Of Foofoo, Piment Sauce, and Other Culinary Experiences

It has been a busy week in Cotonou so hope we have time to get it all down. We have had several cultural experiences that I think are worthy of an explanation. First, one day when we were teaching with the Elders they decided to take us to a foofoo bar (restaurant). Foofoo is a starchy food staple of life in Benin. It is made by pounding cooked yams beyond the pulp stage. The yams here are at least a foot long and three to four inches wide. They are peeled and boiled and then the action begins! Four ladies stand around a large wooden pot that is about two feet in diameter and each has a wooden pole that is at least four feet long and four to five inches in diameter. They start pounding in perfect rhythm taking their appropriate turn. When it Making Foofoois almost finished the rhythm intensifies and they are about to a perfect 1/8 note rhythm. The finished product is a perfect ball, white in color and about the consistency of roll dough. Each of us received a bowl of foofoo and a bowl of a hot peanut sauce with two hunks of fried cheese in it. I might add that the peanut sauce does not taste like peanut butter as the sauce has hot peppers and tomato sauce in it. You could order meat in your sauce if you wanted but the cheese sounded like a safer bet than the rabbit or the goat meat. There were also a couple other choices but no one had any idea what they were. Much to my surprise, the next step was hand washing time. The waitress brought a bowl, a pitcher of water, soap and a towel to the table, and we all washed our hands. This was just fine so far but then I realized that the appropriate way to eat foofoo was with your hands. The Elders proceeded to show us how this was done. You begin by pinching off a small ball of foofoo, dip it in the sauce and pop it into your mouth. The natives swallow it whole but I couldn’t resist chewing it up first. Surprisingly enough, it tasted really good. For about $2.00 each, including some pop to drink, it made a good meal. I want to learn how to make it as I understand that it can be made from potatoes, also. Incidentally, they brought the water around again after the meal was completed. I was thankful for that.

Soeur Black Trying to bargain herself into a bucketThe Elders are a little better at living “off the street” than we are. They are out of their apartments by 10:00 and pretty much spend from then until 8:00 or 9:00 at night contacting and visiting. We let them try all the new stuff in restaurants that appear clean enough to visit or food purchased from women with baskets on their head and then they tell us what is okay and what is not. Otherwise, we pretty much stick to the “tried and true” at which we are getting quite good at procuring now that we have more experience. Even some of the people at the open air market where we normally go recognize us now and we don’t have to bargain quite so hard for our basic necessities. I am sure we still pay a premium price for things, but we just find it a little hard to try to bargain the price down lower and lower when these people have so little.

On Sunday night all of the missionaries were invited to President Desiree and his wife Vivian’s house for supper. They have two children, Laura (about 14) and Victor (maybe 9 or 10). They were some of the first people baptized in Benin and are the only family in the branch to date that have been sealed in the temple. The President’s sister (who says she is 26 but could pass for a teenager) also lives with them, but she is not a member of the church. They are a really fine family. All the missionaries now consisting of 8 elders and two couples for a total of 12 were invited out to their home. They set all the tables and chairs they could come up with out on the front patio and sat all of us down for a really nice meal. President Desiree is an accountant and probably makes a little better living than some. Even so, that is quite an undertaking for an African family, and I am sure takes a large bite out of their food budget. We have tried to think of a way we could reimburse them some of the cost without giving offense, but given the degree of hospitality it seems to be impossible. When we first arrived, the daughter and sister were cooking outside on two little cone shaped burners that had charcoal inside with pots on top. I felt that they would be great cookers for Dutch ovens. In one they were cooking home- made French fries and the other they were making piment sauce, which sounds rather harmless, but look out with the first taste. She made some boiled bread like things out of cornmeal, and you are supposed to eat them with the piment sauce. That sauce made any Mexican food taste mild. I took a minute amount and just brushed the cornmeal thing across it and that was all I could take. Pete did eat some and really liked it. I can’t remember the name of the cornmeal things but it was boiled in water instead of baked. The cornmeal was mixed with tomato sauce and seasonings and had a real good flavor. Each little loaf was about four or five inches long and about three inches wide. She also made a salad out of macaroni, beets and cooked potatoes and sardines, with an oil and vinegar type dressing. They also served fried chicken followed by popcorn and African oranges. Oranges here are green and are eaten in a very unique way. First, the outside peel is cut away so there is just the white part of the rind left. The top was cut out in a round circle about 1 1/2 inches wide and then you squeeze the orange and suck out the juice. It was a very refreshing way to complete a meal. They also served a drink called beesap. It is made by boiling the dried leaves of a real pretty purple flower. I guess it does not take a lot of the leaves to make a bunch. After it is boiled sugar is added and maybe some flavoring like mint. I really like it and the Elders do , too. In fact, I have a standing order of six bottles per week from Nadia, one of the single girls in the branch. Anyway, the meal was absolutely delicious!

