Yet, there are no discernible advantages in a woman not knowing how to cook. It does not make her smarter. Or better as a woman, wife and mother.   

Other women come armed with justification of their deficiencies. Like those who grew up surrounded by house helps. Most found themselves with suckling grade breasts on their chests, but all along had thought the mwiko was a kitchen weapon. Others still, mostly Millennials born after the abortive coup of August 1982, argue that supermarket have open kitchens and thus learning how to cook is so 1945.   

She cannot cook to save her life-but is a genius with salads, alcoholic cocktails

Tender on the bone: One of the easiest ways for a wife to seduce a husband and get him coming home earlier than usual is through the time and tested appetizing delicacies.

These are the women, a healthy adult Kenyan male meets, feels some palpitations of the heart, then starts dating. Such couples mostly eat out and not necessarily to avoid weighing more than the fridge. Five years later the woman has never cooked anything for the dude beyond boiling water for coffee and eggs. One thing leads to the other and the healthy adult Kenyan male finds himself in a convoy of matatus spotting banana leaves towards her Shags: It is ruracio time.

Once the bride price haggling is done and dusted, he is stuck with an educated wife, a corporate chieftain, a business woman or a hustler, who cannot cook to save her life-but is a genius with salads, alcoholic cocktails and dusting ankles in clubs until the devil hours.

 The consequences of marrying a woman who does not know her way around cuisines are far reaching than most women would care to admit. 

Yet, I have to confess. The ancestors I chose are from Central Kenya where the Wambuis, Wanjikus and Wanjirus exhibit marked challenges with water ratios when preparing cereal based foods. They are also pathologically economical with cooking oil some foods taste like a mixture of wet-fry sawdust and tumbukiza plywood.

The countless butcheries in Nairobi are mainly sustained by men who marry from the hamlet of my ancestors. They have to pimisha a kilo of goat dry-fry, maini pan-fry or beef tumbukiza with soup na pipili ya umbali to cushion them in advance for the nightmare their wives normally prepare out of historical challenges with cuisine and cooking styles.  

Indeed, not knowing how to cook can take a marriage very far…in the wrong direction. Listen to me. Most men suffer in silence. Here is what they don’t tell women how food can cooks a stable marriage:

Food is seduction: Food is visual and finger licking good delicious food (not from Miss Mboch) but the loving wife is pretty seducing to most men. Many men often confess the sight of their wives cooking a mouth dripping meal is one that tags at their heartstrings in ways they can’t explain. Indeed, most fall head over heels for women who know the right rations for the home made kachumbari that goes well with pan fry beef and ugali.  Among Kenyan communities, women from the coast have the art of food seduction passed through generations; samaki wa kupaka served with riceand a cold lime juice.

Cuisine could range from fluffy pan fried eggs served with pancakes dipped in honey syrup and thick tea with right rations of milk and tea leaves for breakfast. Lunch can see a juicy beef steak marinated overnight in Whitecap lager and very white ugali served with very green sukuma wiki and dry fry beef for supper. Add a decadent chocolate cake to a creamy custard dusted with soft sugar flakes for dessert.

The above is not the same as condemning a husband to a life of outside catering starring Pizza, high blood pressure inducing oily fries and supermarket bhajias. A wife should thus be a chef, waiter and ‘pleasure activist’ all rolled in one since, unlike lungula, food is what couples can do consistently more than three times a day. Alas! what most men have at home are caterers.

Women without cooking skills-just check around- are rarely patient with anything, let alone a hubby

Unga Revolution: Food has been known not only to cause domestic brawls but also the powder keg of igniting wars and revolutions. During the 2017 General Election, the Kenya government burnt Sh 6 billion on subsidized maize flour to skirt social unrest.

Domestic peace: Women who suffer culinary limitations are likely to be more quarrelsome, more garrulous, more demanding of having two house helps although you have just wedded and have no in-house brats, yet.

Those who know how to cook save the family money and men love women like those. They are less nagging.  Cooking skills also impacts a woman with the art of being patient.  Imagine eternally waiting for githeri or matumbo to boil? Women without cooking skills-just check around- are rarely patient with anything, let alone a hubby.

