Growing up, I was the kid that always had my nose in a book. And coming from a family where education was king, my parents didn’t mind when I chose to study and leisurely read than to learn how to make chapatis. Yes, I can make a decent meal but am I #cheffinitup on a daily? No. I’m just not that girl. It’s been tough growing up as an African woman and knowing that part of what made you a ‘valuable woman’ was cooking. Growing up, I had aunts criticize how I chopped onions and tomatoes and those criticisms didn’t end there. They passed them on to my mother as well and asked ‘but can she make ugali? Can she make chapatis? Can she even boil water?’.
Yup, I was always judged when it came to making the ‘traditional’ we are ready to get you ‘wifed up’ meals. I simply had no interest. I have always apologized for this by trying to laugh it away or make self deprecating jokes. I had these defense mechanisms up until one afternoon when I was having brunch with a girlfriend of mine - Sara. I was busy recounting how I only cooked ‘the basics’ and pretty much making subtle excuses for why I wasn’t making sophisticated African dishes when she said, “girl, you can always cook later!” She didn't know it but probably for the first time i felt like i didn't have to apologize for not being the ‘perfect’ African woman. She went on to say that my love for reading and my parents pushing for me to be the best in all I do has brought me to where I am today: a successful twentysomething.
To be completely honest, I just wasn't interested in spending hours in the kitchen. I cleaned up after my mom and sisters as they threw down and I was quite content. My mom r knowing me and my goals, definitely didn’t put a lot of pressure on me to cook as well as my sisters do - for which I am grateful. She indirectly allowed me to grow up as this ‘unconventional’ African child knowing full well that she too would bear a lot of the criticism but more in terms of the type of parent that she is - which in some ways is tougher. I love and appreciate her for taking the bullet for me in this area. She didn’t care that I wasn’t that chef. She only cared that I did well in school (and knew the basics in the kitchen).
Looking back, I feel terrible because I realise that girls are almost programmed from a very young age to know that pots and pans are their way of life and expected trajectory. The terrible feeling that I have, comes especially from when I recognize that through my jokes and teasing of my friends, that I too am perpetuating these ideas. I realize that I utter those same words - how are we going to marry you off if you can't cook?! I catch myself saying this or even the opposite - now that you can cook so well it’s time we marry you off! Yes, I too am guilty of this but it ends here. I no longer want to have any of the women in my circle feel as though they need to be these great chefs in order for them to be valued and deserving of a great love!
So to you, young lady beating yourself up for not being able to make #instaperfect meals, keep your head up! Not all of us are called to the kitchen. It’s better to have an education and work that continually motivates and stimulates you, than to feel pressured because of skills that can always be picked up at a later time. If you are not interested in arming yourself with more sophisticated skills in the kitchen, which is where I am in life, let it be on your own terms! So yeah …Sara was right, you can always cook later!
An unapologetic starter chef
Three women going through life.