The beautiful restaurant was perched high on the side of a hill. Our party were lucky enough to get a table by the large windows and we were hit by the breathtaking view overlooking the busy high-way many feet below. We watched cars, lorries, buses and matatus speeding away in both directions. We were too far away to hear the traffic noise and the silent picture seemed unreal, like watching telly with the sound turned down. Beyond that and to the south, the huge lake spread away, as far as the eye could see.
The restaurant was buzzing and far from quiet that Sunday afternoon. I looked around, nodding to some of the people who had also been at the Church service earlier. A lady from the local area had been consecrated and all the Bishops and top clergy had graced the ceremony, coming to give her their support. It had been a most wonderful celebration full of rituals, prayer and sweet gospel music.
The visitors from out of town all had the same idea; a nice meal before making the long journey back to the city. The restaurant was renowned across the county for their delicious fresh fish, brought in daily from the lake. The staff were kept busy clearing tables, bringing in steaming dishes of lovely fish and serving more drinks.
As we we were eating, my sister’s small boy asked me to pass him the salt. He looked to see if his mother was looking and was just about to sprinkle some salt over his chips. Too late, his father had spotted him. He snatched the salt shaker from the boy and said, “ What do I keep telling you! You don’t need to add any more salt, boy. Now eat your food.” The mother had seen what was going on. She told us how she despaired that her children were eating too much salt. They would all die of high blood pressure or kidney failure, she thought. A woman seated next to her said that she had read somewhere recently that in fact, taking too little salt was more dangerous than too much. It was all very confusing.
“The trouble with today’s scientists and doctors is that they publish all manner of contradictory statements depending on who is paying for their research.” Said Babu as he covered the fish on his plate with salt.
“It is a well known fact that 80% of our salt intake is from processed foods, bacon, sausages, ham and things like bread, cakes and biscuits. Only 20% is what you add in cooking or at the table. Food manufacturers should be the ones cutting on salt that they add.”
“I can’t eat food without salt.” confessed my sister’s husband. “See these chips here? If I had no salt, I wouldn’t touch them. Salt enhances flavour, for me.” His son rolled his eyes towards the ceiling.
“That’s why your kids are eating too much salt!” replied his wife. “Your whole family are salt addicts. Did you not tell me about your poor dad carrying a bit of salt wrapped in handkerchief in his pocket for emergencies?”
The talk was good natured and everyone was having a great time. Beer and wine flowed freely with soft drinks for the kids and designated drivers.
“Woolie you are very quiet there.” said my sister, Aka resident mchokozi. She turned to the others, saying, “He is the only man I know who will eat eggs, fried or boiled without a grain of salt, I don’t understand it.”
“Is it because you are a vegetarian, hahahahahaha?” asked the man with the thin moustache and a gold tooth. I did not like him, for some reason. He had the piercing gaze of a very nasty man. His voice was loud and I found his whole manner quite unpleasant. Babu had some strange friends.
Everyone was looking at me now. (Thanks sis) I told them that I just did not like salt that much. It was not because of High blood pressure or the fear of strokes or even kidney trouble. No. I just found that one day I did not add salt to my food and it tasted quite bland. I tried it again the next day and it tasted better. After a week my taste buds were adjusting and I was not adding salt to anything that I ate. It must have been about three months later that I was having a nice omelette and I asked myself how I could have ruined my food by adding salt for all those years! It was like an amazing discovery. A revelation.
The diners were silent now, looking into their plates. The salt shakers sat in the middle of the table, untouched. Mr Gold Tooth was having none of it. He said “ That is rubbish. Nobody gives up something without a reason. You must have had some kind of problem.”
“Yes, Uncle Woolie, tell us what happened.” My nephew was looking at me. He loved a good story.
I took a long sip of my Tusker, enjoying the nice warm glow that it produced. I told them that it was a long time ago. College days, straight out of home, living alone for the first time. It was in a shared house and I had the small room on the ground floor by the front of the house.
It was the second house in a long terrace and there were eight bedsits all occupied by different people. One cooked, ate, slept, got dressed and did everything else in this tiny room. There were a couple of shared bathroom facilities down the corridor and that was it.
It was a cold, windy evening in late November. Darkness had fallen early and I was busy making dinner on a one-plate electric stove. I cooked the ugali first and put that to one side. I was going to try a lamb stew recipe that a friend had seen in a magazine. This weather called for some nice comfort food. I put everything together and it was all bubbling away nicely. I tasted it and felt that it needed a pinch of salt. I had run out salt.
The shop was two minutes away. I reduced the heat on the stove and stepped out into the windy evening. I did not bother with a coat. At the road junction at the top of the street a friend from college waved to me. We stopped to chat for a bit and I told him I was just popping into the shop quickly. As we stood by the road chatting a car stopped. It was another pal from school. He had bought a car! We jumped in excitedly and he took us for a quick joy ride. We ended up at a pub nearby and had a couple of drinks. The car owner decided to take the car home and come back so that we could have a ‘proper’ drink.
We waited for the friend and he did no show. We had run out of cash. We walked out into the street where blustery winds were sweeping rubbish and leaves down the street. My friend announced that he was hungry. I remembered my stove!
I ran the four miles to my bedsit in record time. As I turned into the street my heart stopped. The drizzly night sky was lit up by the flashing blue lights of a fire-engine. There were fire fighters everywhere. The house was enveloped in a cloud of smoke. My heart was beating now, deep thuds in my chest. My head was spinning. I managed to make out the occupants of the other bedsits sitting by the wall covered in blankets. I went to ask what had happened. They had all been evacuated. My stove had started a small fire and the smoke alarm had alerted the other occupants in time. The fire had been put out quickly but there was much damage.
Too high a price to pay for a pinch of salt.