Witold Szabłowski
How to Feed a Dictator

Everyone has to eat, including dictators

We lived poorly, but I can’t remember us ever going hungry. We usually ate manioc, or manioc flour with a vegetable of some kind. Meat was an extreme rarity. My father always had two or three cows, but if he did slaughter one of them, all the meat went to the market. We needed the money to pay our debts; we always owed our neighbours for something. The food eaten by the Luo, the tribe I am from, is quite like the food of the mzungu, the white people. The main ingredients are cooked vegetables or meat. The mzungu eat potatoes; we eat manioc, buckwheat, or rice. Except that it’s not enough for the mzungu to have a little buckwheat or manioc, and a small piece of meat; the mzungu have to bake cheese too, put it on their vegetables, and stew the meat in wine first. Mzungu cuisine is the food of people who want to show that they have power. Because food is power. I learned that from cooking for presidents. If you have food, you also have women, you have money, you have people’s admiration. You can have whatever you want. Our food is the food of people who know what hunger is. We have nothing to prove to anyone. We eat to have the strength to go on working.

While I was living with my parents, I had various occupations. First I dabbled in music; I played the orutu, a kind of fiddle that’s popular among people from the Luo tribe. It has one string, and you play it with a bow, resting the instrument against your hip. I used to earn money playing it at weddings and other special events.

Then my uncle took me out on his boat to be a fisherman. I sailed with him for about two years.

Until one day a hippopotamus attacked our boat. We saw it from afar, swimming toward us. An angry hippo is much worse than a crocodile: it moves very fast in the water. It swam up and overturned our boat, sending us all flying helplessly in different directions. It’s a miracle no harm came to anyone that day, because that hippo had already killed several people, and all the fishermen around the lake were afraid of it. After the hippo attack I said to my uncle, ‘I wasn’t the only one of fourteen siblings to survive just to die now if it comes back.’

My uncle agreed with me. One of his sons, Sylvester, was working in Kampala, Uganda, at a club that was popular with the mzungu. My uncle said I should take the boat to Kampala and find the club, and his son would be sure to help me to find a job.

For us, the Luo, family ties are very important. Did you know that the former American president Barack Obama is Luo too? His father comes from a village twelve miles from here. And even though he has never lived here, Obama often helps his family in any way he can. So I knew that Sylvester would not refuse to help me.

I boarded the boat from Kisumu to Entebbe, and as soon as it docked, I went straight to my cousin.

The “Kampala” club was a very important place for the mzungu, because most of the people sent by the British government to work in Uganda spent their first few weeks living in the hotel next to it, until a suitable rental home was found for them. My cousin was a groundskeeper there and swept the floors. He was very pleased to see me and went straight to the manager and instantly got me a job as a waiter’s assistant. I didn’t know a word of English, but luckily it wasn’t necessary. All I had to do was smile and carry food from the kitchen to the dining room.

What about the hippopotamus, you ask? One day it simply disappeared. People say it must have been the spirit of a warrior who had come to take revenge on his enemies.

Excerpt translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Witold Szabłowski
How to Feed a Dictator

Everyone has to eat, including dictators

Publisher: Wydawnictwo W.A.B./ Grupa Wydawnicza Foksal, Warszawa 2019
Translation rights: Andrew Nurnberg Associates,
Foreign language translations: Czech Republic, France, Holland, Italy, Russia, Slovakia, USA, Ukraine (Jak nakarmić dyktatora) Szabłowski’s other works have been published in Estonia, Finland, Germany, and Spain as well.

The idea behind How To Feed A Dictator is simple, but that’s exactly where its strength lies. There’s a Polish idiom that translates literally as “to get to know something from the kitchen”, which means showing some aspect of life from the unfamiliar, unofficial side. And it’s quite literally from the kitchen that Witold Szabłowski has chosen to present some of the world’s greatest evildoers. Everyone has to eat, including dictators. And so the people who cooked for them had to be highly trusted, and under constant surveillance.

Szabłowski spent several years trying to get in touch with the chefs who worked for Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein and Enver Hoxha. Most of them keep a low profile. The Cuban who cooked for Fidel Castro is the only one to boast about it publicly. He gives interviews to the Western media, runs a restaurant in central Havana and is a local celebrity, which was probably only possible because in the past he had been a comrade-in-arms of Castro and had done his bit for the revolution. But he became a cook rather by accident.

Each of these stories is different, but they’re all fascinating. The woman who cooked for Pol Pot, the Cambodian dictator – the worst mass-murderer since Adolf Hitler, responsible for the death of two million people – talks about him with genuine love and devotion. She still believes he did a great deal of good for the country. Idi Amin’s cook has answered the question of whether the Ugandan dictator was a cannibal thousands of times. His story is incredible in that he survived, despite having also cooked for the country’s previous president.

But the most shocking story of all concerns the man who cooked for Enver Hoxha, the Albanian dictator. For more than a decade the poor man had to take part in daily self-criticism sessions. Anyone who did this unconvincingly might not survive. On top of that, he had to break all his ties with the outside world, apart from the most essential. One time, when he accidentally ran into an acquaintance in the street and exchanged a few words with him, the other man ended up in the security service’s dungeons.

