Cabbage and Bread for Dinner


Miser (n):  a person who hoards wealth and spends as little money as possible; further explained, a miser is a person who is reluctant to spend, sometimes to the point of forgoing even basic comforts and some necessities.

We will edit the above descriptions later on to include those who join you and eat and drink and make merry but when it comes to paying the bill, their cash is always on Mpesa, or they have plastic cash, only.

I have been looking for ways to express myself on this miser issue for a while now. Have you ever encountered such culture shock that you’re stunned into silence?

My earliest encounter with a miser -that I was aware of- was a few years ago when I met this man. Maybe I was being punished. How we met is a story for another day but in summary I met him when a friend brought him along on our…er…date. (As a learning point, this is why third wheelers are never a good idea unless you’ve sealed that deal). Anyhow, maybe I was too young and too naive to notice but the signs were all there.

When we went to a restaurant, he would only ask for one menu that he would use to order. If two menus were brought he would either close his and share mine, or ask me to look at his very casually like: “hey, have you ever had this?” pointing at his menu. Naturally I would abandon my menu and look at his and that deal was closed.  He always ended up picking the food. You have to admit, he was slick. Other times he would say he wasn’t too hungry and he would share my food, in which case it made sense if I were the one to pick what to eat. But for some reason he always ended up picking the food and eating most of it.

How I suffered! Lakini  mwanamke  ni  kuvumilia, so I shut up and convinced my hunger pangs  that maybe it wasn’t too bad to miss out on some calories. Besides isn’t sharing food very romantic for normal people- not foodies like me? And maybe it was just a coincidence but the food he picked was always the cheapest on the menu. If I tried picking something different he always had stories about how he once ate the duck there and suffered from food poisoning, or how the blueberry cake there was expensive for nothing- it was a tiny piece and the cream wasn’t fresh anyway.  As he was also a retired summer bunny who had recently relocated back to Africa (Africa, not Kenya), everything was compared to the land of milk and honey. KFC chicken in Kenya is so fake, back in Stato; it was always back in Stato this back in Stato that.

Going out with friends became a nightmare. We once had dinner with his friends (a married couple) and after the usual one menu dance, and him splitting the bill to cents to a point where the friend offered to pay, arguing over the tip because “back in Stato they don’t tip unless the service is excellent.” When I went to the washroom, the wife of my friend followed me and while in there, after each had finished the respective business, as we washed hand she bluntly asked me why I did not order what I wanted. My answer was that what we had ordered was ok. She then said something to the effect that one can tell a lot about a man just by the way he treats a waiter.

My friends, today I can attest those are words of wisdom.  Then she asked me if I was really going to date that man, to which I gave a ‘maybe’ as answer. She looked at in with her eyes wide open and said “Don’t, unless you want to be a penny pincher too.”

Apparently there is an APP that is able to track ALL your money movement. But you have to enter all your transactions.  So if you tip the street parking attendant 10 shillings, you go to your app and note that down , and from that information it’s  able to generate a daily report of how much you’ve spent, and also how much you’ve made depending on what you put in. I forget the name of that APP for my own sanity. It was all I heard of. He swore by that APP.

The straw that broke the camel’s back didn’t take too long. One day I was finally invited over for late lunch/early dinner. In my limited world view then, I imagined a man who invites a woman over to his house for a home cooked meal is a serious man who is out to impress and will make nothing short of a gourmet meal. To get the gist of this story, you have to note that I was a poverty stricken student at USIU on Thika Road, and I had been invited for lunch/dinner all the way in Karen. I didn’t own a car. So I took a lot of risks – crossed the Paradiso infested superhighway, got into a Mwiki Sacco bus (it was either that or lose my phone on a Githurai Zam Zam bus) and I was dumped huko bus station before catching a Karen bound hoppa. I had skipped breakfast. I hadn’t eaten anything else because after my 3 o’clock class I was in a hurry to get to my date. I was criss-crossing 3 counties on an empty stomach. Finally I got to the house.

The house was smelling so fresh. I was impressed. He had obviously cooked earlier and hadn’t burnt any food so there was no aroma of food. *God thank you for sending this meticulous man my way*. I was ushered in. I sat down and started watching something on the television while making small talk with my host. He wasn’t rushing in and out of the kitchen with last minute preparations.*Jehovah thank you for sending this organized and time conscious man my way *

Half an hour into small talk and some bit of TV, I was feeling faint and having double vision from the hunger pangs. I was afraid the growling intestines would embarrass me. I was glad that he was patient and giving me time to relax before bombarding me with an assortment of food he had made for me-I found Mr. Right, or so I thought.  I was about to text the same to my girlfriends -not all of them though, only the ones who’d be in my bridal line up, with the good news!

An hour later I had relaxed enough and I didn’t want to die in a strange house before eating all that nice food. I asked my host for water. He went in the kitchen to get it, of course with the rider-‘hot or cold.’ I followed him to the kitchen so that I could add some ice-cubes to the water myself. This is where my problems began. The kitchen was spotless. There were no sufurias arranged with delicacies! There was one lone sufuria on the gas cooke with whitish things in it. I stupidly asked – haven’t you cooked?  He asked – oh, you’re hungry? And I said – yes, I thought you were making late lunch. And he said – yeah, I went to cook but I saw I still have food from yesterday. I asked – where is it? And he said – here it is, while pointing at the sufurias with white stuff. I asked – what’s that? And he said – cabbages. I kid you not.  CABBAGES.

I wanted to just die but I heard a voice like my own asking him – what were you having the cabbages with? And he said – I had rice from the day before so I made these cabbages for it, but rice imeisha.  I asked then what he’d had for lunch. He said cabbages WITH BREAD. Then to demonstrate, he took bread from one of the kitchen cabinets – bread which didn’t look fresh- and proceeded to make bread and cabbage sandwich.  He took 2 slices of bread, scooped some of that white cabbage WITH NO MEAT, and made a sandwich and bit into it very enthusiastically. I was still staring in shock trying to comprehend what universe I was in and why the people on that universe were pranking me on an empty stomach.  Do you know what the weirdest part is?-he never made me that sandwich too!! . I think he expected me to fix myself that sandwich. Water on the rocks has never tasted so good.

I thought I’d heard it all. Till he was taking me home and as he was still trying to convince me how cabbages and bread is a healthy meal- “like lettuce on a sandwich.” He also mentioned that he hadn’t even bought those cabbages. And then because I’m cursed with this need to know everything I asked him where he got them from. Well. Back in Stato he used to send his mom in Africa a lot of money and she now had a greenhouse in which she grew cabbages among other things and since she wasn’t able to repay him his money……

I’m not even lying.  You know how house auctioneers work? Now replace those with cabbages.

To get the real measure of generosity and know how much I weigh on the miser scale I always ask myself – what’s life really if you have to count every coin you have and retain your mother’s cabbages?

By refusing to participate in buying a gift for a friend’s birthday /farewell party/bridal or baby shower, am I being a cabbage jacker? Is it worth it? I mean, how much will 500 bob set me back in the grand scheme of things?

When I go to eat with my friends and when it’s time to pay the bill I’m suddenly short 50 bob, minus tip, am I not jacking cabbages?

I don’t know about other religions (and please feel free to share) but the Bible is pretty clear about cabbage jackers. It is better to give than receive. And when you really think about it, a closed fist never receives anything.