Thursday, July 29, 2010

Learning to cook


(From Friday, July 23) Today was my first attempt at making bidia (the local staple). Let me first emphasize the significance of bidia in Kasai! Nearly everyone eats bidia every day, at every major meal. It is the quintessential food. Recently we heard someone lamenting about a sick parent that she ‘could not eat at all’. When we probed further, the person said “She can only eat rice, beans, potatoes, greens, but not bidia. She doesn’t eat.” Further, instead of asking ‘how are you’, people will sometimes ask the more culturally classic question “Have you eaten bidia and matamba today?” We are often asked by strangers on the street “Have you eaten bidia today? Bidia with what?”

So, what is bidia? For those familiar with Africa, it is similar to Ugali (swahili), or foofoo (French?). Ingredients are flour and water. In Kasai, the flour is a mix of corn-flour and cassava flour. it is served in rounded hunks, and people pinch off a bit with their fingers and eat with other side-dishes such as matamba (cassava leaves). Imagine a large lump of play-dough, without the salt, and that gives you the look and feel of it. We started eating bidia our first day in Kasai, although we did not think we could eat it every day. Within our second week of living with families, we were eating it every day, and rather enjoying it. After a full month of bidia every day (and sometimes up to 5 times in a day!), we were very happy for a return to other foods for a week. We are in our own apartment now, and trying to get into a routine of mixing classic Kasai foods with some that are more familiar to our native taste-buds.

So—today was the first attempt! We have seen bidia made many times, and have both participated in the process on several occasions, so I decided before asking for further coaching, I wanted to try it myself. It has been a process of several days already—first, we had to get a pot. Then, after several attempts to get the large wooden spoon used for stirring, our cook found one today. We still do not have the small plastic bowl used for shaping the mutandas (rounded mounds), but we decided to make do. I heated the water, then added the first wave of corn-flour. Very quickly, I had a pot of lumps of flour—a bad sign! I stirred vigorously, trying to smash the lumps and get it smoother. We called in our cook for advice, and he just advised adding a little salt (which did not seem to do much for the lumps). I let it boil awhile, then added more corn-flour and some cassava flour, and the lumps seemed to smooth out. The dough got very stiff—perhaps slightly stiffer than bread dough. I add a little more flour, and put the pot on the floor. Holding the pot between the bottom of my feet, I stir with both hands, making sure all the flour is worked in.

Making Bidia with Theresa Practicing making bidia with the help of Mama Theresa

Next step, making the mutandas. We used a glass bowl (since we did not have the small plastic bowl that is the standard here), and dipped it in water so that the dough would not stick. We scoop out some dough, then, flip it back into the pot to shape it again, the shake the bowl lightly to try to get the lump of bidia to form a rounded mound. The first mutanda is not too bad, but dough still sticks to the dish and makes subsequent rounds of bidia a real challenge. The dough is much stickier than it is supposed to be, but I’m not sure what to do about that at this point. We opt to push ahead, finish off the dough, and decide we will test it out. The bidia is not nearly as stiff as it should be, so it tastes wet and gross. I try to cover the taste with the greens and meat that go with it, but I still lost my appetite very quickly. Bob ate admirably, declaring “at least it is food!”, and even took seconds of the bidia!

So—it was a good attempt. We’ll have a few friends coach us for a time or two, and then try again on our own. It is an interesting aspect of culture here. Nearly everyone makes or eats bidia every day, and some people find it amusing how much of a challenge it is for us to learn to do it. We look forward to the day when making bidia becomes as routine for us as others in Kananga find it!

Friday, July 9, 2010


We moved into our apartment in Kananga on Monday. It was a much-anticipated move, after 8 months of traveling week to week, living out of a suitcase. We’ve been anticipating this move for many months now, and we are both excited about the prospect of getting ‘settled’. It is a slow process though…we do not yet have a way to cook, or curtains, or a barrel to store water in. But it is such a great feeling to have a place to call home!!

Our first day, we walked to town and bought some cleaning supplies. We are pacing ourselves, getting a few things each day that help make the house ‘functional’. Our quest to get set up is also proving to be a method of learning the town and connecting with people—a valuable lesson! But it does require a lot of patience.

We can lay in bed in the morning and watch the small market across the street come to life…because we do not yet have curtains. We can find some bread just across the street for breakfast…because we don’t yet have a way to cook anything. Bob joked that in the U.S. some couples only have a candle-light dinner once in a blue moon, but we have one every night…because we do not yet have another form of electricity or light. So…we are learning to appreciate the things we do have and be patient about the ‘creature comforts’.

