How Transformer Oil Made Me Sick And Ruined Mandazis

Ha! Sorry, I couldn’t help it with the title. It kinda gives away the entire plot of this story but I swear it’s worth a read or two. Why? Because CANCER!

Mandazi is a popular Kenyan street food equivalent to donuts
Mandazi is a popular Kenyan street food equivalent to donuts

No, I don’t have cancer…yet! It just seems that this unhealthy, man eat man, capitalist system of ours is conspiring against me everyday. The greedy money makers have decided to kill me by any means necessary! Why? Maybe someone whispered in their ears that should I live long enough, I will drain their fat bank accounts to fill my own. Or maybe they’re just victims of this corrupt system who decided “enough is enough! If I cannot beat them, I will join them” in bleeding dry every Kenyan, killing them slowly even as I pretend to do them a solid by providing delicious, golden, hot hot, mandazis, every morning as they head to work on building the economy.

It has become a joke, how delicious tranformer oil fried fries are…there’s a joint in town, Odeon the matatu stage, Latema Road to be more precise, called New Jack City, where they sell chips for 30 bob. That is a 50% discount when compared to more popular joints like Sonford where the price is Kes. 70. New Jack City is the hustler’s joint, place ‘ya mraia‘ so to speak, where the broke can take care of the hunger pangs at beyond affordable prices. When I was new to Nairobi, I often remarked aloud whilst swallowing the crispy pieces of golden fried potato, at the kindness of these business men out there who were willing to sell their food at a small profit to avoid further oppressing their poverty stricken consumer. Ha!

I was informed one day by a friend that, no, these ones just used transformer oil to cut their costs and increase their profit margin. I promptly stopped eating there. My whole crew just laughed and said I couldn’t escape it, all the uber affordable food joints in Nairobi were that affordable for a reason, they all took very toxic chemical shortcuts in the preparation department. I have tried my best since then to forget this information in a bid to enjoy my food but reminders happen my way every day. From power blackouts where the culprit isn’t Kenya Power but thieves who stole transformer oil and caused the transformer to blow up, to stomach aches after ingesting beans boiled by mama mboga in Soda Ash, and this article by The Daily Nation, Tests show dangerous levels of toxins in foods sold in Nairobi.

I was going through a really hard time trying to manage an attack of my bronchitis. I had been sick for almost a month straight and gone to the doctor who’s said it wasn’t an infection and prescribed me drugs to manage my condition that just weren’t working. I thought it was exposure to cold from the partying of New Years, then I thought it was the construction happening in the building next to mine and then milk, pollen, dust…everything! All of these were eliminated from my life and still my condition worsened. I woke up every morning with an elephant sitting on my chest and went to bed earlier and earlier each day fatigued from the constant struggle to breathe and less access to oxygen. The coughing bruised my chest and back, my legs were in paaaain!

I could not believe it when I read about all the fruits I’d been consuming in earnest trying to heal myself:

Traces of the chemical were found in ripe bananas, oranges and mangoes sold on the streets of Nairobi.

Samples from three leading supermarkets and groceries in Nairobi and Mombasa tested positive for the poisonous chemical.

Calcium carbide is used for welding and manufacture of plastics.

Dr Diana Ogutu, a medical practitioner, said consumption of the chemical could lead to throat sores, coughs, wheezing and shortness of breath and that these can occur soon after exposure.

“More exposure may cause a build-up of fluids in lungs,” Dr Ogutu said, adding that high amounts of calcium carbide could weaken the body and lead to breathing complications.

source: The Daily Nation


But…my problems had started before I started eating fruits. I ate mandazis religiously and hadn’t they also been mentioned as being poisoned?

Mr Anorld Muendo, who makes and distributes mandazi in Roysambu, Mwiki, Kasarani and Zimmerman estates, said the use of transformer oil is rampant.

source: The Daily Nation

I live in Roysambu!!!!

I googled the effects of consuming transformer oil. First, what chemical exactly in transformer oil is harmful?

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of man-made compounds that were widely used in the past, mainly in electrical equipment, but which were banned at the end of the 1970s in many countries because of environmental concerns. 

And of course Kenya is waaaaay behind on saving Kenyans and their environment from carcinogenic chemicals.

What are the immediate effects of exposure to PCBs?

Chronic inhalation exposure of workers to PCBs has been reported to result in respiratory tract symptoms, such as cough and tightness of the chest, gastrointestinal effects including anorexia, weight loss,nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, mild liver effects, and effects on the skin and eyes, such as chloracne, skin rashes, and eye irritation. source: United State Environmental Protection Agency

Exposure to PCBs has also been linked to reproductive problems in women such as low birth weight, and a prevalence to liver cancer in humans after continuous exposure either through the air or contamination of food.

An epidemiological study of women occupationally exposed to high levels of PCBs suggested a relationship between PCB exposure and reduced birth weight and shortened gestational age of their babies.

Two series of human studies that investigated exposure to PCBs through the consumption of contaminated fish suggest that exposure to PCBs may cause developmental effects in humans. Both studies reported an association between consumption of fish with high PCB levels by pregnant women and an increased incidence of neurodevelopmental effects, such as motor deficits at birth, impaired psychomotor index, impaired visual recognition, and deficits in short-term memory in infants.

A study of men with low sperm counts found elevated levels of PCBs in the blood and an association between certain PCB compounds in semen and decreased sperm motility.

I started writing this article in late February. My research findings floored me and the resultant trauma took away my will and/or the skills required to finish it. I cannot tell you the paranoia and hypochondria that surround me now. I cannot trust at all any street food and wonder what sort of unhealthiness awaits me. It’s the classic catch 24, damned if I do, damned if I don’t. How are we in Nairobi supposed to get essential nutrients into our bodies knowing the threat to our bodies that fruits and vegetables pose? Are we expected to become reliant on liver damaging pharmaceutical supplements? Or just chill and wait for the malnutrition to set in?

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