Don’t Burn Down the House!

DB Eat with Your Hands

Dear Diary,

The last time I wrote you, I told you that I would share about my dinner at the Kimani’s home in a small village in Nairobi. From start to finish, it was quite the experience! Once we got all washed up, we sat down for some light food. Mama Kimani came out every 10 minutes or so with a new plate of fruit. I remember my dad telling me that the pineapple was amazing in Kenya, but so were the mangoes, papaya, and avocados. There is an abundance of fresh fruit and veggies to be enjoyed in that great land and I sure did enjoy them!

Eventually after being spoiled for just too long, I found my way to the kitchen to see how I could help. I noticed that a helper was outside bending down and working on something. I inquired about what she was doing and was suddenly given a big wooden spoon! “What is this?” I queried. “Ugali!” she replied.  Ugali is a dish of white maize flour that is cooked to a porridge or dough-like consistency. It’s not too flavorful by itself, but when combined with meat and vegetables, it’s quite tasty.

DB Ugali

DB Helper

DB Karissa Ugali

Well, it was time for me to get to work. I watched my tutor show me how to push down and stir the ugali. It took just about all of my strength to stir the heavy mass of grounded corn and water. I was given a cloth to help me turn the hot pot and the wooden spoon helped me press down the dish over the open fire. Just when I thought I had gotten the hang of it, someone screamed, “It’s burning! It’s burning!” Being new to this ugali business, I held the cloth too far down and it quickly caught on fire! They all laughed as I began to smack the cloth against the brick wall—trying to put out the fire. After a corner of the cloth was burnt to a crisp, the helper took over and completely quieted the flame. By that time, we were all laughing. The young lady said something in Swahili that made everyone roar with laughter. I was puzzled and asked for a translation. Apparently she said, “Now it’s time for someone with some strength to finish this.” I couldn’t help but burst out in laughter too. The young helper was smaller than me, but she demonstrated a lot more strength for that task. She finished stirring the ugali until it was ready to be served.

DB Burnt Towel


One by one the dishes were brought into the dining room. We feasted that day! What I loved most about it was that everything was so fresh! Every meat, vegetable, and fruit was hand-selected just hours ago to be consumed for our meal. It was scrumptious! I had tutors all around me to teach me how to eat the ugali and the rest of the food properly. No knife, fork, or spoon needed! By the end of the meal, I had really gotten the hang of it and was told that I looked like a natural. I was just glad that they let me stay around for dessert and I was relieved that fire wasn’t required to prepare that course!

Much Love,

Karissa from La Vista

Karissa Johnson is a licensed evangelist, certified educator, and a daring explorer. In the last three years she taught English at two universities in Saudi Arabia and at one English language school in China. When she’s home in Nebraska, this military brat and preacher’s kid loves singing with her three sisters, mentoring youth, and prison ministry. Karissa is a graduate of Oral Roberts University where she received her BA in International Community Development. This stroke survivor started traveling abroad in 2011 and has since traveled to over 20 countries on all seven continents. She accomplished her goal of seeing all seven continents by 30. Karissa is currently writing a book about her adventures around the globe. Visit to connect with Karissa through social media.