We did get our hair cut on Monday and both Pete and I are a lot lighter headed now. My hair is really short but sure makes the heat more bearable. I was glad to find someone who could give us Western style cuts. The gal was from Ghana and could even speak English. She has been working at the hotel for about 20 years. They washed it before the cut and you can’t imagine how good the cool water running over you sweaty hair felt. It was almost worth the price of the haircut which was about $15. Something like the cost at home or maybe a little more but we were in the nicest hotel in Cotonou so we felt fortunate to get out for that price.

One less happy event happened this last week. On Monday, preparation day, after we came from shopping with the Elders we were in front of the Southam’s apartment unloading groceries and I was teasing a little three year old girl and she darted out in front of a moto and was hit. I was really shaken as it hit her hard and drug her down the road. It hit her on the head and she was bleeding a lot and I was so upset as she was running from my playing with her when it happened. The elders ran up to their apartment and got a first-aid kit, and we put a butterfly on her head and Neosporin on her scrapes. After we got her all fixed up, the man who was a passenger on the moto and the driver came back and handed the mother some money. Boy, did that ever surprise me as I thought they would never be seen again as after the accident they just looked and took off as fast as they could. We went over the next day and gave her some cookies and she was doing fine. When we left she was hanging on tightly to that package of cookies. I was so relieved. It was truly an answer to our prayers. I guess accidents are handled a little different here in Benin than the United States. It doesn’t appear that they have lawyers so it is not a suing society. That is good, but, if you help anyone who has been in an accident, you suddenly become responsible for them. President Dil gave us instructions yesterday that if we are ever involved in an accident we are to drive away and go to the nearest police station. If unable to drive, the instruction is to stay inside the car until the police arrive. We just hope that will be unnecessary instruction and try to drive as carefully as possible. At the same time, we are grateful that we are bigger than the motos that surround us. Mission rules prohibit the use of the motos for missionary transportation because of safety issues. The members, except for the ones who drive a car, use them almost exclusively. Soeur Precious, one of member girls has one bring her from Apacpa (sounds something like a chicken says) which is probably a 15 minute ride and about 3-4 miles. It costs her 250 francs or about 60 cents.

Soeur Black mentioned that President and Sister Dil were here on Wednesday and Thursday. They brought with them the Assistants to the President, Elders Rose and Meggersa. Also the Togo couple, Elder and Sister Gillis. That made quite a large crowd with the 8 elders here and the Southams and Blacks. Elder Rose is from the US but Elder Meggersa is from Ethopia. They are really sharp elders. Elder Meggersa had to learn English for his mission but speaks very well. On Thursday he took charge of the Zone meeting that lasted almost 4 hours. He and Elder Rose also did a lot of the training. Then President and Sister Dil spoke and Charlotte and I were called upon also. After the conference, President Dil took us all out to le Festival des Glaces for Dinner. Glace is ice cream in French. It is a nice clean place that has really good food and also ice cream so the elders were happy as were the adults. President Dil also interviewed us just before we went to dinner. He is being pretty rough on Soeur Black about learning French. He is really insisting that she be able to speak. I think it is great and the pressure is producing results. Already she knows a lot of vocabulary and how to conjugate some verbs. Today she read a scripture in a couple of meetings we went to with the elders. He didn’t leave me comfortable either. I have the task of presenting a half hour training session to the Branch Presidency once each month. I guess if we wanted to be comfortable, we shouldn’t have come to Africa.