Food and Food Preparation

Food and food preparation is a major part of life at Kasisi Orphanage. Much time and effort is expended in order to keep approximately 160 orphans fed. The staple food in Zambia is called "n'shima" which is made from ground maize, or mealie-meal. The mealie-meal is boiled until it reaches a thick, pasty consistency. This n'shima is usually paired with "relish," some side dish. While many Zambians are so poor that they cannot always afford this, Kasisi children are always provided with some side dish because the Sisters are careful to make sure that the children are receiving a balanced meal. The relish changes on a rotating schedule of beans, vegetables, and kapenta (which are small, whole fish caught locally), or on the very rare occasion, meat, which is a special treat. Kasisi Orphanage gets most of its vegetables for the children from its garden and from local Zambians in the surrounding area. These locals bring gifts to the orphanage--whether it be in exchange for clothes that have been donated to Kasisi or because the giver has a relative at the orphanage and wishes to help support Kasisi.

Feeding begins at breakfast. The children that go to school for the morning shift eat breakfast at around 6:30 before they set off for school. The rest of the children eat at about 7:00 in the morning. For breakfast, the children come into the kitchen where Bertha stands by the stove, dishing up the porridge, which is a thinner version of n'shima. At 9:00 the children are given a snack which varies depending upon what is available. While Emily and I were at Kasisi, it was often bananas from the orphanage's orchard, or expired cookies and crackers which had been donated from local stores. N'shima is served at 11:00 for lunch. After the children nap, snack is served at 2:00. This snack is often whatever vegetable is in season. In the cold season, sweet potatoes are in season, so they are usually boiled and served. Dinner, then, is served at 5:00. N'shima, again, is served. A break in the routine comes on Sundays after church, when the children are given bread. Jam, which is usually expired and donated, is spread on the bread if it is available. The bread is collected in town by Sister Joanna, who goes to the back of a bread store in town and receives a special rate from the owner. She brings cardboard boxes which are filled with loaves of freshly baked unpackaged bread and is given a stack of bags to bag the bread. She loads the boxes in the car, completes her errands, and returns to Kasisi where the school-age girls help her bag the bread, which is kept in the storage room.

The youngest babies are served baby milk, Lactogen. The toddlers are either fed ground rice or porridge which is mixed with some source of protein, whether it be eggs or pulverized ground nuts, or peanuts. The babies and toddlers are fed every couple hours. Sister Yolanta's children, the 3 and 4 year olds, have their own separate dining room in their wing of the orphanage. The children that are of pre-school age or above eat in the main dining room behind the kitchen. The street boys eat together at their own home; Cecilia comes to the kitchen with one of the boys to collect the street boys' food to take back. Bertha is the orphanage's full time cook, often assisted by Katherine. After serving breakfast, Bertha begins to prepare n'shima for lunch. As soon as lunch is served, she begins to boil n'shima for dinner and prepares snack. After dinner is served, she begins to boil the morning's porridge. Meanwhile, throughout the day she is cleaning, washing, collecting food, shredding vegetables, beating eggs, grinding nuts, and feeding the fire, which must be kept burning 24 hours a day.

Preparing meals is a constant effort. The woodpile must be replenished daily by workers who go out into the bush and collect branches, the storage room must be kept stocked with mealie-meal, lactogen for the babies, Nido (powdered milk which is on occasion served to the older children), ground nuts, beans, kapenta and oil for cooking. The kitchen is spartan: supplies are few and kitchen tools are primitive. The children's dishes are a hodge-podge of plastic bowls or plates, some of which are cracked. The pots are battered and only a few have tops, none of which fit the pots properly. There are a few heavy wooden spoons for mixing the thick n'shima, and a few for cooking and dishing up the relish. The n'shima is scooped out of the massive pot using one of the plastic dishes. Soap is often unavailable, so usually the dishes are merely rinsed. The kitchen consists of a large wood-burning stove, empty cabinets, a table, and shelves holding the pots and dishes.


The stories portrayed in the following poem are true; however the names of the orphans have been changed.

Portrait of an Orphanage's Kitchen: Lusaka, Zambia

The odor of boiling water and Bertha's sweat mixes.
She grunts, lifting the weighted pot of n'shima off the stove.
Her solid, womanly body,
Silken and black, curves
as the light slips around her
resting upon the rising heat--airy white steam
escaping and lifting, curling, disappearing.
in the shadowy kitchen.

Chocaco! Bertha tells the children
as they hover and weave
under her motherly arms,
around the pot,
peering in.
The cumbersome pot, resting on a broken chair,
holding the heavy n'shima,
Bears scars from the fire.

       He takes Tamara out of the closet
       and presses her down on the bed,
       binds the hands of his screaming baby girl
       pinning her head down,
       sinks the branding iron
       into her cheeks,
       tender fluffs bending to the heat

With her solid arm Bertha holds a flimsy green plastic bowl
and presses her weight down, arm melting into motion,
falling into the pit of creamy white
breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Her hand emerges, the bowl holding a tucked portion--
she drops it into a dish.

       She can't have her daughter see her like this--
       Men and money don't mix with innocence--
       So tucked in a tattered blanket,
       She drops Pelina off at the gate
       Praying that she'll be taken care of.

N'shima nearly gone,
pot-sides scraped leaving only scattered white chunks
and a stained brown film lining the bottom.
Through the door
Eunice carts in the wheelbarrow of brush and branches
selecting a sturdy log which she delicately adds to the flames
below the stove's surface, a cracked iron sheet
harvesting the heat, holding the morning's porridge,

       I'll come for you she promised Mutinta.
       But here she sits, a young girl,
       burning for a mother's touch,
       slowly simmering into a woman.

which has already begun to boil.

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