Gamra Bhakar

Gamra Bhakar

Gamra Bhakar was making mullah on a 3-stone fire when we came to interview her.  Mullah is a gravy (usually made with okra, onions, garlic, fresh or dried meat, red chili, fresh dill, and a rock salt called atron) that is eaten with the staple starch, assida (a thick porridge known as ugali in many countries in East Africa), made with flour and water. She cooks for a total of 9 family members, two of whom are under 7 years of age.  She makes two meals a day and tea 3-4 times a day.  She cooks these meals in 3 pots, one medium-sized, almost flat, round-bottom aluminum pot around 24 cm in diameter, a small, round-bottom, cast aluminum pot 17 cm in diameter, and a small flat-bottomed aluminum pot around 17 ВЅ cm in diameter, using a bundle of “wood” for each meal.  She uses plastic and straw as kindling for her fires.

She collects wood from outside the camp, even though it is illegal and “not safe”.  All the land around the camp has legal owners, and if she is caught on the road, she is at risk of being beaten by “some men”, who will also take her wood.  She goes out to collect wood twice a day; an effort that takes her 3 hours each trip for one bundle of wood – a headload.  However, once or twice a week, she has to run away without collecting wood because of some sort of danger.

Actually, what she collects are branches and roots of a noxious weed that is locally known as oushar.  Its stems are hollow, and the leaves contain a milky sap that can cause blindness when touched to the eyes, particularly in children.  It takes twice the amount of oushar to cook a meal compared with “proper” wood, therefore Gamra has to collect every day, twice a day.

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