Cooking and Step Downs

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When I think of cooking, the memories of my student days at Egerton University come flowing back like waves of the Indian Ocean. I vividly remember during orientation as freshmen, the Dean of Students addressing us in Kilimo Hall. He said that students should not cook from their halls of residence. We took him seriously not knowing that his scare crow warning was just a formality meant to transfer risk from the administration to the students in case of fire outbreak in the halls of residence.

One week down the line, when the continuing students started reporting, I was surprised to see many students carrying sacks of dried maize and beans that they’ll use throughout the semester. That’s when I realized that the warning from the Dean was just for formality purpose.
That evening, Njokerio was abuzz with activities. Many business transactions were taking place; students buying water heaters and coils for cooking, taking the dried maize to the posho mills for grinding, shopping for normal food stuffs, buying cheap liquor and many more to signify the start of the semester. I didn’t know that this was a normal ritual that usually takes place at the start of every semester. Some of us new students who were planning to depend on the Mess for our meals throughout the semester had to rethink.

As the semester progressed, cooking in the rooms was the order of the day. In our room (Hollywood D24), we were fully armed with the generator (stove), coil and water heater. There were things which we bought communally and others which we bought individually. The ones which we bought communally with my roommates include; maize flour, beans, rice and other cereals. The ones which we bought individually include luxuries like orange juice, coffee, biscuits and other snacks. These are the ones that were used to entertain female guests in our room. The long awaited campus life was just starting.

coilFor one to survive in Egerton hostels by then, one needed the basic knowledge of Electrical Engineering. This was as a result of the frequent step downs occasioned by cooking. The dare devils that connected coils to the 415 volts line of electricity, tapping extra electricity from the lighting bulbs, tempers flared due to this massive ‘hunger ’ for electricity. Some even changed the 415 volts to read 0.415 volts. It was suicidal to study from your room at night especially if you had a CAT or an exam the following day. The self proclaimed professional cooks would make sure that there is an artificial blackout which will make you park your books and go to some of the designated reading areas. Since it was a guarantee that you will never find space in the library, the other areas like Bs, Holland Hall, Lower mess, ANSC lecture halls, A1 and other areas became the better options.

One day I was busy preparing for a chemistry CAT that was supposed to be done the following day. Since I was late to book for space in the main library, I decided to retreat to my room. As I was reading, the professional cooks stuck and there was a blackout! To add salt to injury, one of them stepped out of the corridor and shouted “Nani huyo anasoma na sisi tunapika?” (Who is that reading and yet we are cooking?) I quickly packed my books and rushed to Bs.
There are those who found a solution to the persisting problem of step downs. One of the solutions was to look for a student expert in electrical wiring who would bypass the step downs in the hostel’s main switch using a special wire. This would enable all the students in the hostel to be able to cook without the step down menace. The other solution was to bribe the electrician hired by the campus so that he can do the wiring in favor of the professional cooks.

I remember one of the 02 Maths/physics student whose wiring services were highly sought after. He’s currently a Mathematics Lecturer at Maseno University. There is a semester I shared Garissa hostel in Buruburu with him. That semester we were able to cook without step downs courtesy of his wiring prowess! Surprisingly, not even the university electrician was able to trace what this guy had done to the hostel’s main switch. Michael, wherever you are, may God bless you.

There is also another semester where I was still in Hollywood when we almost burnt down the entire hostel. This specific day, there was a step down while we were boiling milk in our room. We waited patiently for somebody to go to the main switch and step up, but there was none. After sometime, we left the room to attend a function that was going on at Kilimo Hall, forgetting that the socket was on. While we were away, somebody stepped up the main switch and our milk continued to boil. After sometime, smoke was seen coming from our room. Our neighbors broke the door and switched off the socket. Were it not for them, the entire hostel would have gone up in flames.
Several years after graduation, I hear that the administration banned cooking in rooms and constructed what is known as Kitchenette. During our days, this would be a recipe for a strike. I don’t know how the Kitchenettes look like and where they were constructed, but one day ill visit them and experience the ambiance once I step in Egerton University again.

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