Archive for the 'Dinner' Category

28
Oct
09

A weekend in 2002 on top of Mount Cameroon

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After a carbohydrate meal I went to bed and tried not to think about the next morning so that I could get as much sleep as possible. Another week of work completed but I was not looking at another usual weekend. Last time I went to bed on a Friday night at 8 pm goes back to my childhood. The room at the lodge in the village at the foot of Mount Cameroon was humid and warm.
The AC was noisy but after a while the room chilled down. I came totally unprepared and was not sure if I could deal with the physical strain I was about to endure the next two days.
I thought about how I had gotten myself into this and how the hike would be and I finally managed to fall asleep.

We were stretching our lazy muscles in the early morning sun outside in the garden of the lodge for a good 30 minutes and at 5.30 am we started our hike. Soon we left the paved roads of Buea and entered a path that marked the start of a climb that would go on for the rest of the day. My guide was a cheerful sporty guy who did not have one gram of fat on his body, only solid muscles. While he wasn’t a body builder, he was strong like a horse. He explained how he often climbed the mountain as we made our first attempts up. We started a conversation about the surroundings and the local customs of the people of West Cameroon the region where people speak English instead of French as they do in the rest of the country.

Trees of the tropical rain forest gave us comfortable shadow to protect us from the immediate impact of the burning sun, the humidity was intense and I was trying to find a pace that allowed me to keep my breath. After a good hour’s walk up the steep and winding path I had found my rhythm and began to feel more at ease to respond to the questions of my guide who wanted to know everything about Europe. Like many people in Africa he had a glorified image of the place similar to the way many people in Europe have an underrated view of Africa.
The rain forest was just an amazing place and as we were getting deeper into it I was fascinated by the way the sunbeams colored the place one moment while thick branches of trees provided deep dark shadows the next moment. We were walking under an enormous umbrella where the sun managed to shine through only from time to time.

We were making slow but steady progress up and at around 10 am we reached the first camp on the trail.

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Mount Cameroon’s summit has two peaks one at 4070 and one at 4095  meters above sea level and the trail we used had two camps. Like Kilimanjaro, Mount Cameroon is a volcano, the most active on the West coast of Africa and the climb does not require any specific climbing techniques like one would need to climb some of the mountains in say the Alps. I recommend however to come prepared because the climb is a steep and long walk in humid terrain and warm temperatures.

As we all gathered together to have a rest, I decided not to sit down, but to stay on my feet. I walked around the camp’s grounds and had chats with some of my fellow climbers.
A friend of mine, chairman of a sports club, was responsible for organizing the climb and in total we were about 25 people. We decided not to stop too long to benefit from the relative cool temperatures of the morning and before long we were on our way to the second camp.

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About a good hour after we left the first camp, the tropical rain forest gradually changed into a savanna landscape, and another two hours later were walking under clouds this time, that gave us some protection against the sun. The terrain became rougher and I needed to pay close attention where I placed my feet, in order not to slip and make a nasty fall. Short plants with sharp spines were all over the place and you could easily hurt yourself if you were not careful.

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We reached the second camp around 3 in the afternoon. All this time we had been living off chocolate bars and water and as we reached the second camp ground a nice smell of food was coming our way. Porters had reached the camp earlier and had started to prepare food for the group. We sat together and were joking about the hardships making it this far up while we were waiting for the food to be served. After the meal, I went straight to sleep to regain energy for the final climb to the summit.

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There was a small hut that consisted of four walls with a tin roof, a small door and the entire place was divided into two layers by wooden planks. I decided to put my sleeping sack on top of the planks and fitted myself between two of my friends and fell asleep almost instantly. When I woke up I saw that the place had filled up and underneath us people were still sleeping and snoring.

At 3 am we prepared ourselves for the final part of the climb and with torches we started our walk in an otherwise pitch dark space. Clouds were between the stars and us and since it was half moon the light was very dim. We were at about 3300 meters altitude and the outside temperature was down to about 18 degrees Celsius. Although initially I felt cold, soon I started to sweat again like I had done the entire previous day because of the strain this final part of the climb was putting on me. Walking rough terrain required my attention but trying to walk this terrain in the dark with only a very small light coming from my torch added another challenge to it. Every step required concentration and by now I started to feel the effects of the altitude and increasingly I realized that I had come totally unprepared.
My guide had not shown any sign of fatigue and was walking calmly and steady as if he was strolling in a park. He kept telling me that we were almost there. He started to tell me this at the beginning of the hike and kept on telling me the same thing to encourage me to keep going.

