I’m all for stunning hedonistic travel and gourmet indulgence, good times, the great life. I think if you work hard, you deserve to play hard. For all of you who know me and are on the Taste Safari journey with me, you will see how this is such a big part of my life.
Saying that, sometimes I need to sit back, breathe and take some respite from the whirlwind of activity, the hundreds of ideas and thoughts, the constant planning and everyday theatre of my career. I thrive on it, yet I sometimes reach a point where I need to just stop and reflect, absorb some quietness into the soul. What helps me to bring back some inner balance and calm has always been about renewing my own personal faith and, in turn, restoring my energy, humbleness and gratitude–my life pillars. Ok, so I’m not about to go all holy and start sermons here, but I want to share an experience that is totally relevant to this blog, and, hopefully, it will make you think how important that meal you are preparing tonight is.
In the vast wilderness of the Tsavo region of Kenya, around a three-hour (and relatively easy) drive down the Mombasa highway, there is a very important holy Sikh Temple, Makindu Gurdwara. Now the story is extraordinary, and please forgive me for any inaccuracy in any of this; I’m certainly not a historian, and this is a story passed down through generations and generations of Sikhs.
In the 1920s, Makindu was of serious logistical importance to the many Indians that came to build the original railway rather famously known as the ‘lunatic’ line for the then British Colonial masters. It became the second major stop after Voi from Mombasa, and it provided a place of shelter and service, especially to those who were working in difficult conditions in the wild plains of the Tsavo Wilderness (there are other stories of man-eating lions, but that’s for another day). It is believed Sikhs would gather under a tree to say their prayers and remember their faith. This amazing generation of Sikhs, so far from their homeland and their families, proposed the building of a temple, and the British gave them a piece of land where these incredible men gathered a community to lay the humble foundations of this now famous Temple. The Holy Book was diligently placed in the temple, and a dedicated service of worship began.
The temple ran effectively for almost 20 years until after the Second World War, when the advances in rail technology left Makindu redundant as a refueling station. Many of the Sikhs left, however, the Gurdwara (temple) remained in the care of a local caretaker named Gwalo, with the Original Holy Book still housed safely within the temple. Now, this is where it get pretty amazing, and take this as you wish, but it has made up such a big part of my childhood stories told by my grandmother and mother, and these, in turn, are retold by me to my own children.
One starlit evening, the humble caretaker Gwalo claimed he saw a strange sight in the inky blue of the night skies. He said he saw warriors–turbaned Sikhs–riding on horseback through the skies and descending into Makindu Gurdwara. Shaken, as you can only imagine, he went to visit a nearby Sikh farmer, and, on entering his house, he saw a painting of the revered Guru Gobind Singh Ji, one of the respected ten Gurus, a great, heroic warrior who contributed to the protection of the Sikh faith. He claimed this was the Sikh that he saw riding on a white horse. This story spread quickly to Nairobi, and other stories followed of further miracles at the Temple. This rapidly revived the committment of the community to the temple till today, as part of the Sikh faith, any person from any culture, religion, race or creed, rich or poor, may enter this temple; or, for that matter, any Sikh temple around the world, and will be served freshly made food from the vast 24-hour kitchens. ‘Langar’, as it is known by our community, is the offering of food at any time of day to any person who enters a Gurdwara. It lies at the core of our faith to serve food to any individual, an extension of humanitarian respect to feed a hungry person. Today many families travel, as we did, to offer our services in the preparation of food for any visitors to this temple.
What a humbling, fulfilling experience. The kitchen is vast, and years of donations from all walks of life means it is now also fully equipped with a huge cold room, large industrial gas burners and searing hot iron griddles for making hot, fluffy chapatis. The ladies traditionally work together, chopping, separating, sorting and organizing for three freshly cooked meals a day, with the addition of a teatime service. Women stir huge, bubbling vats of lentils, mixed vegetable curries and delicious fried dumplings. It’s a hive of activity, and I couldn’t be in a better place. Good for the heart, good for the soul. Women across all generations sit together, chatting, laughing and swapping recipes. Listening to them all, I reflected that the simple task of preparing food together brings so much laughter, so much ease and I don’t think it’s too much to describe it as almost therapeutic. I felt safe in this close-knit community, where we were all equal in our love for our faith.
This was a simplified example of how food is such an important part of creating community, connection, new friends and, in this case, showing gratitude for what we have on our plates every day. As lucky as we are, we tend to forget, so teach your children to respect how this earth, the soil, the sun and God’s hand that gives us this sustenance.