A Day in the life of Mama Lishe

A Day in the life of Mama Lishe

  • It is 4 a.m. early morning. I have to start frying vitumbua, the rice cakes.
  • Now it is 5.30 a.m. and I have to carry the vitumbua to the space near the bus stand and start selling vituambua to people who are going to work. I sell one kitumbua for 150 TZS. On good days I sell as many as 700 vitumbua. When it rains, I do not get buyers of vitumbua. My sales depend on the vagaries of the weather. Farmers pray for rain, Mama Lishe pray there would be no rain.
  • 3p.m. and I have sold 630 vitumbua. I still have 52 vitumbua left. God! I cannot afford not to sell the remaining vitumbua. I wish I had a refrigerator to preserve the left over Vitumbua. They spoil fast because of the coconut cream used in the mixture and without the coconut cream, they would be pieces of hard rock made of rice, not the soft vitumbua. The coconut cream softens the vitumbua mixture and also adds flavor. Of course the cardamom; rice flour; sugar; make up the mixture which needs coconut cream to bind and soften.
  • 30 p.m. I have managed to sell another 10 vitumbua but 42 vitumbua are remaining and I have to leave the bus stand as I see some municipal officers coming my way and they are bound to tell me to “Buzz Off”.
  • 3 p.m. I am on my way home. The left over vitumbua could be eaten by the children for supper with ginger tea. I might give some to the children of Mwasiti, my neighbor. She does help me look after my youngest when I come out to sell vitumbua.
  • I have to walk all the way to my home in Tandale, Dar es Salaam. I cannot afford the bus fare. It is easier going back home because I do not have the heavy load of vitumbua to carry which I do in the morning.
  • At 4.30 p.m. I have to pass by the Mpemba shop to pay the shopkeeper for the rice; sugar; oil; which I take on credit every day. I also have to pay the coal seller. I fry the vitumbua on a coal stove.
  • 5 p.m. I get home and find my 2 older children have come back from school. The older girl Rehema has started boiling beans for our supper. Oh! I, am a single parent with three children, Rehema who is 14; Josha who is 11; and the baby, 3 year old Nasma. My husband got killed in a car accident. He was a driver in a private company. His boss did not even bother to attend the funeral. I had to start selling vitumbua to sustain my family. It is not easy but I manage with God’s Grace. I have kind neighbors. I had refused to marry my late husband’s cousin. I do not believe in wife inheritance. Besides, he has 2 other wives and is mean. After my husband died, he came and took away my husband’s clothes; wristwatch; and he even took away my husband’s driving license. Wonder what he is going to do with it? He did not leave anything for my son Josha whom I wanted to have his father’s suit as a rememberance.
  • By 6 p.m. Rehema has cooked the beans and boiled tea and she asks permission to do her homework and school project. She also has to help Josha with his homework.
  • 7 p.m. I soak the rice which I have to later pound with a pestle to make into rice flour for the vitumbua. I also have to soak the yeast for the vitumbua mixture. The yeast makes the vitumbua spongy which clients like.
  • 3p.m. I call the children to eat supper. It is beans and the left over vitumbua. Rehema gives a bath to Nasma after the meal and by 8.30 p.m. the children go to bed.
  • I wash clothes and hang them to dry. I check the children’s school books. I rest for a while and chat with my neighbor Mwasiti. This gives me a breather.
  • 10 p.m. I grate the coconuts for the vitumbua mixture. I then squeeze the grated coconut to get out the cream.
  • 3p.m. I pound the soaked rice having used a sieve to remove all the water.
  • 11 p.m. I mix the vitumbua ingredients in my large plastic dish. I start by putting in the rice, all 3 kilos of rice. Then I add half a kilo of sugar and the yeast. Then I add the cardamom powder and the coconut cream to make a thick paste. I cover the dish with a large tray and leave the mixture to rise.
  • 11:45 p.m. I take a bath and sleep.mama3
  • 4 a.m. I wake up, without an alarm clock because my mind and body know it is time to wake up. I stoke the coal stove until the stove is lit. I then place the karai, the large pan with little scooped out holes but have a base. I place oil in each little hole and scoop in the vitumbua batter which I see has risen well. I fry the vitumbua and place them in a metal sieve to catch the oil from the fried vitumbua. This work is tedious but it has to be done.


  • 3p.m. I have placed the fried vitumbua in a large dish and cover it with a clean, dry, kanga, especially set aside for that purpose. I have made tea for my children and put it in a thermos flask. I have kept some vitumbua for them to eat for their breakfast. I have placed some money for Rehema and Josha to use in school during recess. I take the baby Nasma to my neighbor Mwasiti with some vitumbua for Mwasiti’s children. I leave Nasma with Mwasiti and I place my dish of vitumbua on top of my head and go to the bus stand where other Mama Lishe converge to sell soup; chapatti; donuts; and of course, I sell my vitumbua. We have a nice group of Mama Lishe who are supportive to each other. A new day has begun!

“Together We Can Make it Happen”

Leila Sheikh

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