Although the last stage of the climb only took us up another 900 meters, I felt it was worse than the entire first two stages, until just before 6 am the sun came up and I could see more clearly where to place my feet. We reached the summit by 7 am and I had difficulty not to through up. I was clearly suffering from the altitude and from the fact that I had not trained at all in preparation to the climb. After drinking some water I sat down this time to enjoy a magnificent view that was unfolding itself all around me. Slowly I started to regain my breath and to forget my fatigue and I was taken by the way the sun placed a golden layer over this top of the world. We were lucky that there was not too much wind. My guide came and sat next to me and for about 20 minutes we just stared in the distance without really talking much. The morning silence was so loud that we did not want to break it afraid to spoil the serene and peaceful scene.

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After a good final look we decided to start the descent and after two hours we joined some of the fellow climbers who had decided to stay at the second camp. Now we walked with bended knees downhill using a walking stick to keep our balance. After hours of walking this way my thighs were getting more and more painful. It was 6 in the evening when we reached the village again and on return to the lodge I took a shower that I still remember years later.

Once cleaned up, I got myself a good massage before getting ready to celebrate with the rest of the group. Africa would not be Africa without music and dance. While food was served people from the village came to share the moment of fulfillment with us and with my complete soar legs I pulled myself together to join the dancing crowd. Not sure where the energy came from but for a few moments I forgot about my soar legs.

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At 9 pm my friend told me that the car was ready to take me back to the airport. On arrival in Paris the next morning at 6 am, I was checked twice since I was carrying rucksacks, climbing boots while at the same time I was carrying a suit bag and brief case. I did not have the energy to argue much which probably was better anyway. I made it just in time to catch a flight to Montpellier in the south of France, where I had to host a Nigerian customer delegation that wanted to visit our competency center.

The customer asked me if I was feeling alright since I made funny faces when walking. I told the customer that I had overdone the morning exercises a bit. Nobody would have believed my story and I just wanted to get through the day and to my bed as soon as possible. It took me another good week before I managed to walk normally again.

If you go hiking mountains please take your time to prepare and take your time to hike so that you can adjust to altitude effects. If you want an out of body experience that you will remember for as long as you live just get on a plane and get off somewhere near a mountain and start hiking!

© Desi Lopez Fafié

23
Jul
09

African Cuisine for the die hards…

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Do you like spicy food?
Do you plan to go to Nairobi ?

I recommend Handhi’s to you. It means “clay pot” in one of the Indian languages and the restaurant serves a number of dishes using these clay pots. The variety and quality of the food is superb and among the Indian restaurants in Africa that I know I rank it within the top 5.

Those of you who chose to sit inside the restaurant instead of at their terrace, can see the cookes at work through a hugh glass wall that separates the kitchen from the main restaurant dining area.

In East Africa it is mostly the Indian cuisine that offer some very spicy dishes.  The African dishes in this part of the continent are generally mildly spiced. In West and Central Africa however the African dishes can be extremely spicy.

poulet yassa

Poulet Yassa

In Senegal you can order Poulet Yassa, stuffed chicken with lemon and onions served with rice and you have a choice to have some yellow chillies on the side and mix these with the food.

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Africans enjoy their food most when sharing a dish with their family or friends.

Pepper sou[

In Nigeria,  Pepper Soup can be made of any kind of fish or meat depending on your preference.  If you are a Non African Adult with strong taste buts you may try it, but I recommend you take a very small sip first to see how you respond before going for the big spoons.

Pepper Soup

These are just a few examples since spicy food is very common in the West- and Central African cuisine.

Those of you who are not used to chillies should start carefully.  It is an acquired taste that you develop over time and gradually you can deal with larger quantities of chillies or use stronger varieties of chillies.
The Naga Jolokia and the Red Savina Habanero are the strongest versions and contain the highest levels of capsaicin 800.000 – 1000.000 and  350.000 – 570.000 respectively. The Naga Jolokia originates from North Eastern India and holds the Guinness World record. Compare this to white pepper that has 500 units of capsaicin or green tabasco sauce that has about 600 to 800 units.
The Scoville scale measures the heat levels in food by measuring the amount of capsaicin present.

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One of my colleagues from Europe asked me if she could have a sip of my crab soup I was having at a restaurant in Dubai that had made some special orders on our request. Four of us were living in or originated from Africa while we had  two Europeans with us that evening ,my colleague being one.
We had ordered two separate bowls of crab soup, one hot one not. I warned my colleague and told her that this was seriously hot. She insisted.
The next 10 minutes or so all the waitresses were running back and forth to calm the effect of the chillies.
When she recovered somewhat and regained her ability to speak she started to call me names and asked me how someone could enjoy something like that ? We felt sorry for her but at the same time we could not stop laughing either. When she ran to catch her flight she was smiling again.

