Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kafakumba Kitchen

Lunch at Kafakumba

The Kafakumba Center cooks lunch every day for its 114 employees at this site. When I think of the well-appointed cafeterias in American companies—even the kitchens in local church basements—I know we American women have it made. The half dozen ladies of the Kafakumba Kitchen are amazing. Their stoves are ground-level braziers filled with hot coals. Their roundness balances large or small cooking pots; their temperatures are controlled by the heat of the coals or the position of the pot. One smells all kinds of wonderful things cooking: there is always a large pot of “sheema” going—or maybe the boiling water in preparation for the white corn powder that will be stirred in to make a thick porridge. A second brazier may hold cooking cassava greens, beans, or meat. A third fire heats the teapot, a must in this part of the world.

Much of the morning is given to preparing the relish—greens such as pumpkin, rape, Chinese Cabbage, or cassava, tomatoes, onions, peppers--or maybe beef, chicken, or fish. Everything is prepared fresh, I have seen no cans. Not just fresh, the leaves are smashed in a large mortar and pestle standing on the ground. The sheema requires a large pot of boiling water and a large bag of ground white maize. Two women with large paddles (about the size of small oars) move around the pot in a rhythmic stirring that resembles dance. The sheema emerges after quite a long time as a very thick porridge that people shape into balls with their fingers and eat with the accompanying relish. Creating these little balls is quite an art form, it takes place so quickly in only one hand you hardly notice it.

The ladies’ work is not done when lunch is finished. The clean up is punishing. Large shiny pots cooked over a fire require a lot of elbow grease to keep shiny. Squatting in the dirt, the women keep a little pan of water and a bar of soap handy. Mostly, though, they gather up dirt in their fingers and scrub the pots with the dirt in their hands. A final dose of clean water reveals a sleek reflection and the pan is spotless. Add to that, the washing of 114+ plates, bowls, and cups in the one sink and you have a day’s work. But no, the women continue, cleaning tables and scrubbing floors on hands and knees. They probably go to bed at night and dream about cassava leaves and sheema and doing it all over again tomorrow.

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