I LOVE buying Chikanda from this woman. She is usually found at the gate outside our offices. So, for a number of years now, I’ve been buying delicious pieces for the drive home when I knock off. No one at home knows how to cook this traditional dish from Northern Province.
It’s a mixture of soda and ground small potato-like tuber and groundnuts. When it comes out of the oven, it‘s brownish in colour and polony like in texture. So, it has earned the name, African polony.
So, when street vendors were cleared from the streets by Government, I almost suffered adverse withdrawal effects. Much like those of one stopping smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol. I wonder what other ingredients that Bemba added to her Chikanda recipe.
One Sunday, I had parked outside a supermarket and was reading a newspaper when I heard a woman’s voice, “Excuse me boss.” I recognised the voice, but when I turned, I couldn’t recognise the face. I looked behind the woman near my car door and glanced around.
There was no one else near us. “Boss tamunjishibe (Sir, don’t you recognise me?) Mulanshitako (you buy from me).” I gulped like a fish hooked and thrown on land when I matched the voice to the face. Scrutinising my face was my Chikanda supplier. She was unrecognisable from the vendor I knew! The vendor was really matronly and homely-like.
Usually dressed in a Chitenge attire, her hair would be wrapped up in an ordinary head-erk-chief from the 1950-60s African freedom fighters’ era. She was of medium height, of dark complexion and going chubby in the tummy.
She was flabby in the biceps as is usual with women that delegate their house work to daughters, dependants and maids. They gain flaps of loose skin due to a lack of exercise of the upper arms. She had an unschooled and plain between 30 and 40 years’ face.
That’s not the person I saw in front of me! Standing in front of me was a street wise woman. A Cleopatra wig sharply cut on the forehead and straight black hair falling neatly on her shoulders with the Egyptian sharp cut had replaced her usual heapish head-ker-chief.
She had obviously spent hours scrubbing and painting her face and nails. Her tight blue and synthetic blouse was wide necked. Leaning down in front of me, I could not help following with my eyes her mummy pumpkins that had been pumped up by an undersized bra. The cheap perfume was overpowering and I fought hard not to rub my nose.
She laughed when I fidgeted in my seat. She shifted sideways so that I could clearly look at her and leaned on my car mirror. She held my eyes. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Was she flirting with me? I saw also that she held a black coat over a hand bag.
I wondered whether she was travelling and hiking. She answered my questioning look, “Kale (It’s been a long time). I saw you and I thought let me go and greet my customer,” she purred sweetly. I must have shown alarm instead of surprise at hearing her speaking English.
We always exchanged sales talk in Nyanja. She turned to look behind as I looked fugitively away. I saw behind her my partner. She was leading two sales assistants to our car. She was staring at the chikanda supplier with the glare of an eagle about to swoop down on a snake.
“Sorry, eba madam aba. Nayakanshi! Nkesa ku ofisi (Sorry, is this your wife? Then I am off! I shall come and see you at the office),” she laughed as she swing-bums walked past me.
I glanced at my partner whose usually romantic thick lips had become a thin straight line curving downwards. I turned my neck to look behind me. I saw that my Chikanda vendor wore a Chitenge skirt.
Somehow it had a large belt area and burst into large box pleats that ended high up on her thighs. Whether it was deliberate, I don’t know. The skirt provocatively hung higher on her thighs behind her super-sized treasury rear than in front where it almost reached her knees.
She seemed to have bent her spine in a way that pushed them up and flexed them with each haughty step. It would have been interesting to see her sit as the skirt needed a lot of controlling not to rise up too far when walking. She joined her three friends who had been standing out of my view behind the car.
I noted that they were a kaleidoscope of hair and skin colours. Looked like the female Makishi had competitors! Is it Bollywood films that they are watching having an influence on them? Unlike in Bollywood films, their attires provocatively exposed a lot of skin below the waist.
I suspected that hidden in their big handbags were Chitenges that had covered the exposed lower parts of their bodies when they left their home. My vendor was not the oldest or youngest in the group. The eldest seemed to be a great grandmother.
That type that never grows up in mind and is always in the teens’ latest attires and accessories. Her face had been damaged by an overdose of lightening creams. The dark skin made her face look like a charred and cracked piece of nshima. Her bony frame was covered by a short, faded and metal buttoned jeans dress.
A suspect the Kontama market is a good source of modern and used American clothes. She had the wizened eyes of a mid-wife and the flabbiness in the face of one who drunk more than her weight. Someone who probably would not go to sleep without having a drink.
If a relative, you probably avoided talking discouragingly on abuse of alcohol in front of her. The youngest looked like a teenager. However, I am not sure as some bodies are deceptive. She had a pretty face that had met an accident. Someone had tried to grope out one of her eyes. She had seemingly one eye bigger than the other where she had unsightly scratch scars.
From her confident ready-for-anything walk, the tightness of her dress, the full chest, wasp waist and disproportionate back side, it was likely that men would ignore that variance of eyes.
I realised my vendor had seemed taller because she wore very high heeled ankle length boots. How she managed to walk gracefully in them, I don’t know. I glanced at my partner nearing the car. To be continued next week.
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