If you like spicy food I advice you to learn the traditional name of chilly for each country you visit. If you go to a local restaurant as
a Mzungu (white man)  and ask for very spicy food, you may otherwise not get what you ask for. Since not every European or American that visits Africa can handle the intensity of some of the dishes, waiters are careful and will bring you a very mild version of what you requested.
In Nigeria I asked for red chillies and got sweet red peppers instead. So I asked the waiter the name of red chillies in Yoruba. Now I got my “atta rodo”, as they call it and  every time I visit a restaurant in Nigeria and ask for fresh chopped atta rodo I am in business.

An Indian friend of mine once advised me to have some raw onion on the side whenever you are not sure of the food you are about to have. This simple addition will keep you out of trouble in most cases. I realized the effect of it when on another occasion I had dinner with four of my colleagues in a nice restaurant in Ghana. We all ordered shrimps and lobster, the specialty of the house. I was the only one who ordered a salad on the side with some raw onion because I happen to like salads not so much because I questioned the restaurant or its food.  Our host, a Ghanaian did not approve of my addition to this dish, since he felt you should not mix the taste of the fresh seafood with anything else.
The next day all four of my colleagues, including our Ghanaian host were not feeling well and had to run to the bathroom a few times for a couple of days. I was very happy to have ordered my salad on the side and remembered the advise of my Indian friend.
Since then I have made it a habit to order some raw onion every time I doubt the quality of the food.
If you think about it, the Dutch dip their raw herring in chopped raw onion. If you order a steak tartare the cook will propose raw onion as one of the spices to mix the meat with.
I don’t have the scientific proof to back my story but in all the years of my travels all over the world I have hardly ever had food problems and I am grateful for the advice of my Indian friend.

Back at Handhi’s one evening we had ordered more food than we could finish and before we left one of the guests asked the waiter to wrap the food.  I was a bit surprised since all of us were very satisfied and unable to finish but I was soon to learn another lesson of the African way of live.
We walked out of the restaurant and the guest who was carrying the bags with wrapped food saw a poor person walking by.
Without even thinking twice he gave some of the bags to this person.  Before we reached the car he had distributed the remaining bags to a few other poor people that we came across.

Have you ever considered asking to wrap the food to give it to a total stranger in the street on your way home?
I admit I had never done so before but I suggest you try this and I am sure you will enjoy the  experience…

© Desi Lopez Fafié

04
Jan
09

Eagerness to Learn

A boy of about 9 years old walked along with us up the hills in North West Ethiopia. We were on our way to visit some monasteries that were hidden in the slopes of the hills. This way the orthodox Christian communities protected their places of worship from the eyes of different religious invaders. Some of the monasteries were so well hidden that you almost had to fall into them before you could actually see them. Lalibela is probably one of the best kept secrets of ancient Ethiopian times and the construction is believed to have taken about 20.000 men 40 years to complete.
A hugh square trench was hewn from solid rock. The hugh mass of rock that remained in the middle was consequently chiseled out from the inside until a monolithic church was formed.
Similar to places like Petra in Jordan, in the case of Lalibela, twelve churches were rock hewn and connected to each other by tunnels in the late 12th to early 13th century.
A “draft” project was constructed first and collapsed in part. With the lessons learned a second complex was built successfully.
The river Jordan separates the two complexes.

During our climb the boy who had followed us for some time now was talking about life in the village.
I asked him where he had learned to speak English so well because most of the locals spoke very broken English or only Amharic. He told me he had learned English at school.
So I asked him why he was not at school. He told me that you needed a pen and a notebook to attend classes.
Unfortunately he had run out of both and his mother had no money to buy new materials for him.
So I asked again, how much he would have to pay for a pen or a notebook. One pen would be 2 Birr, and one notebook 6 Birr.
If I were to give you 20 Birr what would you do with it, I asked ? He thought about it for a moment and answered me that in that case he would buy four pens and two notebooks. That added to 20 Birr.
I realized that the boy had also learned some basic arithmetic. When I gave him the twenty Birr, ( 2US$) I asked him how I would know that he was going to use it as he had told me. He said that he would come to my “hotel” and show me the purchased items.

The boy ran back to the village and kept running until I lost sight of him.
I started to understand why Ethiopia produces so many good marathon runners.

We were in a remote area a couple of hours drive from a small airport about 800 kilometers north of Addis Ababa and throughout the fields you could see UN bags of milk powder that the UN planes had dropped. A burned out military tank reminded us of the war that had taken place not so long ago with neighboring Eritrea.

The area was extremely dry. Flies were trying to get as close to your eyes as possible to pick up some of the fluid and the only way to keep the flies away was to sweep a branch of a tree back and forth from your left shoulder to your right one. At night it cooled down to almost chilling temperatures because of the altitude we were at while during the day the sun was burning.

