Recently, while at the Women’s Center making smalltalk, I shared that my favorite Congolese food thus far is kalangiti. The women erupted in laughter. Apparently, the literal Swahili translation of kalangiti is “small blanket”. The women were amused, but very confused as to what really was my favorite food. Fortunately, Chelsie explained (in her near-perfect Swahili) that I enjoyed maragi which is the correct word for “black beans”. Much to my dismay, their laughter continued. Evidently, black beans are considered slave food because they are so readily accessible and inexpensive. A typical Congolese would never admit to eating, let alone enjoying this food…so to hear this wealthy mzungu claim slave food as her choice meal was simply more than they could fathom.
Lest you think I am failing in my Swahili lessons, I would like to explain how I came to confuse the word kalangiti with the word maragi:
Most days at UCBC, Mama Madoe cooks (and sells) black beans and rice to the students for lunch. To avoid the negative connotation associated with maragi, the black beans have become well-known at the university as kalangiti…
Off now to fill my stomach with some small blankets, a.k.a. black beans.