Monday, December 21, 2015

The Day of Food

On Friday, we worked with the committee to get more work done on the maize mill construction. The project is making wonderful progress! 

In the middle of the day, we were honored with an invitation to the chief's house. We told the committee what part of construction to do next by themselves, how to do it, and we were escorted to the chief’s house. We didn’t know what we were in for.. this is where we met "denje". 

Denje is a type of relish, which is eaten with nsima, the staple food of Malawi. Nsima is basically a large formation of maize flour cooked with water – sort of like grits. In Malawi, relish is a mixture of vegetables made into a semi-liquid state. Denje was particularly slimy. In this community, it is very disrespectful to reject a meal, so we dug in with smiles.

Now for a tutorial on eating nsima with denje:
  1. With your right hand, grab a mouthful size of sticky nsima, and form it into a ball.
  2. With your thumb, put a sizable dent in the nsima, so you can collect the relish. Sort of like making a dent for gravy in your mashed potatoes.
  3. Scoop up the slimy denje and try to get it to stay on the nsima. Slipping away from your nsima is the natural law of denje.
  4. Get it to your mouth as soon as possible to avoid denje falling on you. A moderate amount of slurping is sometimes required.
  5. Don’t be too alarmed when your gag reflex is activated by denje’s slimy texture – we learned it’s only normal for first-timers.
As our team tried very hard to consume this dish and exchange supportive glances once in a while, the two community chiefs, workers in the home, and some children watched us and laughed – the entire time – pointing, smiling, and laughing. Most of us tried to finish the nsima will taking as little denje as possible.. then our translator showed us how to properly drink the denje. I'm sure you can imagine how that went, haha. We tried. 

After the meal, our team had many laughs about the experience. We were very honored to be served a meal in the chief’s house, but we hope denje doesn’t come around again.

We returned to the committee to find them constructing safely and properly. 

They learn very quickly from our instruction and are always so excited to show us what they do on their own.

We finished up work for the day. As we were about to leave, we were brought into a community cooking competition as guests of honor. All sorts of foods had been prepared!

Women spoke one at a time about how they prepared each dish, and we got to try them all! Tomato jelly, potato skin juice, soy milk, goat meat, sweet potatoes with ground nuts, African bread, and more! Many of us stopped being so willing to try the foods when the goat was passed around, although some of us were more daring. I was happy they didn’t pass around the dish that looked like large dragon flies!

At one point during the competition, our mentor Matt was about to taste the sweet potato dish when suddenly our translator, Jarvis, shoved soy coffee grounds into Matt’s face, so he could get a smell. Matt sharply recoiled and threw his sweet potatoes on the ground, making a bit of a mess. Laughter spread throughout the room.

We enjoyed most of the foods that day. That denje though….

Shout out to Cate who rolled a yahtzee of 5s  :o  Killed it with 5,000 points in one roll. 
That’s right dad, we’re playing 10,000 :] 

Much love to you all back at home and abroad! Your support helps us every day.

Have a wonderful day, my friends!!



  1. Great updates, Team Malawi! You have me intrigued to try the Nsima with Denje. Best of luck on the community taking satisfaction in completing the work you helped them start. Longevity of their use will be a good measure on the value. Is an owners and maintenance manual necessary? Keep on keepin' on! Dave (Spencer's pops).

  2. You're my hero Chris! Keep up the great work! (Wei from Hartford Professional Chapter)

  3. Awesome job, team. You are a brave lot.

  4. It's been a lot of fun following along with the updates from this trip--great posts and photos! Your denje story reminds me of an interesting experience I had with a chef's special "chicken curry" that I mistakenly ordered while in Cambodia a couple years back.

    I'm really encouraged (and a bit relieved) to hear that the community has taken up the maize mill project so enthusiastically and with such a sense of ownership. That's such a key factor in the project's outcome, and I'm even more confident now that it will be a success.

    Keep up the great work!
    --Chris Carroux (Malawi team)