Mango Season Adds Flavor To Kenya's Njaanuary | WCAI

Mango Season Adds Flavor To Kenya's Njaanuary

Jan 29, 2020
Originally published on January 29, 2020 8:19 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

In many parts of this country, we are deep into cold, wet, snowy winter. In Kenya, it's mango season. And NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta is going to brag about that. Here he is.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: There is this old song I just can't stop playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF JUAN LUIS GUERRA SONG, "LOS MANGOS BAJITOS")

PERALTA: It's actually a song by the Dominican musician Juan Luis Guerra, but it has those guitar licks that sound like African rumba. And it's about mangoes, one of the great unifiers of the global south.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOS MANGOS BAJITOS")

JUAN LUIS GUERRA: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: Make no mistake, this is an ode to mangoes. Specifically, Juan Luis Guerra sings about how there are few things better in life than a ripe, beautiful mango that you never had to climb a tree to enjoy.

(SOUNDBITE OF JUAN LUIS GUERRA SONG, "LOS MANGOS BAJITOS")

PERALTA: Who doesn't like a mango, he sings - peeled, yellow, pink?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOS MANGOS BAJITOS")

GUERRA: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: Over the past week, I have driven hundreds of kilometers in Kenya. And everywhere you look, there are mangoes. They hang from luscious trees. Like artisans, women on the roadsides build pyramids of just perfect mangoes, meticulously arranged from green to yellow to pink to red.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE WHIRRING)

PERALTA: On the side of the road in a small town in eastern Kenya, I meet Hassan Kiteme. He is selling mangoes out of a wheelbarrow.

HASSAN KITEME: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

PERALTA: He is a mango ninja. With a sharp knife, it takes him just five seconds to peel a mango, and he never breaks a rind.

KITEME: (Through interpreter) All of them, I do them without any - without stop. And I take these to my goats.

PERALTA: Kenya is lucky enough to have multiple mango seasons. So for the past 22 years now, Kiteme has traveled the country following ripening mangoes. At peak season, like now, he sells thousands. Sometimes he can't even pause for lunch.

KITEME: (Through interpreter) I eat mangoes a lot. I even took mangoes for lunch (laughter).

PERALTA: And I know all of this sounds idyllic, but January is a pretty tough month here because everyone spent their cash on the holidays. The month even has a nickname, Njaanuary. Njaa means hunger. Njaanuary is the month of hunger.

FAITH MWNEE: Yeah, very tough.

PERALTA: Why?

MWNEE: There is no money. There is no job. We just struggle.

PERALTA: That's Faith Mwnee, who doesn't have the money to send her kids to school this month. But on the bright side, she says, with 10 cents, she bought herself a mango, and it was sweet and nice.

MWNEE: It is Njaanuary, but at least there is mango.

PERALTA: Njaanuary - but at least there are mangoes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOS MANGOS BAJITOS")

GUERRA: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Mwingi, Kenya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.