For the first seven months since my arrival here, there was a large hole in the middle of the city. The central market was under refurbishment and surrounded by a metal fence. Meanwhile, the market was displaced out the east end of downtown. Now finally, and with much controversy, the market is once again the beating heart at the center of Kisangani. (People are saying that the refurbishments weren’t at all significant but a lot of money was “spent” over a long time.)
I made my first shopping trip there yesterday. Unlike my memories of the temporary market, punctuated by unpleasant odors and cramped aisles and the occasional chicken shoved in my face, the new market was a delight. The aisles are still cramped and muddy. But this time the odors were almost all pleasing… wonderful even. I’m in a land where the division between natural foods and long-life-over-processed-powdered-reconstituted-and-concentratred is very much clearer than it is in the USA. I have enough food here, but I do experience things like scarcity. If I have chicken, I know that it came from a small operation and not a corporation. Warning: vegetarian friends stop reading now. Unlike any other time in my life, sometimes when I see an animal walking alongside the road, I’m hungry enough to think, “That would probably taste good.” I think it’s a good thing in the sense that I know where my food is coming from and it’s not the freezer aisle at the supermarket. (Don’t worry; I’m not attacking innocent, unsuspecting animals with a fork!) But I digress…
I went to the market with Jean and John to buy the ingredients for a party I hosted last night. I invited about fifteen friends to celebrate the American holiday of Thanksgiving and my birthday. We bought bananas, plantains, raw peanuts, beans, onion, garlic, spices, chives, pasta, green beans, potatoes, “Thompson” fish, beef, milk powder, cheese and a pineapple. John’s brother Dieu joined us just as we hauled everything up to the apartment and started our frenzy of washing, slicing, boiling, frying, browning, roasting and baking. For just this one Saturday it was my apartment emanating the marvelous odor of delicious food.
The guests ranged in age from about two to sixty-two. The youngest were Jean’s two boys and the oldest was probably Papa Wembonyama; who wore a large blue party hat. We sang a praise song together and Nono blessed the food. I briefly explained the idea of Thanksgiving Day in the USA and that each of the guests had been invited because I am thankful for them. I’m thankful for the ways that they have welcomed me to Congo and offered me their friendship.
I introduced the mashed potatoes explaining that they are the closest thing we have to American “fufu” which is a staple food made from cassava root and that more or less visually resembles, well… mashed potatoes. Several of the guests had never tasted pasta before, and they liked Jean’s pasta casserole enough to completely empty the pan. Later, Jean told me how good that made him feel while beaming a smile of satisfaction. I felt the same way, knowing how valued food and fellowship is here and how much it means to guests to be invited for a meal. I’m glad that it went so well!