Hat and I are eating breakfast listening to the shrill call of mouthy Egghead in the background (if he’s not careful I shall call Saidi and enquire as to whether he has a good recipe for Rooster Soup too).
Tea. Toast. And Marmite.
Is Marmite English, Hat wants to know.
Yes, I tell her. Quintessentially so.
So don’t Indian people like it?
Or French people?
They hate it.
Does Asina – who is Tanzanian – like it?
I doubt it.
But she likes pili-pili.
Yes, but Marmite’s not hot, is it? It’s salty.
Does Uncle Fuzz like it?
Is he English?
Yes. (Even though in all his 76 years he’s never lived anywhere but Africa).
Look. It says ‘100% Vegetarian’ on the label, Hat points out, that means Amelia can eat it.
Amelia, like many 14 year old girls, has recently decided to give up meat. Unless there’s borewors on offer. Or biltong. Or steak.
Do Kenyans like it?
The English ones?
Yes. An anomaly, I know. But Hat’s line of enquiry is about much more than the love/hate relationship people have with Marmite.
Instead it thinly veils a confusion about identity.
Our conversation reminds me of one we had years ago – about a class project (when Hat attended Real School) to design a family coat of arms. Mine and Hat’s effort did not resemble her teacher’s example, an English Rose from Brighton.
We knew which children were from Holland or Canada or Egypt or Tanzania because they had written in bold letters, ‘I AM FROM …’ and added a badly drawn flag by way of illustration. All our effort did was prove that Hattie had a grandmother who must be very old (judging by all the sepia photographs I used – which will teach me for being a show-off) and a dead grandfather who used to ride a bicycle. A grandfather whom Hattie never knew. ‘Who’s that?’ she asked, indignantly as I stuck a photo of husband’s father onto our piece of card ‘That’s Grandad Simon’, I said, and then, gently and in reverent tone one must adopt when talking about the departed, ‘he’s dead’. ‘No he’s not’, she snorted, examining the picture more closely, ‘he’s riding a bike’.
Hattie’s teacher asked kind and interested questions about all the dead grandfathers and long deceased great-grandparents staring from liver-spotted images bearing testimony to lives spent in India, the Congo, East Africa.
How exotic she remarked.
Hattie didn’t think it was exotic. She’d rather have had a coat of arms decorated as her teacher’s was, with pictures of Brighton Pier, Cadbury’s chocolate, pink and white complexioned children. And a Union Jack. That would mean she was English.
I could tell you that’s the sole reason we eat Marmite: to reaffirm our patriotism, our sense of attachment to a place that’s never been home. I could tell you Marmite is a part of our heritage: I was obliged to bring it back to Kenya from boarding school in Britain for Mum and Dad when such imported luxuries were unavailable.
The truth is I like the stuff.