A wife with cooking skills is also likely to be as flexible with the husband as she is when the cooking goes terribly wrong as it usually does after adding too much water on Mwea rice.  

And finally,cooking requires creativity especially if you’re preparing cereal based foods from Central Kenya when they hardly know one can karanga ugali. A woman who is creative in the kitchen is often also fun to be with and is she is likely to be creative elsewhere!

American culinary art therapist Julie Ohana told HuffPost in 2017 that cooking for someone else, gives one a “tremendous amount of confidence and self-esteem boosting” and which goes a long way in deepening intimacy, increasing happiness and greater wellbeing while decreasing depression as the smell of food is therapeutic. All this is lost on women without cooking skills, yet even the bibles says in Ezekiel 24: 10- “heap on the logs, kindle the fire, boil the meat well, mix in the spices, and let the bones be burned well.”

Gender relations: Women without cooking skills are clueless on gender roles.Having not been socialized around the kitchen, they hardly know what their role in their hubby’s life is; hardly how to treat them.  

Yet, in Social Dimensions to Marital Conflict in Kenya, E.O.S.Odhiambo and Thomas Leshan Maito notes in the 2013 Journal of Power, Politics and Governance, that common causes of domestic strife include; money, interference from in-laws and other kin, irresponsibility and annoying personal habits, physical and mental abuse of spouse and children, and not understanding gender roles, basically for men, the act of a wife ‘wearing trousers in the relationship.’

Something else. Women from patriarchal communities like in North Eastern Kenya, Kisiis, Merus and coastal communities understand gender relations more than those with entrenched matriarchy, like in Central Kenya.

 But modern educated wives, notes Odhiambo and Leshan have a tendency of roping men in household chores, challenging fading masculinity, gender roles and in the end, creating marital conflict.

It is not uncommon for a Millennial wife clueless on gender roles to lung on Freaky Friday pizza offers on her way home where she intones: “supper nime jisort…wewe jipange” which is a misguided answer to dish out to a healthy adult, but hungry male from Kakamega… or any other county.

Food court: One man in Tana River divorced his wife for cooking bad pilau. Research shows people feel strongly about their food preferences and the food culture they were raised in.

Social mores: A woman without cooking not only presides over a malnourished hubby, but can also be socially embarrassing. Like during traditional weddings where women are pooled for communal cooking.

Then there are visits by in-laws which can strain marriages even with a battalion of house helps. The visits are more problematic for couples in cross-cultural marriages as “people feel strongly about their individual food preferences and the food culture they were raised in.” The mother in-law from Idaho (in Western Kenya not Idaho in America) can demand ‘custom-made’ obusima ya brown and managu from an urbanized woman whose idea of lunch is snacking viazi vya karai with bitter mkwaju sauce on the sofa while watching Locked Up on Netflix can fray nerves.

Though food is a show of cultural heritage, affection for loved ones and hospitality to strangers and blood relations, still, a husband going to the kitchen to help a deficient wife is a no-no for men from patriarchal societies like the Kalenjin, Meru, Kisii and Somalis. This is made worse when through African socialism your in-laws, more so the mother in-law, camps in your house for months on end.

This is not to say men can’t help out. Research shows many men are happy to prepare meals together in the ‘Honeymoon’ phase but relapse with the onset of having children, when they prefer shopping to the kitchen. This ends when children leave home, but it hardly apply to patriarchal communities like the Meru.

Infidelity: It is slightly harder for men to cheat on wives who spoil them with a variety of their favourite delicacies. It is, however, easier for a man to sleep around with a house help, especially one who prepares and serve his favourite dishes just like his mother did.

Badly done homemade foods and cheating are birds of a feather. It is the reason your cucu and mother ensured your guka and daddy had the most stockpile of meat during family suppers. It is the reason daddies of a bygone age had special cutlery and their wives never let the house help prepare their food. They served their husbands even when they came home in the devil hours. These breed of hubbies had to eat at home; report early, watch news while munching. The size of their appetites sent signals to the wife on whether they had eaten elsewhere. Not wolfing up their favourite dishes sent the wife’s antennae searching for the possibility of a mpango doing better feeding in the background. Without infidelity, there is marital harmony.

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