Thursday, April 9, 2009

Life in a West African country

Its five months since I moved here to Burkina Faso and I'm looking back rather bemused by the entire thing.

While re location was something that was on the cards, it was more a project simmering in the back than an active one. When it did boil over, it happened at a speed that was unexpected as it was unlikely!

I had just got back to Colombo after a tour of the region, my annual pilgrimage to touch skin and bring myself up to speed on ground realities. But I digress.

Moving here has been a challenge - twice so due to the fact that I have had to grapple with the intricacies of a new language. And that is something that I have always found difficulty in, learning another language.

Burkina Faso, formally the Republic of Upper Volta, gained independence in 1960 from France. It had its first coup in 1966 when the army intervened after much civil unrest by student as and unions. Four years later a new constitution allowed for a military-civil government leading to the election of a democratic government in 1977.

Since then there have been 3 other coups, the most recent one in which current President Blaise COMPAORE came to power in a 1987 military coup and who has subsequently won every election since then.

BF has one of the worlds lowest GDP's, and agriculture represents 32% of the its gross domestic product - livestock, sorghum, pearl millet, maize, peanuts, rice and cotton.

In my five months here I become accustomed to leading a rather sedate, sheltered life style. Ouaga offers little in terms of entertainment, though there is a thriving art and culture scene patronized by western expats and the upper society of Burkinabè.

There is a lively club scene, a number of places that come alive closer to mid night, throbbing with a mix of Western, West African pop and traditional music. What ever is playing, the floors are packed as the night owls party the dark hours away. One interesting phenomenon I've seen across the region is the tendency for the girls to dance alone, facing the mandatory mirror on one wall... for a single guy, this can be a rather interesting spectacle indeed!

Dining out is a pleasure, and with dictionary in hand I've sat down to feast upon a range of cusines from Africa and around the world.

That said, the ability to enjoy a tradional west african staple meal is deffinitly aquired.

A typical West African meal is full of starchy items, meat, spices and flavors. The wide array for staples across the region is made up of Fufu, Banku, Kenkey, Couscous and Gari which are served alongside soups and stews. Fufu is generally prepared from starchy roots like yams, cocoyams, or cassava, but could also come from cereal grains or plantains. Banku and Kenkey are maize dough staples, and Gari is made from dried grated cassavas. Rice-dishes are eaten in the region, more so in the dry Sahel belt to the North. Examples of these include Benachin from the Gambia and Jollof rice, a pan-West African rice dish similar to Arab kabsah, with its origins from the Wolof people of Senegal.

The most popular spice is that of the seeds of Guinea pepper (Aframomum melegueta; also called grains of paradise or melagueta pepper) a native West African plant, were used as a spice.

Both tomatoes and chillies have become a basis of cooking apparently introduced by western cultures

In reality local cuisine and recipes of West Africa remain in local customs and traditions, with ingredients like rice, Bambara and Hausa groundnuts, black-eyed beans, brown beans, and root vegetables such as yams, cocoyams, sweet potatoes, and cassava. Cooking is done in multiple ways: roasting, baking, boiling, Frying, mashing, and spicing. A range of sweets and savories are also prepared. Plantains, peppers and green peas, citrus fruits, and pineapples, are legacy of slave ship traffic between Africa and the New World and Asia.

Water remains the preferred beverage in the region, usually the first thing to be offered to a guest. Green tea is very popular, especially amongst the Muslim population though the consumption of black tea seems to be increasing, albeit in small increments. Palm wine is also a common beverage made from the fermented sap of various types of palm trees and is usually sold in sweet (less-fermented, retaining more of the sap's sugar) or sour (fermented longer, making it stronger and less sweet) varieties.

More to come

1 comment:

  1. how i loved Gari. and what was the stew that you eat with gari? the one with periwinkles. yummy.i remember lazy evenings, nibbling on boiled groundnuts or eating plantain fritters while my father drank palm wine. i miss africa.