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The Malawi Nsima Saga: How Not To Be Diplomatic

March 21st, 2008

nsima-malawi1.jpgA school teacher known as “Missjenn-Malawi” set off a torrent of anger recently when she posted a blog entry at travelpod.com referring to the Malawian staple food nsima as “the most disgusting and pointless food in the history of the world”. The visiting English tutor from Irvine, UK then proceeded to describe how she managed to avoid eating the dreaded nsima by stuffing it in her bra while also expressing her disgust with other Malawian foods such as pumpkin leaves and goat meat.

Although the backlash prompted Missjenn to delete the original article from the travelpod.com site, there is still an archived copy of it at storiesonmalawi.blogspot.com. I had more than a few laughs while reading through the 48 comments at the Blogspot page. Most Malawians were outraged that this “mzungu” could not only criticize such an important staple of their diet but also do it in such a mocking way. References to possibly contracting bilharzia from the local lakes also struck a raw nerve with many people. One angry anonymous commenter remarked:

miss jenn is a disgrace to our nation. the police have been informed about the issue and we should expect her not to be on our soil malawi. come on, miss jenn is stupid. what are doing in a country where they is bilhazia or the food is disgusting? l have a strong opinion that you suffer from syphillis or you have once fallen in a toilet tank. please leave our country and never return. we will deal with u idiot.

Another commenter noted that insulting the culture of a host nation is not exactly a wise diplomatic gesture:

The content of this article just shows how shallow some mzungu are. They don’t know that disrespecting a people’s culture is the worst insult. I don’t know if this mzungu even went to college but if she did, it was just for nothing. How brainless!! And the chicks she wants to buy, may be she had just better give them her real name because she thinks like a chicken herself.

Others even mixed statements from the local language in with the English ones. I’m not sure what this first sentence means, but if the rest of the paragraph is any indication, my guess is that it’s not pleasant:

Mwanakazi uyu mabvi yakhe. This sucks to the core. Behead the wicked one. Those who insult our nsima and its delicacies do not deserve to live. I have never been so offended in my life.

Meanwhile, there were a minority of commenters who actually defended the “mzungu” to some extent, encouraging fellow Malawians to add more flavor to the nsima and diversify the overall diet:

Am a Malawian who totally agree that Nsima is one of the most tasteless and least nutritious food in the world. Preference for Nsima has contributed enormously to malnutrition of children in this country. For those of you who think its traditional, know that maize is a fairy recent crop in Malawi brought in by the Portuguese. The modern way of making & farming nsima is partly a contribution of colonialism. Instead of venting your frustrations on this brave young lady who is brave enough to come here and live among us I suggest you engross yourself in finding ways on how to make Nsima more tasty and nutritious and how to encourage sustainable diet diversification among ordinary Malawians.

Overall, this incident has to be one of the worst diplomatic faux pas I have ever seen during my years of reading international news stories. Even more interesting is the fact that this “missjenn” is apparently visiting Malawi as a primary school English teacher according to some type of prior arrangement. Now that the content of her article has become known among the locals, she may find life in Malawi somewhat more difficult if she does not return to the UK soon.

Meanwhile, as I was browsing through some other reactions to the original story, I wound up getting quite an education about nsima and its importance in the cultures of several African nations. It is essentially a kind of paste made from corn meal and water, which is then served with side dishes composed of various meats and vegetables. A very comprehensive article on the history, significance, ingredients, and preparation of nsima (or nshima in Zambia) can be found here at Bridgewater.edu. When I have the time, I might try to make some of this stuff and find out whether or not it is really a “pointless” food.


5 Responses to “The Malawi Nsima Saga: How Not To Be Diplomatic”

  1. comment number 1 by: Clement Nyirenda

    So you were in Malawi subsisting on nsima at some point. Well, I am a Malawian and I like Nsima very much. Now that I have here in Japan, where I eat rice and spaghetti everyday, for two months, I miss Nsima so much.

  2. comment number 2 by: Kate

    I lived in Malawi for awhile, it was one of the most hospitable places I have ever been in my life. I loved nsima and all of the side dishes that went with it. It spurred a passion in me for simple, fresh cooking. I appreciated all of the kind people who cooked for me and allowed me to visit with them, even though they had so little. It is apalling that someone would insult a gift given to them by people who only wanted to share a bit of their home and culture. Even if nsima is not to your taste, at least appreciate the sacrifice that your hosts are making before insulting them.

  3. comment number 3 by: FyourholeEnglish

    You disgust humanity, You have no good white woman, I would crush her head my self with Mwala, and this bitch defending Europeans if I see her I will kill her entire family, I would say that white people your most uncultured people on earth, you have no respect or whatsoever, I hope this woman never dares to step in Malawi again because I have her picture, I will definitely skin her off alive and let dogs suck her white acid blood, Fucking cunt of English mentality,

    This is shit, She hardly know what she says, shows how stupid some Malawians are;

    (Am a Malawian who totally agree that Nsima is one of the most tasteless and least nutritious food in the world. Preference for Nsima has contributed enormously to malnutrition of children in this country. For those of you who think its traditional, know that maize is a fairy recent crop in Malawi brought in by the Portuguese. The modern way of making & farming nsima is partly a contribution of colonialism. Instead of venting your frustrations on this brave young lady who is brave enough to come here and live among us I suggest you engross yourself in finding ways on how to make Nsima more tasty and nutritious and how to encourage sustainable diet diversification among ordinary Malawians)

    Now Bitches!

    This dish is eaten widely across Africa where it has different local names:

    Nshima - Zambia
    Nsima - Malawi
    Sadza - Zimbabwe
    Chima - Mozambique
    Ugali - Kenya, Malawi & Mozambique (Yao language), Tanzania (also called ngima in Kenya, and nguna in Tanzania)
    Poshto - Uganda
    Ubugali - Rwanda
    Bugali - DR Congo
    Meliepap/Pap - South Africa
    Fufu - West Africa
    Sakoro - Northern Ghana
    Sakora - Northern Nigeria
    Couscous de Cameroon - Cameroon

    We dont care what UK bitch teacher said, they can go stuck their classy food in their assholes!

  4. comment number 4 by: A Nigerian

    Nni oka - South-East Nigeria.

  5. comment number 5 by: A Nigerian

    It is a staple food in the Southeastern part of Nigeria

    It is eaten for mostly for lunch, and occasionally for dinner… and WE DO NOT PLAY WITH IT - in fact, here in London, I eat it every other afternoon with our native soups. IT BEATS FOODS LIKE FISH AND CHIPS,STEAK & KIDNEY PIE, PIZZA, YORKSHIRE PUDDING, AND THE LIKE ===foods West Africans consider as snacks…

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