Furnace season: runaway veld fires, the house thickening with flies, herbs scorched brown. The heat wave may not break until the weekend and schools close early, work on farms has slowed to a crawl. We fill bird baths and leave out saucers of water for the cobras at the far end of the back garden. The dogs lie panting under tables and stretch out against cooler old walls in the living room.
Trickles of sweat down my back, itchy under-arms, chafed thighs. There are ice cubes dissolving in the dogs’ drinking bowls, jugs of iced tea and ginger beer in the fridge, bottles of refrigerated water lining the shelves. I go out and give cups of cold water and slices of bread and jam to unemployed people searching for work and walking from farm to farm in this deadly heat. Several elderly villagers have been hospitalised with heat stroke or dehydration.
Despite the heat or to counter the heat by sweating more, I make spicy African peanut soup the way it was taught to me by a bad-tempered shopkeeper in Mtito Andei in Kenya. The school bus had broken down and we were stuck between Nairobi and Tsavo or Voi, a crowd of bored teenagers standing around annoying the shopkeeper who at last made us something to eat in the hope we would go out and lie under thorn trees in the shade and sleep. He talked, as he was cooking, to the other students, who understood his Swahili. I couldn’t follow and just watched.
Down here I can’t get the large good roasted peanuts of East Africa, so I use a spoonful or two of crunchy peanut butter. A handful of methi or fresh fenugreek, some coriander leaves, diced carrots, potatoes, onions, some wild spinach or moroq, some black or red maize (corn) scraped off young cobs. Piripiri (birdseye) chillies to taste, ground black pepper, peeled and diced ripe tomatoes. Plenty of tomato. Peanut butter stirred in at the end, sometimes a little sour cream or a garnish of coriander leaves. No measurements, I just follow my instincts because it is one of those soups that can’t go wrong so long as you go easy on the chillies.
Standing half-naked at the gas hob, apron crumpling at the corners, a bandanna tied around my head, sweat dripping, the kitchen smelling good. Remembering the monsoon seasons of East Africa, trade winds blowing across from the Horn of Africa and how the monsoon would break, the kitchen garden turned into a seething red pond, the banana palms torn apart, the verandahs sluiced with rain. The relief of it, that heat broken by rain and wind like a whiplash, the violence needed to crack through that humidity.
And here too, the rain will fall in the mountains, the drought will break.