Making Attiéké–A Woman’s Art

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Visiting this compound was one of the highlights of my day.  We heard women laughing and whacking and we went to see what they were doing.  In the back of their compound, we found this work area where women were gathered, young and old, preparing cassava root to make attiéké–the main food eaten here.

I think they were amazed to meet a stranger interested in what they were doing.  I told them I wanted to show my friends at home how attiéké is made and they laughed, as if to say, “don’t your friends know??”

The main food where I lived in Nigeria was also cassava, but there it was made into gari and foofoo.  Attiéké is a bit different, but the preparation is similar.  First you begin by peeling off the bark of the root.  Then the cassava is cut into pieces.  These ladies were working hard and fast.  Even the little girls had big knives and sure hands.

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I think we had 3 generations of women working together here today.  They were happy and I could tell they enjoyed being together.

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I wonder how many headpans of cassava have passed through this woman’s hands.

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The next generations:

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After the pieces are cut, they are washed to be as clean as possible.

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Take a look at this process again here:

These women were delightful and we had a fun time together.  The next compound we came to had just one woman working alone on the next step of the process.

Here’s how Wikipedia describes the next steps:

The cassava is peeled, grated and mixed with a small amount of cassava that was previously fermented which is the starter.  The paste is left to ferment for one or two days. Once the fermentation time is over and the hydrocyanic acid that exists in a large proportion in natural cassava has been removed, the pulp is dewatered, screened, and dried, and then the final cooking is done by steaming the pulp. After a few minutes of cooking, the attiéké is ready for consumption.

This is the dewatering, screening and drying part:

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This is the press where they squeeze the water out of bagged grated cassava:

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Now this woman is screening it:

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Then it will be spread to dry.  The final cooking is done by steaming the pulp in a steamer like this:

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Then the attiéké is ready to eat!  Usually it’s served from a communal bowl with a sauce made from local greens, or tomatoes, onions, and peppers.

In town you can buy a serving of attiéké for about 20 cents.  It’s sold in little plastic bags tied in a knot.  It’s the fast food of the Ivory Coast and everyone loves it.  I enjoyed seeing the process today.  It is no small thing these women do to feed their families.

Living Spaces

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The next compound we came to had some action going on–lots of pounding.  We were invited in and we met these kind men who showed us what they were doing.  The old room for receiving friends and guests caved in.  It was made of mudbrick and thatch.  Today a new room was going up.


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I enjoyed looking at their tools.  There are no power tools here, just a couple of hammers and a box of long nails.

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Two boards are joined by adding a third on top.

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Imagine living in a place like this where you make the places you live in and you grow the food you eat.  It’s a simple earthy life.  But it’s hard work.  I often think they win the prize.  Our new friend showed us around his compound (the women were probably away working in the fields).  He had a couple of coconut palms, the tall and the short varieties.

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He was growing some pineapple.  You can see the new suckers growing here.  If you twist them off and stick them in the ground, they will start a new plant that will produce in a couple of years.

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Did you know that the pineapple starts as a spectacular flower?

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He also had sugarcane growing and he quickly cut two pieces with his machete for us to take with us.

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This compound was full of growing things.  It was like a garden.  You can see the cassava on the left.  This man had no idea who we were, but he welcomed us into his home and his space and he shared with us.  I hope he has a really good day.

Making Water Pouches for Vendors to Sell

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The other day, I heard a strange sound coming from a little shop in Bamako.  I went to investigate and found a young man sitting on a low stool filling large bags with small water pouches as they fell from a machine where they were filled and sealed.

In a country that has no drinking fountains, and really hot weather, vendors everywhere sell water pouches.  They carry them in head pans and dodge between cars in every traffic jam or go-slow.  They are for sale in most shops and from most street vendors.  They are cheap and plentiful, selling for 5 to 10 cents.  Some vendors keep them in coolers with ice, so that when you bite off a corner to drink, you feel really happy to have something cold.

One of the problems with these water pouches is that you never know how safe the water is.  It might be clean, it might not.   It looks like the water in this operation is being filtered before it’s bagged.

Come take a look at this interesting process!

This is a good business to have in a place like this!

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After filling the large bags with the pouches, they are loaded into the back of a Katatani, or a motorcycle with a bed in the back.  Then they are distributed to the vendors.

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Here’s an interesting article about some of the pros and cons of adding more plastic to this world where things aren’t recycled:

And this article will tell you all about the water packet industry in Africa.  It’s really very interesting.



Road Base

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I find this very interesting.  Not many roads here are paved, so during the dry season they blow away and during the rainy season they wash away.  Most streets and roads are filled with ruts and potholes and you always have to watch where you step or where your taxi swerves.

When the ruts and holes are serious enough, someone comes along with a load of  what I’ll call “road base” for lack of another name–it’s just big bad stuff that comes from who knows where–junk piles?  constructions sites?  garbage heaps?  These truck loads are dumped in the roads to fill the holes.  The idea is that people will drive over it enough to break it down into something that will fill the holes and not wash away.

Here’s how it looks after a fresh dump-load.  Notice the toilet is here too!  Our taxi driver didn’t see a large irrigation stand pipe at the end of this dumped pile, and he accidentally drove over it, which high-centered the back tires.  We had to get out and help lift the car off.  I’m curious to see this street again in a few month’s time.

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A Cooking Lesson with the Elders

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Today after our District Meeting then French conversation lessons with the Elders, John spent a few hours working on the branch membership records with Bro Mbaya.  I smelled something good coming from the Elders’ apartment up the stairs from the church and I went to investigate.

For the next hour or more I had a fine lesson in West African cuisine!  These Elders are really good cooks!  They taught me step-by-step how to make 2 different dishes–what they call spaghetti with egg served with plantain, and fish and sauce to serve over rice.

