Garang's former chef savours South Sudan's independence
- 1 September 2011
- From the section Africa
Most chefs risk little more than the odd near miss chopping vegetables - but David Onsare isn't just any cook.
The Kenyan was the personal chef to the late South Sudanese hero and rebel leader, John Garang.
Now Mr Onsare prepares fancy dishes in one of the finest hotels in Juba, the capital of the world's newest country.
But before South Sudan gained its independence, he made dangerous journeys with Garang, the visionary rebel leader, preparing his food at every stop.
He got the unusual job after preparing what he calls "delicious food" for Garang at a Kenyan hotel he was working in.
The large bearded man sent his advisors to ask for a meeting.
"I didn't know who he was, I had to ask him. He said: 'I'm a rebel in South Sudan.'"
Mr Onsare overcame his fears, and agreed to work for Garang, for whom he has nothing but fond memories.
"He was a genius, a really lovely guy, a determined person. He liked laughing with people, he liked joking.
"I used to advise him to eat greens, so he didn't get gout. I told him: 'You are a person of great vision, you need to eat things that will not paralyse your legs.' He said: 'That's very good, are you a doctor?' I said: 'Yes, I'm a doctor of food."
The Kenyan learnt to cook Southern Sudanese delicacies like okra from watching southern women cooking.
Mr Onsare also says Garang liked spinach, and some western dishes.
He carried the rebel leader's bag, as well as the herbs and spices he needed to cook.
Moments of tension
This most unconventional of jobs had its nervous moments.
"Of course, sometimes you have tension. I am not a soldier, but I used to put my God ahead, because we could be attacked.
"He would say to me: 'Don't worry, I have enough soldiers.' So I used to move with him."
Cooking in some fairly rudimentary locations wasn't easy though.
"Now I have a kitchen, but in the past I used to cook under the trees," he says.
"I used to carry ingredients back from Kenya, I even took powdered milk to America because that is what he was used to."
He also imported chickens in boxes of ice from Kenya, which lasted for a day or two in the humid South Sudanese heat.
The fruits of independence
John Garang's two-decade long fight for greater rights for Sudan's marginalised people seemed to be nearing a successful conclusion when he signed a peace deal with the government in Khartoum in 2005.
But just a few days later he died in a plane crash, to the dismay of many, and to Mr Onsare's great sorrow.
"He was like my father," he explains. "So when he died I felt lonely, I felt bitter. I shaved my hair in mourning, because of him."
Six years later, South Sudan became independent, following a referendum created by the peace deal Garang had fought for.
Garang's vision had been of reforming Sudan, not breaking away from it. He spoke of a free country where differences would be tolerated.
So how did his former cook think Garang would feel about the new nation?
"Wherever he is now, he can see what he talked about has come true. The people are enjoying the fruits of independence."
Life for Mr Onsare is good too - he's now the head chef at the Logali House hotel.
Just as South Sudan is trying to move away from the years of war, he is enjoying the benefits of peace - in his case, a clean, well-ordered kitchen, with a roof.