LIFE BY LOUIS: ‘Shocking’ memories of cooking with an electric coil

Wednesday March 18 2020

As I turned the ugali using a long wooden cooking stick, a big piece excused itself from the pan and landed squarely on the naked cables where there was the joint to the electric coil. ILLUSTRATION| IGAH


This country could have produced the next generation of world renowned chefs and become a net exporter of cuisine chefs.

However, this could only have happened if the authority in charge of electrical power distribution did not nib the dreams of aspiring chefs in the bud while they are still in college.  

I was driving near an institution of higher learning located in the city recently when I encountered a crowd of students who were picketing peacefully.

The reason for their ire was that their headmaster had denied them permission to cook in the comfort of their hostel rooms.

They felt aggrieved that their budding culinary careers were being put at a dire risk of premature death.


Their headmaster was justified in his actions though. Because nearly every student was cooking in their respective rooms, the electrical power bills had gone through the roof, far exceeding the total budget for hosting the students in the hostels.

The power distribution company was also complaining that they have had to relocate a full maintenance team inside the college in order to resolve frequent power disruptions. The students on the other hand would hear none of it.

As I sat there in traffic waiting for the anti-riot police to come to our rescue, I reflected on my days in the same institution where my cooking expertise was moulded and sharpened.

I had bought an electric coil and its stand that looked like the shell of a paraffin stove. Using rudimentary electrical skills, I had connected some naked cables to the coil and left the other end of the cable open for inserting into the electrical power socket on the wall.


Getting a decent electrical plug was possible if I worked harder at it, but at that time my risk appetite was high and I did not find getting a decent power plug worth the effort.

Every cooking activity was like working on live 66kv high voltage power lines. It was delicate and lethal.

The naked cables sparked without any provocation, and the connection to the socket overheated and smelled of burning rubber.

One day, a bored cockroach was making its rounds inside my room and it had accidentally stepped on the naked cables.

What followed was a series of fireworks that left the poor cockroach as roasted meat and the occupants of the entire floor of the hostel scampering for safety.

But cockroaches were not about to spoil my party. One evening, I was as usual locked in my room cooking and with a sign on the door that read, “I am in the Library, please leave a message” to avoid unannounced visitors. It was enough that I was risking my life to make a decent meal, I was not going to push my limits by cooking for the entire hostel.


Because of the heat, I had to remove my shirt and cook in a vest and shorts in order to prevent myself from igniting spontaneously inside the confined room. I could not dare cook with the door open lest visitors invited themselves to my dinner table.

No visitors could be easily let in to disrupt my meal of entrails and ugali. I hear ugali is glorified as pap out there in Europe where it is made under unacceptable conditions using a microwave.

As a result, their ugali is soft and watery like confused porridge. My ugali is a masterpiece in culinary arts, and if someone is interested in sharing the same at my banquet, they would rather send me a cheque first or continue to languish in hunger outside.

As I turned the ugali using a long wooden cooking stick, a big piece excused itself from the pan and landed squarely on the naked cables where there was the joint to the electric coil.

What I witnessed next is my only realistic visual idea of hell: fire, brimstone, thunder and bright blue sparks.

I jumped onto the bed to avoid a suffering a mighty electric shock, then somersaulted out of the room. As I leaned on the balcony panting like a rat that had escaped a dragnet, other students trooped out of their rooms to check what had caused the power to trip and throw a blanket of darkness over the entire hostel.

They did not have kind words for whoever was responsible for creating the darkness, but I was not just about to own up to my mischief.


It would take more than an hour to fish out the hostel caretaker from the illicit substances den to come and switch back the lights, and by that time the hopes of having my two-course dinner had died. I bought half loaf of bread and ate with the cold entrails stew.

I still had my takeaway Calculus IV homework to deal with before someone else messed up with the power and threw us into darkness for the remainder of the night.