We read a poem last night that seemed rather fitting to this stage. Here is one quote:

“It takes a heap o’ living in a house t’ make it home,
A heap o’ sun an’ shadder, and’ ye sometimes have t’ roam
Afore ye really ‘preciate the things ye lef’ behind,
An’ hunger fer ‘em somehow, with ‘em allus on yer mind.
It don’t make any differunce how rich ye get t’ be,
How much yer chairs and’ tables cost, how great yer luxury;
It ain’t home t’ye, though it be the palace of a king,
Until somehow yer soul is sort o’ wrapped ‘round everything.”


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Good Sunshine

Thursday morning, 6:10am.  The neighboring market begins its mornin’ rumblings, soon erupting into full life.  A cacaphony of sounds, mostly women jabbering and chatting - buying and selling charcoal.  Outdoor stalls omnipresent:  dried fish, cassava leaves, cassava roots, onions, potatoes, palm oil for cooking, and one-of-kind vegetables and sundries found here in central Congo.  Directly in front of the church, on the main road, towards of the edge of town, stand and sit men and women in a sea of yellow jerry cans, emanating the distinctively potent and effusive odor of “malavu a kapia” - “drink of fire” (whiskey!).  Ironically, the #1 distribution point for whiskey in a city of 1 million people stands on the doorsteps of the church. 

6:45am.  A dozen women and men and a handful of children gather inside the still-dark church.  A lantern sheds light upon the frayed pages of the holy book.  The elder reads words from a man named Paul to the humble gathering of simple, God-fearing Congolese women and men, and a handful of children.  An old woman stands to pray and the fellowship closes singing an old hymn.  They sing the colorful chorus “munya muimpe, munya muimpe, wakunsankisha bulelela”- “good sunshine, good sunshine, you have blessed me, it is true.”  The title of this hymn is, “There is sunshine in my soul today.”  This sing-songy hymn describes Jesus as “the chief of heaven” and as “the sunshine in my soul.”  The humble gathering closes with smiles, hugs and handshakes, stepping out into the sunshine of a new day.   

7:30am.  Black charcoal begins to grey upon the babula stove.  Directly behind the pastor’s home, adjacent to the church, we sit in a semi-half circle around the babula to get a little warmth.  Mama Bampende thrusts the the large silver colored pot of water onto the babula.  Mulami (Deacon) Michel Miteba takes the bright yellow Nido can and skirts it on the edge of the babula, edging out just enough space to warm the thick, black, Kasai coffee.  The children sit across from us:  playful, innocent, curious.  Kristi helps wash dishes and I sing hymns with Mulami Muamba. 

7:45am.  The thick black Kasai coffee finds its way down my anxious throat.  Warmness blankets my belly.  Sweetness remains in my mouth.  The thick, cool air of the morning begins to abscond.  Rays of sunlight begin their beaming.  The cacophony of the neighboring market continues.  Men and women with the bright yellow jerry cans continue plying their wares.  Our semi-half circle behind the pastor’s home adjacent to the church remains unbroken.  Mulami Muamba and I continue our singing.  The good sunshine of Jesus fills my soul.  Contentment and peace are mine.  There is sunshine in my soul today.     


Friday, July 2, 2010

Creature Comforts

DSCN3872 There are a few material things that I am learning not to take for granted. At the end of 6 weeks of living with families in Kananga, here are a few things I have come to really appreciate:

1. Water. When all the water for use in the house has been carried a distance on the head of a family member, you learn to appreciate it and conserve it!

2. Being able to wash my hands without having to search for a bucket, and soap, and place to dump the water.

3. Being able to put my feet on the floor (or other things) without having to worry that they will be covered in dirt.

4. Windows that give light in the day-time, and help you know when it is daytime!

5. A good mattress…so that the bed-boards don’t poke you in the back.

6. Being able to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without dealing with a swarm of cockroaches.

7. Turning on a light as you walk into the room…or knowing where the light is, so that you don’t have to search for a match or a flash-light in the dark.

8. Stepping out of the ‘shower’ without trying not to step into the dirt.

Ahh… we enjoy our creature comforts. It was interesting though, that once you get used to some of the different ways of doing things, it doesn’t seem like such a sacrifice. The joys of fellowship and the love that we received far outweighed having to do without a few things. Not bad…just different. :)