Elizabeth and I are on a turkey shoot for all things Thanksgiving. We head first to the dukas (shops) in Karen to hunt for sweet potatoes among the small farm stands that loiter right outside the gates. Mama, as Elizabeth is known far and wide (she even books flights throughout Kenya under just that), is pretty sure she’s got her man for the mission:
“Robert, did you get my sweet potatoes?”
“Yes, Mama, I have them just here.”
“Well, let me see them, I’ve gotta take a look at them first.”
“You know, Mama, they are the best sweet potatoes!”
“Go get ‘em, Robert. I don’t have all day.” A two- or three-minute beat.
“Here they are, the sweetest ones!”
“Are they orange? I can’t tell.” (Dirt aplenty covers the highly-desired gubers).
Robert picks at one. “They are yellow inside, Mama.”
Turning to her granddaughter’s African manny, Clement, in the back seat, Elizabeth: “Clement, are these sweet potatoes?”
“Break them open!” shouts Robert.
“You don’t have to do that,” she counters, “just give it a good scratch.”
“You know, Mama, I don’t know these potatoes,” Clement says softly with a big smile. I don’t think he ever stops smiling, and talk about sweet.
Elizabeth rolls her big blue eyes, the color of the inside of abalone shell when the sun shines right on it. “Are these enough, you think,” she asks me, “if they are sweet potatoes?”
“No, not for twenty people.”
“Can you get me some more, Robert? Okay, bring them to me.”
“What a fuss over sweet potatoes,” I sigh. “You never know what you’re getting here,” Mama adds.
Robert is back quicker than a bad penny. “Here, Mama, here are six kilos of sweet potatoes.” He hefts the bag dramatically into the car and I pass them over to our red-headed driver.
“Okay, how much?”
“That’s a lot of sweet potatoes!”
“Robert, how much?!”
“Sixteen hundred shillings! (“That’s almost twenty dollars,” I slide in.) “I’ve never paid twenty dollars in my life for sweet potatoes. Clement, take a look at these, what’s that worth?”
“You know, Mama, I don’t know these potatoes,” Clement says, smiling softly again.
“Well, I won’t pay it, Robert, I just won’t. I’m not going to buy them,” shoving the bag through the car back at him.
For a moment, I think she’s bluffing because she’s laughing so hard. “Twenty dollars!”
“Mama, these are the best. They grow wild!”
“No, Robert, I’m going to just see what sweet potatoes are at KPS (Karen Provisions Store).”
“Mama, wait, 1500.”
She shakes her head, still laughing, and we head into KPS for some basics. Clement goes straight to the vegetable and fruit section run by the darling Juliana, and returns to our cart in the dairy with a sweet potato sack, nearly the size of Robert’s. Mama and I gape at the price tag: Ksh 250 (about $3 to you and me).
“I’ve been here eleven years,” Elizabeth laughs, “and they still think I was born yesterday.”
(When we get back to the jeep, we make a point of pointing out to Robert our sweet potato booty at a fraction of his price. Mama even offers him 500 shillings to take the lot off his hands -- after all, there’s no such thing as too many sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving – but he insists on their unique value and turns away, shaking his head. A sweet-potato millionaire lacking only a sack of marshmallows.)