At Stepping Stones, my son Tiger’s pre-school, there’s a special class called Monkeynastix. A couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d let him participate to get a gander at what this African version of gymnastics was all about. And it’s pretty much what you would expect. The kids sit on little pea-pod pads in a semi-circle around the instructor, doing yoga-like stretches and curls; jiggy-jiggy jumping up and down to music with singing mixed in; hoop hopping; tumbling; and committing, in general, very varied monkey business. (My son’s two-and-half year old girlfriend, Zoe, has mastered the somersault like no little girl I’ve ever seen.)
Yesterday, I was walking home from Mwitu, a compound not far from my cottage where several high-powered politicos live after collecting a recipe for spicy tofu salad (see recipe below, absolutely delicious) from my friend Anja. As I went through the gate, Danda, a very talented glass artist and the head of the artists’ colony Kuonatrust, drove up and motioned me over to come to her house for chai and a chat.
Even though Karen is quite developed in areas (interspersed with horse farms and cattle-raising ventures), the animal life can be stupendous. When Elizabeth, my erstwhile sister/mother here, first moved to the ex-pat community eleven years ago, she could see giraffe from her back garden set against the Ngong Hills, their beautiful heads bobbing on long necks as if giving everyone the royal wave.
Now Danda has a monkey in the house. He’s a Sykes, a forest monkey also known as the White-Throated Guenon. A beautiful, stormy gray, these apes sport a gorgeous white ruffled collar that runs down the chest, completing itself in a mask around the nose and ears; the effect makes their cheeks appear puffed, much like Santa’s. The allure is further enhanced by soft, brown, questioning eyes.
As for Danda’s monkey, he’s taken to making himself at home whenever the back door to the kitchen is open. His purpose: To open all of the drawers and cupboards in search of bananas. Last week, he found the hidey hole where the housemaid had placed his precious treasure and was very pleased with himself, munching away on the kitchen counter as if he’d been invited for lunch.
The housemaid took extreme measures in hiding the bananas in a new safety hatch. Mr. Monkey helped himself to the kitchen yesterday as he’d been doing for a week, but despite a thorough search it was suddenly clear to him that “we have no more bananas”. When Danda went into the kitchen to make a sandwich, she found the Sykes sitting in the sink looking extremely puzzled and put out.
I, too, have monkeys making their presence felt at my place (lest I forget I’m in Africa, for Pete’s sake). Although they supposedly sleep at night, there can be no other explanation for the galloping across my metal rooftop. I often hear these ladies and gents after I’ve gone to bed, thundering away, jiggling with window handles, driving the next-door neighbors dogs into a frenzy, Ridgebacks and Shephards and mixed-breed terriers that bay like bloodhounds. Oftentimes, I listen and wait, and within minutes am rewarded with monkeynastix which, while they keep me awake, are also a comfort in this country that will not be tamed.
Anja's Spicy Tofu Salad
450 grams fresh tofu curd
3 T plain flour, sifted
2 T sesame seeds
1 T chili powder
1 T white pepper
2 T onion powder (you can substitute garlic powder and/or garlic salt)
1 egg beaten with 3 T milk
500 ml vegetable oil for frying
3 heads of gem lettuce, shredded
Chopped fresh coriander and chives, optional garnish
Slice the curds into wedges about 2 cm or 3/4 in thick. Mix flour, sesame, chili, pepper and onion powder. Dip curd in flour, then in egg mixture, then in flour a second time. Heat oil to about 180 degrees C/350 degrees F. Fry two mins on each side and drain on paper towels. Place on bed of lettuce and serve with the following dressing.
Ginger Sesame Dressing
1 T pickled ginger (or fresh if you can't find pickled)
4 T rice wine vinegar
4 T dark soy
2 t chili sauce
4 T sesame oil
6 T sunflower oil
Whisk together all ingredients. Can be stored up to one week in the fridge.