I told them I was a journalist and these pictures were for a cooking article I’d write about them!  So here we go–let’s make some delicious African food!!

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I first asked where these dishes originated.  These Elders come from The DR Congo, the Ivory Coast and Nigeria.  They laughed and said, “it is all the same!  We all use the same ingredients to cook our food!”  There are variations from place to place, but not big ones.

We’ll begin with the fish stew, which they were preparing for tonight’s dinner.  The Elders buy frozen fish at the market.  They bring it home, cut the fish in half, and then freeze it in bags with 4 pieces–enough for one meal.  A kilo of fish costs 1,200 cfa or about $2.  The fish is fried first in hot oil (that’s what I was smelling).  Then chopped tomatoes, onions and red peppers are added until the vegetables are also cooked.

Tomatoes cost 1000 cfa / kilo (1.60).  Onion cost 600 cfa / kilo ($1.00).

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Next they added a bowl full of cut vegetables I could not identify.  Aubergine, they called it.  I had to look it up.  Eggplant.  600 cfa / kilo ($1.00).

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Water was added to cover the ingredients while they cooked.

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Next Elder Kouakou showed me a bag of paste he called arrachide.  Ground peanuts.  Many of the sauces we’ve had here have a peanut sauce base.  I small bag of peanut paste (about 1 cup) costs 500 cfa ($.80).  They used about half of the bag, and stirred it into some water.

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The peanut sauce was added to the pot, and the lid was put on for it to simmer.

I should mention here that there is a propane gas strike going on right now in Bamako.  The Elders’ gas tank ran out, so they had to go buy traditional stoves called Brazeno.  I could tell they were comfortable cooking on these stoves, they are used everywhere.  Electric stoves are the exception.  A Brazeno costs 1,500 cfa ($2.50).  They had two.  They also had to purchase a large bag of coal to burn in their stoves.  The large bag was 4,500 cfa ($7.50)

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After the eggplant was cooked and soft, Elder Kouakou took it and the vegetables out with a slotted spoon and put them a smaller pot where he mashed them up.

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Then he returned the mashed vegetables to the big pot with the fish and sauce.

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Elder Kouakou and Elder Usoh said it was their turn to cook today, so they are the main chefs in the kitchen.  They Elders take turns preparing the food, and they always eat together.

While the fish stew cooked, they put a pot of water on to boil for spaghetti noodles.  They cooked an entire 500 g. package costing 400 cfa ($.65) with some salt.

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After the noodles were cooked, Elder Usoh fried some onions in oil then he added tomatoes,red peppers and some salt.

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To this he added some seasoning– a large Maggi cube (bullion), a packet of chili peppers, and one small bag of curry.

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That cooked and simmered, then he mashed it all up into a smooth sauce.

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The kitchen:

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Next, a few plantain were peeled and cut, and these were fried in about 1/2″ of oil.

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It all smells so good!!

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Next Elder Usoh beat 5 eggs in a cup and poured them into the hot skillet with the vegetables, stirring until the eggs were cooked.  He added a bit of water to this, maybe 1/2 cup.  It made a runny sauce.

Then the spaghetti noodles were added to the egg and curried vegetable sauce and it was all mixed together.  He added another cup or so of water, then put the lid on to let it steam and re-heat the noodles that had been waiting on the side.

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Voila!  Lunch is ready!  Oh, it smelled so good.  And it was really delicious!  The Elders told me this is a dish they make often for lunch.  They tend to have a big breakfast, a smaller lunch, and a big dinner.  There was enough here for 2 meals.

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The fish stew will be served until dinner tonight and served over rice, and the leftovers will be eaten for breakfast.   These Elders were impressive and efficient cooks.  And when I told them I was going to wash the dishes, all four of them jumped up to stop me.  “Oh no, Soeur Lewis, that would be an insult!  We will do the dishes!”

I just love these Elders.  They were fun to watch and learn from this afternoon.  I’m grateful to them for embracing the work and the challenges and for their happy spirits and today, for their delicious food!

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Pascal and his Woodcarvers

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We’ve been doing business for many years with Pascal and his woodcarvers here in Bamako.  We have purchased his beautiful carvings to raise money for the Ouelessebougou Alliance annual benefit auctions in Salt Lake.

I went looking for Nativities and artistic carvings in Abidjan last month, and brought a Nativity back for Pascal to replicate.  He’s holding his version (above).  It’s beautiful.

Many of the moms of the missionaries asked about the Nativities I posted on the  mission Facebook page during the holidays.  I decided to see if any of them wanted to purchase Pascal’s work, so I put the word out.  They were thrilled and already dozens of Nativities have been ordered.  I’ll take them to Abidjan to hold there until the missionaries go home so they don’t have to carry them around for two years.

Note:  these prices are the direct prices from Pascal.  If you see his work at our benefit auction, the prices will be double this or triple this so we can raise money for our projects in Mali.  The point there is to raise money and bless more lives.  If you are interested in contributing to the Ouelessebougou Alliance headquartered in Salt Lake City to help our humanitarian work here, please check this link:      THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!

This has been a fun project and it’s a great blessing to the carvers here who are always looking for work.  Here are some of the pieces we can get:

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Traditional 16-piece Nativity ($85)

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Hut Nativity ($25):

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This Nativity has moving parts.  Pascal calls it a Marionette Nativity ($30).

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Resurrection Morning ($30):

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Held in His Hands ($25):

Joseph and Mary on Donkey going to Bethlehem ($35):

Noah’s Ark ($170)

Woman with Calabashes ($17)

This is a fun project that will provide our good missionaries with a real nice memory of their time here in West Africa.

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