In fact, How To Feed A Dictator is a tale about terror – the terror of murderers who are afraid for their lives, and the terror of those whose lives are at the mercy of their whims.

Mariusz Cieślik Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Selected samples

Julita Deluga
Wojtek Wawszczyk, Tomasz Leśniak
Anna Kańtoch
Andrzej Bobkowski
Wisława Szymborska
Zdzisław Kranodębski
Andrzej Nowak
Wiesław Myśliwski
Jarosław Jakubowski
Anna Piwkowska
Roman Honet
Miłosz Biedrzycki
Wojciech Chmielewski
Aleksandra Majdzińska
Tomasz Różycki
Maciej Hen
Jakub Nowak
Elżbieta Cherezińska
歐菈·沃丹斯卡-波欽斯卡(Ola Woldańska-Płocińska)
作者:沃伊切赫·維德瓦克(Wojciech Widłak), 插圖:亞歷珊德拉·克珊諾夫斯卡(Aleksandra Krzanowska)
文字:莫妮卡·烏特尼-斯特魯加瓦(Monika Utnik-Strugała), 概念和插圖:皮歐特·索哈(Piotr Socha)
作者:亞格涅絲卡·斯特爾馬什克(Agnieszka Stelmaszyk)
尤安娜·日斯卡(Joanna Rzyska)、阿嘉妲·杜德克(Agata Dudek)、瑪格熱妲·諾瓦克(Małgorzata Nowak) Druganoga出版社,華沙2021
艾麗莎·皮歐特夫斯卡(Eliza Piotrowska)
米科瓦伊·帕辛斯基(Mikołaj Pasiński)、瑪格熱妲·赫爾巴(Gosia Herba)
歐菈·沃丹斯卡-波欽斯卡(Ola Woldańska-Płocińska)
瑪麗安娜·奧克雷亞克(Marianna Oklejak)
拉法爾·科希克(Rafał Kosik)
亞歷珊德拉·沃丹斯卡-波欽斯卡(Aleksandra Woldańska-Płocińska)
巴托米耶·伊格納邱克(Bartłomiej Ignaciuk), 阿嘉塔·洛特-伊格納邱克(Agata Loth-Ignaciuk)
文字和插圖:皮歐特·卡爾斯基(Piotr Karski)
文字和插圖:皮歐特·卡爾斯基(Piotr Karski)
羅珊娜·延澤耶夫斯卡-弗魯貝爾 (Roksana Jędrzejewska-Wróbel)
作者:普舎米斯瓦夫·維赫特洛維奇(Przemysław Wechterowicz) 插圖:艾米莉·吉烏巴克(Emilia Dziubak)
尤斯提娜·貝納雷(Justyna Bednarek) 插圖:丹尼爾·德拉圖爾(Daniel De Latour)
尤安娜·巴托西克(Joanna Bartosik)
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Jan Kochanowski
Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz
Olga Tokarczuk
Władysław Stanisław Reymont
An Ancient Tale
Stanisław Rembek
Elżbieta Cherezińska
Henryk Sienkiewicz
Maria Dąbrowska
Stefan Żeromski
Bronisław Wildstein
Zbigniew Herbert / Wisława Szymborska
Karol Wojtyła
Wiesław Myśliwski
Czesław Miłosz
Anna Świrszczyńska / Melchior Wańkowicz
Tadeusz Borowski / Gustaw Herling-Grudziński
Wiesław Helak
Góra Tabor
Adriana Szymańska
Paweł Rzewuski
Mariusz Staniszewski
Radek Rak
Urszula Honek
Kazimierz Orłoś
Rafał Wojasiński
Antonina Grzegorzewska
Józef Mackiewicz
Tobiasz Piątkowski, Marek Oleksicki
Daniel Odija
Bronisław Wildstein
Józef Mackiewicz
Józef Mackiewicz
Witold Szabłowski
Andrzej Muszyński
Wiesław Helak
Bartosz Jastrzębski
Dariusz Sośnicki
Łukasz Orbitowski
Jakub Małecki
אנדז'יי ספקובסקי
Elżbieta Cherezińska
Wiesław Myśliwski
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Aleksandra Lipczak
Jacek Dukaj
Wit Szostak
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Zyta Rudzka
Maciej Płaza
Wojciech Chmielewski
Paweł Huelle
Przemysław "Trust" Truściński
Angelika Kuźniak
Wojciech Kudyba
Michał Protasiuk
Stanisław Rembek
Krzysztof Karasek
Elżbieta Isakiewicz
Artur Daniel Liskowacki
Jarosław Jakubowski
Zbigniew Stawrowski
Szczepan Twardoch
Wojciech Chmielarz
Robert Małecki
Zygmunt Miłoszewski
Anna Piwkowska
Dominika Słowik
Wojciech Chmielewski
Barbara Banaś
Rafał Mikołajczyk
Jerzy Szymik
Waldemar Bawołek
Julia Fiedorczuk
Jakub Szamałek
Witold Szabłowski
Jacek Dukaj
Grzegorz Górny, Janusz Rosikoń
Paweł Piechnik
Andrzej Strumiłło


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Włodzimierz Bolecki
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Joanna Siedlecka
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Leszek Elektorowicz
Adrian Sinkowski
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