I Took Milk for Granted

I’ve always disliked milk. In small part, I blame my Mom, who for the sake of frugality made us drink powdered milk. I remember plugging my nose and chugging down my obligatory glass at supper time so I wouldn’t have to taste it. Once on my own, of course I switched to “real” milk, but never did particularly like drinking a glass straight. Marc, on the other hand, grew up on whole milk and lots of it; he’s always been a milk drinker.

While still in America, as our family size grew and dairy prices increased, I tried to be conscious of our milk intake. Everyone had a glass of milk with supper, though, and we got plenty of dairy in other ways: cereal a couple times a week, sour cream with our Mexican or in a casserole, and plenty of cheese. During our last year or so we also enjoyed homemade ice cream every Saturday night.

Since we’ve been in Africa, things have changed. Lacking refrigeration, we boil milk for our morning tea but otherwise don’t drink plain milk. And in our village, more often than not, “milk is hard,” as our neighboring shop-owner, Silas, frequently reports. If we get a liter a day, that’s good. We rarely can get more than that, and sometimes we can only get a two cups. Shared between 10 of us, that’s not a lot of calcium intake. Milk is available in 1/2 liter pasteurized-and-homogenized bags at the village market, but it’s more expensive that way and also not convenient, as we try to shop only a couple times a week. Butter is also expensive (about 500 shillings per half-kilo, which is about $6 per pound!) And, because of the refrigeration issue, it’s also hard to keep fresh. Recently we’ve begun using Ghee (shelf-stable, clarified butter) which has a decent price point–more expensive than margarine but also much less expensive than butter.

We miss sour cream, cold milk over cereal, and definitely cheese and ice cream. For us, both yogurt and ice cream are an occasional treat (for practical as well as financial reasons; with no refrigerator/freezer, they must be consumed right away and we’re pretty far from town to get ice cream home without melting!) We try to eat more greens (a natural source of calcium), but I just can’t get everyone to eat them in the quantity that would be needed to have a positive impact on overall health.

So unfortunately, while we’ve never experienced problems with cavities, some of the children (and Marc as well) have been complaining of tooth sensitivities and possible cavities. Marc sees a direct link between that and our calcium deficiency, since our dental hygiene practices haven’t changed.

All of this to say, we were ecstatic the other day to have a traveling vendor introduce himself and show off four liters of fresh, strawberry yogurt. (Yogurt here is of the liquid variety and prices at about 200 KSH per 1/2 liter, which is…expensive.) The yogurt was fabulous and Marc bought all four liters for only 300 shillings! He talked to the man for a while and, as it turns out, he’s hoping to open a local dairy to sell milk, yogurt, ghee, and…cheese! I don’t know if it will actually happen, but I’m excited about the possibility of getting dairy products with greater ease–and at prices that seem affordable.

I confess: I took milk for granted. Funny how now I’m actually praying that this potential local dairy becomes a reality!

Amusing side note: as we consumed the four liters of yogurt (which didn’t take long!), we offered some to Silas, who happened to be over helping out with some work on our shamba (garden/farm). With a rather funny expression, he refused, saying, “I have never tried that and I will not,” or something to that effect. Later he told Marc that one should not buy food from persons that one does not know personally, as it is apparently not uncommon to be poisoned in Kenya. I had no doubt about the yogurt though, as after we emptied the man’s yogurt container, he immediately tipped it into his mouth to drink anything that might remain. I could be wrong, but if it were poisoned, I don’t think he would have done that.

Thanks to our Africa experience, I’ve become much more content to make more-with-less and I’ve learned to appreciate (and make do with) what is locally available. Sometimes it’s hard, particularly as we deal with potential health issues, but we’re trusting God with our health as with everything else. I’m not taking anything for granted.