FOR A MAN RAISED in a patriarchal culture, my father loved to cook for his family. We lived in Uganda and, later, in Kenya for about two years as refugees. Since we didn’t have an indoor kitchen, he would light a fire outside of our home. He’d cook sukuma wiki, a dish of collard greens, onions and tomatoes, and serve it with ugali, a porridge made of cornmeal and water. We ate this in the refugee camp, and it remains one of my favourite meals.
My mother left our family when I was five—war has the power to come between a mother and her children. I never met my father’s mother, or jaaja in the Luganda language. But if my dad’s cooking took after that of my jaaja, she was phenomenal.
My father didn’t cook often—we ate once a day and other family or community members would feed us. But when he did, it was worth the wait. If he started making dinner at 4 p.m., you wouldn’t expect to eat until at least 10 p.m. He liked to take his time, cutting ingredients into pieces so tiny that the onion was practically puréed. He also loved his pili pili peppers: tiny red and green chilies he would munch on at every meal. The smell of his cooking would overpower our home, including the one in London, Ont., where we moved to in the mid-1980s, when I was 10 years old.
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