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When Cooking Becomes an Experience… in Burkina Faso

  • Polona Vida Čeligoj
  • 8 June 2012

“Taxi, madam, taxi, taxi!” It’s the first thing I hear when I get off the bus. I have just arrived in Bobo Dioulasso, the second-largest town in Burkina Faso. It’s hectic and hot and I have no idea where to turn.

Market in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso

In Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, the market nearest to Kafuli is a full of secret corners and friendly vendors. Photo courtesy of Polona Vida Čeligoj

I ask the taxi man to take me to Kafuli Centre, but he has no clue which direction to take. I remind myself that Kafuli is a small organisation so not that many people know it. Despite its near-city-centre location, it therefore takes quite a few turns and dusty roads to reach it. But it’s all worth the effort when I enter the green garden, kick off my shoes and sit under the paillotte (hut). There’s a cool breeze and the sound from the nearby crowded market actually becomes a relaxing background.

Seydou, the president of the organisation enters the garden with a big smile on his face and shows me to my room. The quarters are more than I expected – there’s a big bed and a beautiful bathroom, which I use immediately. After the shower I return to the paillottewhere I’m joined by Adiarra, one of Kafuli’s founding members and a fair-trade weaver. We chat while eating fresh mango. The fruit tastes excellent – nothing like at home, because here the fruit actually ripens on the tree and not in a container. It’s a truly warm welcome.

The paillotte at the Kafuli Centre, Dioulasso, Burkina Faso

The paillotte at the Kafuli Centre in Burkina Faso is where you can relax and enjoy a fresh mango. Photo courtesy of Mojca Šorn

An Alliance Across Cultures

Kafuli – which in the local Dioula language means ‘a gathering of different people’ – is a local grassroots organisation running a variety of projects, from foster parenting to programs in education, fair-trade agriculture and responsible tourism. Yes, you heard right – it’s small but it actually runs all of these projects.

It started 10 years ago when Seydou met a Slovenian woman named Eva. With lots of ideas and even more hard work they started the Burkinabé-Slovenian collaboration called Humanitas, which, as vibrant today as it was 10 years ago, is a voluntary, nongovernmental and non-profit society for human rights and supportive action. Supported by Humanitas, Kafuli now has a small centre with a library for the local children and a maison d’hôtewhere four to six people can stay. Together with other artisans, women weavers that form part of the organisation’s fair-trade movement sometimes come to the centre to weave. You can watch them work from up close.

Dying thread using natural colours at the Kafuli Centre in Burkina Faso

A variety of workshops take place at the Kafuli Centre in Burkina Faso. Women weavers included in Kafuli's fair trade program can learn about dying thread using natural colours. Photo courtesy of Polona Vida Čeligoj

Experiencing the Local Life

Kafuli started developing its responsible tourism program in 2010, so it’s still in its infancy. Nevertheless, it’s got some really great things going! It has developed an assortment of workshops that enable visitors to get to know the locals, their work, their lives and the challenges they face. It’s a virtuous circle: the workshops bring extra income to the locals and they also contribute to the work of Kafuli. And Kafuli invests the money in new development projects from which the locals benefit.

I decided to try out one of these workshops, to see for myself what it’s all about. There are seven experiences (descriptions in English) from which to choose: Cotton – Burkina Faso’s White Gold (description in French), Secrets of Burkinabé Cuisine (description in French), a Weaving Workshop (description in French), the Lost-Wax Technique (description in French), Mango Faso (description in French), Dolo – Infinity of Taste (description in French) and the ABC of Burkina Faso (description in French).

Savouring the Local Flavour

Since I’m quite into cooking (and especially eating) I decided to go for the workshop on Burkinabé food. I waited under the paillotte, sipping coffee, for my “chef” to arrive. She pulled up on a Peugeot moped and all dressed up, as most of the Burkinabé women are.

Mammou, as she is called, took me to the nearby market, where she introduced me to the stinky strange “balls” (fermented seeds, called sumbala selling all over Burkina Faso, to the peanut paste called tigue-digue and of course to Maggi (bouillon) cubes. That was when I realised that Maggi cubes are second in importance in the kitchen only to the women themselves.

A Special Cooking Environment

After discovering many secret corners and meeting local vendors at the local market, we went to the fish market and then, with all the ingredients packed in a bag, rode by moped to Mammou’s home. Her kitchen was in the garden in front of her house. Kids were running around the garden, together with chickens and cats. We could smell sumbala all over the neighbourhood, so started our own fire and got things going.

My French is very limited, but Mammou spoke slowly so I could understand everything she was saying. It was simply great! Not only did we prepare a very tasty meal (tigue-digue with fish), but I was fascinated by everything “behind the scenes”: the strong women in the compound, the children, the relationships.

Cooking with Mammou was an intimate experience for me. Enhanced by my love for food but altogether: shopping with her, observing the bargaining, listening to her quiet comments on vendors and prices, chatting with her at the courtyard whilst peeling, cutting and cooking vegetables.

Cooking with Mammou through Kafuli in Burkina Faso

Through Kafuli, Mammou teaches everything about local cuisine in Burkina Faso, including how to prepare a stove, this one in her garden. Photo courtesy of Polona Vida Čeligoj

It really was a great afternoon and an excellent opportunity to share experiences, ideas and get to know each other. And what better way to do it than over food! (Thanks Mammou for the best tigue-digue!)

Kafuli is non-profit, non-religious and non-political organisation located in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. It aims to implement social and development activities to benefit the local communities. It works in the field of foster parenting and children education, encourages fair trade, responsible tourism and intercultural exchanges, creates solidarity and partnerships among its members and with organisations around the world.

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Polona Vida Čeligoj

Polona Vida Čeligoj is a kindergarten teacher who enjoys acting like her “clients,” always in motion, searching for creative and funny moments, places and people. She does her best to see things from her own perspective and always tryies to make things at least a little bit better, even with singing.
Polona Vida Čeligoj
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Africa, ecotours, food & drink, indigenous culture, language, local knowledge, markets, personal experience, traveller tale, Western Africa, women,

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