Missing Kenya #8: Chai Time

Kenya has a British heritage that persists in various ways. They are also (behind India and Sri Lanka) the world's 3rd largest tea-growing nation. The result of this is that they are devout tea drinkers, any time being good, but mid-morning being necessary. I guess the Brits would refer to "tea time", whereas Kenyans have "chai time", using the Kiswahili word for tea, which is pretty fitting since "tea" may not really conjure up the image of what you get in "chai".

Kenyan chai is about 1/3 milk, boiled with 2/3 water, with lots of sugar added, and then just enough black tea leaves to turn the chai slightly brown, as seen in the cup above. It can be served straight or "masala", which is quite yummy with spices that make it taste more like what Americans think of as "chai tea", and it can be served "tangawizi", which is also very yummy and adds ginger or even fresh rosemary for extra flavour.

The hospital provides chai for all its employees, and there is a whole institution built up around it. The chai will come in "flasks", which Americans would call big, plastic thermoses. The chai will be "taken", instead of drunk. It will come at approximately 10:30, but a little later on Mondays and Fridays, when the kitchen staff attend devotions that usually run into that time. Chai is often accompanied by "mendazi", which are fried, doughnut like pastries that Americans always comment could really use a jelly filling, but are actually quite nice once you get used to them. You can take an "American cup" of chai, which is about 80% filled, or you can take a "Kenyan cup", which will near 100% filled, and will probably spill and burn your hand as you lift it to your mouth. There is no minimum age for a child to start taking chai. I mean, no minimum age.

On the OB, medical, and paediatric services where we spend our days, chai time is often a moment for our team of doctors to catch their breath, discuss necessary matters, and do some brief teaching about a medical topic. Just as American attendings often show up with bagels for early rounds, we often feel the need to supply our team with mendazi or chapati (which do not come free from the hospital). It does certainly confound daily tasks, when everyone stops what they are doing halfway between arrival and lunch, but we maintain that it is also a great way to break up the day and force ourselves to get a much needed moment of rest and companionship.
Enjoying a cup on Paeds ward.
Flasks of chair, and a mendazi at the bottom left.
Note the juxtaposition of bling and faith on the two flasks.


Teresa said...

Love the picture of you with your cup. :)