December 17, 2007

Learning to Cook in Africa... Menu 4 Hope

My own love affair with Africa began on a 10-month adventure as I crawled across the country with one of those 1980's overland adventure companies. London to Jo'burg in 6 months. How about Sicily to Lamu in 10 months? It was slow going and yet it was too fast; too fast to imprint the images, the faces, the sights and scents of a whole continent. I wrote and I photographed and I drew. It was never enough. I wanted back. as soon as I could. I wanted to recapture the whole year again. I decided to buy a barge in Europe so I would be closer... 25 years later I am still here. Yes, My French Kitchen Adventures began in Africa.

This is a drawing I made on a market day in Niger. 1982. I remember what I bought- a big pumpkin/squash, some peanut spice balls, onions. I made a spicy pumpkin soup to serve my fellow travelers. There were 25 of us crammed into the back of an old Bedford Army truck. The big blue Wolley Trolley. The sub-Saharan markets were magical for me. Colors and scents of spices; bright fabrics and clanking jewelry. I was dazzled by the exotic, humbled by the meagerness. I soaked up the noise and bartering like a drunk.

I followed women home, I asked how they cooked. They made small fires and cooked in one pot whatever was at hand. Sometimes it was a silvery fish from the coast of Togo, another time a pot of manioc greens in the Central African Republic; plantains and coconuts, pounded millet for porridge and beer. After nearly a year I landed off the coast of Kenya and learned about coconut milk and rice, limes and mangoes. I sat in the kitchens while women cooked and talked, I sat on the woven mats with the men and listened. I was a woman but I wore pants. A pair of khaki cargo pants from the Banana Republic when it was one little shop in San Francisco. They had given me a gift certificate to the shop if I wrote something for their catalogue. I guess 25 years is not too late to say 'Thank you". I wore those pants 10 months in a row.

When I left Nairobi, crying, I also vowed to say thank you to all those warm and welcoming people who opened doors to their Africa. How would I ever pay them back for the sort of hospitality that you can only imagine- a bar of soap after not having a bath for weeks, a shared meal next to a fire in the jungle, a stowaway berth on a Congo River ferry, a glass of beer in a campground, a lift on an old Peugeot truck across the Sahara, a bed that their children shared. Payment was never demanded, kindness was offered freely. Most times my hosts had less than me but gave willingly and generously.

I see the faces of Lesotho at Pim's Place, the school children and farmers, the mothers and teachers and I want to say thank you sharing. Thank you for helping me share my plenty with them now. Thank you for helping make Menu for Hope the important grassroots success story it is. Thank you for sharing our food blogging words in the spirit of giving and generosity that came from Africa. If you are one of my friends, you've heard me talk about how important that African trip was to me. If you need an extra incentive to buy more raffle tickets, I'll add my original oil crayon drawing of "Market Day- Niger" to prize code EU25- one of my favorite Cassoulet pots.

Go to FirstGiving to buy your 10$ (or more!) chance for a souvenir of African love and the sharing pot.

One of the Not Potter's Cassoulet bowls.

The World Food Program has more information on their site about the specific program that Menu for Hope is benefiting. Read on!


Christine said...

Beautiful drawing Kate. You had me with the cassole, now I see from David's blog that tarbais beans have been thrown into the pot, as it were, and now this lovely drawing. I cannot resist.

Kate Hill said...

Thanks Christine and best of luck! There are so many wonderful prizes but the best one of all is the meeting those school kids of Lesotho. Let's help make their school day a delicious one!

L Vanel said...

That's really a wonderful story, Kate.