Sunday, March 11, 2012

An Indian Rwanda

Tucked safely behind an iron gate in the center of Kigali lies a complex of apartment buildings. Standing outside their doors, one can hear the sound of children laughing and smell the spices wafting through the air. Today I found myself inside one of these apartments, learning how to cook a traditional Indian lunch with the help of my friend, Sangita and her family.

I met Sangita at Les Enfants de Dieu where she works as an accountant. She was shy at first and our exchanges were brief during my first few months in Rwanda. But when Ally, Elizabeth, and I decided to move into a house in town owned by a company named Sulfo, Sangita and her family were the first to welcome us.

The family who owns Sulfo also founded Les Enfants de Dieu. The company, started by an Indian man, began producing soap in Rwanda 60 years ago and the company quickly grew to become one of the most successful  in the country. Although Sulfo employs mostly Rwandan workers, they also provide jobs for a group of Indians who are willing to move their families to Rwanda.

The houses I mentioned before are where Indian Sulfo employees live with their families. The Sulfo compound is it’s own sub-culture. Children play cricket and football amongst the many factory buildings, learn to speak their native tongue, watch Indian music videos and game shows on T.V., and grow up tasting traditional Indian food.

It was this food that led to my first day of bonding with Sangita. She invited us for lunch and Ally suggested we come early to help her with the preparations. Upon entering the kitchen, I could smell the combination of spices waiting to be used in the pantry. We busied ourselves peeling carrots, cutting string beans, and dicing onions. Sangita blended garlic and ginger together and added cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, anise, and chili powder. The aroma in the kitchen danced throughout the entire house, making my stomach rumble as I stirred the concoction.

Ally hard at work

Chicken, mushrooms, onions, ginger garlic, chili powder, cinnamon,
and coriander



The final product was vegetable rice with ginger, garlic, mushroom, and onion chicken. When it was time to leave, we decided that during our next cooking lesson with Sangita, we will make an African favorite: samosas. In return, we promised to teach her how to make peanut butter cookies.

There’s nothing like food to bridge the cultural divide! 

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