In the center of a village five small one-bedroom lodges formed the “hotel”. You had to go outside to use the shared shower. In the middle of the place was an open space covered with a straw roof that served as the dining room.

We arrived in the late afternoon and were welcomed by the owner of the lodge who asked us what we would like to eat that evening and what kind of breakfast we would like the next morning so that he could sent people to villages nearby to get the necessary ingredients.

After dinner we enjoyed the traditional coffee ceremony that Ethiopia is famous for. It’s said that coffee originates from Ethiopia.
Coffee beans are washed and roasted on charcoal and the guests are first invited to smell the aroma that is released from the roasted coffee beans.
Next the beans are ground. A clay pot with the coffee powder and water is put on the fire until the water boils.
The first round of coffee is served in small cups to the guests, as it is the strongest version. Two more rounds of coffee are served, each time releasing a milder version since more water is added.

While the coffee is being prepared incense is lit to chase the flies.

The next morning we woke up at 5 AM because we had a long trip ahead of us again. The boy was already sitting in front of our lodge with his notebooks and pens.
He told me that his mother had invited us for a coffee ceremony at her place that evening. A small cross made from stone hanging at a piece of rope was the gift
his mother insisted us to accept because we had given the boy back the opportunity to attend school and with that his future.

Rural life in Ethiopia is harsh but makes very honest people.

Back in Addis Ababa a child was asking me money at a traffic light. Instead I offered a pen I had in my pocket. The child took the pen and looked confused.
Probably the child had never seen a school from the insight. Some elder children shook their heads and explained that they wanted money instead.
It seemed to me that the influence of the big city on children in Addis Ababa was similar to that of New York or Madrid.

© Desi Lopez Fafié


02
Jan
09

A Party, Dinner or Dance ?

One newspaper headline in Europe some years ago highlighted some rebellious actions against the extravaganza of Christmas- and New Year dinners.

Some restaurants found their food supplies damaged just a day before Christmas and were unable to serve the menus that people had made reservations for many months
ahead of time.
If you ask someone in the West what the ideal Christmas celebration is, increasingly you will hear “a great dinner with lots of drinks”.
Some people spend a fortune for a night out dining and drinking to celebrate Christmas or New Year’s eve.
As such there is nothing wrong with that since this is a personal choice anyone can make.
So what was great about that?
The full belly ?
The headache the next morning ?
How did you enjoy yourselves ?
These questions are not coming from those who had damaged the food supplies of the restaurants but from people in Africa who don’t understand how you can call a party a party if all you do is eat.
In the West people often think of famine when it comes to Africa.
Therefore these questions may sound surprising for some people in the West.
It illustrates again some misunderstanding about the two worlds.
You put on the music, you make sure that there is a big enough space where people can dance and that is all you need to have a group of people expressing themselves joyfully for hours and hours.
No need for cocaine, no need for hard liquor, no need for abundance of food, lobster, caviar or any of the other big ticket items you see on some of the celebrity parties that people in the west dream of to attend and are willing to spent a fortune on.
At a party in Africa of course there is food as well, but the emphasize is not on food nor on drinks.
The emphasize is on sharing a happy or a sad moment expressing yourself.
A local band, with some very basic loud speakers will take care of everything.
If the band has to take a break, scratched cd’s will fill the musical gap and even if the song skips a few tracks the African built-in natural understanding of rhythm makes sure that people adjust without even mentioning it.
And people dance until the sun almost comes up, elders and youngsters sharing the floor,families all coming together, children included who will fall asleep when they feel like they had enough.
Life in Africa is about the family and the community, the year around and music and dance are a bonding force throughout life.

In some parts of Africa there are special dances to celebrate a newborn child and different dances to please the ancestors or to commemorate a loved one that passed away.

This year we were invited at a New Year party at one of the Senior Officers Messes and we danced in the open air under the starlight, together with Captains, Colonels and Generals.
A hugh open space was cooled by a very mild breeze while at 03.00 hours AM it was still 25 degrees Celsius and the dance floor was packed.
From Ndombolo to Salsa to Zouk, all styles of music filled the air and there was no way the guests were getting tired. Sometimes more traditional music invited people to dance as one group and everybody that related to that particular dance would try to join.
It demonstrated from what village or region people originated and they all felt proud dancing their traditional dances that distinguished them as a unique group.
Some tables were only showing some bottles of water, Coke or Fanta, while some other tables were having champaign in coolers and bottles of whine or whiskey but
most of the time that was all you could see at the tables……the guests were all out dancing…

© Desi Lopez Fafié





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