Last Weekend I got the pleasure to celebrate Diwali pronounced “Divali”. Diwali is an Indian holiday that marks the start of a new year.
I was super elated when I got my invitation from Vishul; a college friend. The family that hosted me are Gujarati Indians; his mom was born in Mombasa, Kenya and his dad was born in Kampala, Uganda. The parents were both raised in England but later relocated to the US with their family.
From childhood I have always been exposed to Indian culture. Kenya is highly populated by Gujarati Indians. As a result, a lot of words in Swahili are borrowed from Gujarati and also the food. Indians were brought into Kenya by the British to build the East African railway that will connect the hinterlands to coastal Kenya. After building the railway, Indians were encouraged by the British to settle in East Africa.
Growing up we used to watch a lot of Indian movies. Some were religious while others were secular movies. A lot of businesses, media, schools, and hospitals were started and run by Indians. My dad, mom, older sister, older brother, youngest brother, and I all went to high schools that were started by Indians. The school that I went to was started by the Samaji family a very powerful family with Indo-Iranian/Indo-European background. Most of the Indian schools are either private, semi-private or public schools populated by Indians, Arabs, Pakistanis, Somalis, Ethiopians, and Kenyans. They usually follow Kenyan academic curriculum. My younger brother was born in Guru Nanak Hospital which is a name of a Hindu god. My pediatrician’s name was Dr. Patel and he ran his own clinic. My dad later on got the chance to attend University of Pune in India for his PhD and would always bring a piece of the culture with him. Oh yes he nick-named me Soni which means beautiful in Hindi.
Enough of my background! Let’s talk about food. For appetizer we had the following (I can’t remember the name) with wine. We usually eat this in Kenya as snacks. They are made out of dough and the only difference is that the Indian one has spices while the Kenyan one doesn’t.
Then came the main meal which was also identical to Kenyan cuisine. The round bread-like is called Chapati in Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Urdu and Swahili. The white creamy-fluffy yogurt-like on the side of the plate is supposed to be eaten with the dish because it tones down the spices in the meal. The meal is usually eaten by hand. You cut a piece of the chapati then roll rice and dip it in the creamy yogurt.
After the meal we had dessert which is made out of rice flour. I remember having these as a child. They were sold in every shop. They usually have no taste but once you start eating it you can’t stop.
Diwali is never complete without colors and fireworks. We were able to have some fireworks in the cold night until a nosy neighbor decided to call the cops and we were asked to stop. Getting a picture of the fireworks was next to impossible. Thank God Rachel saved the night and I was able to get a pic of one.
At the end of the night, my friend’s mom gave me an ornament that is worn on the forehead known as a bindhi. I was excited!!!! A cultural piece that I get to take with me. I will forever cherish it.