One way to make a place come alive in our imagination is to use our senses. I’ve asked Stan Graber (Kanyinda) to tell us about some of the sights and smells of Congo.
“I remember the smell of burning tree branches and charcoal–items used for open cooking fires. When we returned to Congo we could smell a village before we got there because of the smoke from those fires.
“There is also the smell of maniac flour cooking and the spicy food the Congolese like. They prefer to cook with hot peppers, tomatoes, and greens. They use palm oil made from palm nuts. The oil has a red color so the gravy is usually red, too. The greens look like cooked spinach.
“They serve this red gravy in a separate bowl from the Moussa or Vidia (pronounced Vedea, long e sounds). They ball up the moussa between their fingers and dip it in the gravy. They rarely have meat, but if they do they’ll use their fingers/thumbs to scoop it out of the sauce/gravy.
“They cook the moussa/vidia over their open fires. They hold the pot with their feet (ouch) while they slowly mix in the moussa flour with an eighteen-inch long paddle. They combine the flour with either corn meal or a flour made from millet. In our region they mainly used corn meal which I prefer to the millet.”
Thank you, Stan. I’ll add a few comments about my experience with moussa.
A kind of chicken gravy is sometimes served over the cooked maniac. Maniac is a poisonous root (has arsenic), but the Africans have found a way to make it safe to eat. They soak it for several days in river water. They dry it out on the river banks or on drying racks made of sticks and pound the dried roots into flour. After that it is mixed with water and cooked. In a way it has become their staple. They serve the spicy chicken broth or vegetable/palm oil gravy over the cooked maniac in the same way that we would serve gravy over mashed potatoes.
My husband’s aunt, Elda Hiebert was a missionary nurse/midwife in Congo. On her return she treated us to a traditional dinner. To me the prepared moussa looks rather gray and dense when it’s prepared. It is very filling. The missionaries and their children seem to love it as much as the natives. Maniac helps fill stomachs when there isn’t much else available, but it isn’t very nutritious. Please keep the Congolese in your prayers. It is a daily struggle for many to get enough food.
I look forward to meeting with you here next Tuesday.