What food choices do new immigrants in cities make?

Today, we follow Marko from an urban town into a city. Marko represents millions of people in rural Africa, relocating from familiar environments into urban centers. I follow Marko, to establish the food choices he makes, and the effect on his health and overall well-being.

It has been eight months since Marko arrived in the city for his new position as a treasurer. Though he had been making frequent phone calls to his extended family, his parents wished and waited for his visit to the village.

Marko took a week’s vacation and traveled 600 kilometers to his home village. His father was more than excited, that his son had not only come to visit, but was driven home in one of those dark-coloured cars; colour of authority. Marko’s mother was happy and sad at the same time; her son had gained a lot of weight in less than a year.Did that mean she had not been feeding him well while he lived in the village, and later in their local town?

Marko created confusion among family members when he explained of his busy schedule in the city. “I work in a big office on the 32nd floor of a huge building. I have a driver who drives me from home every morning and back in the evening. I spend most of my working hours either at my desk, verifying and signing paperwork, or at meetings with other officials. Sometimes I spend weekends at conferences and workshops. On other weekends, I join friends to eat nyama choma, barbecue meat, at one of the many joints in the city.”

Marko answered questions on when he gets to tour the city, how easy it was for others to find employment in the city, if people in the city consumed food items like those of the village people, and more.

The biggest surprise was when Marko asked for indigenous vegetables, sweet potatoes and millet ugali to be his main food while in the village. He explained his request as the foods he had missed most, while in the city.

Marko then provided a summary of his regular meals in the city: breakfast was limited to a cup of tea with bread covered by a spread of margarine. Lunch varied between rice, chapatti or ugali with meat or chicken and vegetables; depending on which of the many lunch meetings he would be attending.

His dinner was mainly a take away ready-to-eat food on his evening ride home. On arrival home, he consumed the food while he watched TV, then retired to bed for the night. Marko’s younger audience listened to the stories with envy, while his mother’s thoughts were limited to, “my son needs a wife, to prepare food for his meals.”

It was a short visit, one week of vacation in the village. On Sunday morning, Marko’s driver arrived and struggled to fit Marko's items into the large car: Marko’s mother harvested three large bananas, packed a 30kg bag of maize flour, 20kg bag of millet flour, indigenous vegetables and two live hens. Relatives, such as aunties and older cousins, brought in their share of food items; an indirect thank you for the gifts Marko brought for them from the city.

On the return journey to the city, Marko informed his driver that they would share some of the food. The driver lived with his wife and children in the city.

On Tuesday morning, Marko resumed duty in his busy office. Feeling refreshed after the vacation, he voluntarily extended his working hours from 7:30 in the morning to 7:00pm, on many days of the week.

Over the weekend when he met with his city friends, some of them wondered why he had lost some weight from just a one week visit to the village, with some holding back thoughts of, “maybe he comes from a poor household, where food is limited to few meals a day!”

Have you ever gone to a rural home for vacation, ate many meals a day, but ended up losing weight? What are your thoughts on the cause?