30 April 2012

Shoprite, Shop Right.

Big news in Kinshasa. We have a proper grocery store. There was little warning and then suddenly overnight a little piece of South Africa came to Congo. And it's right around the corner from us.

I have to back up a bit and say that way back when, when Adam and I first got to Congo, the idea of a grocery store was as foreign as a smooth road. There was a smattering of tiny shops masquerading as acceptable places to buy groceries. One would have to visit at least 3 stores (often 5) in order to find the basics. No one store stocked affordable vegetables, rice and milk under the same roof. Okay, so there is one store that could be considered "one stop shopping," but the sticker shock is enough to send anyone on a teacher's salary into a panic attack.

So for many years Adam and I would dedicate our entire Saturdays (at 70 cents a kilometer in the TASOK cars) driving all over the city to get a respectable stock of groceries. Conversation among friends often started with, "I saw raisins at Kin Marche!" And then off we would go to find the legend of raisins at a hole-in-the-wall shop in downtown Kinshasa. When we visited the States or South Africa, we'd return with a year's supply of toothpaste, detergent, soap, plastic wrap, trash bags, you name it. Our motto was: If we use it and don't eat it, we personally import it. This was our lives for several years.

Then starting this year, things began to change. Two small-ish stores opened closer to TASOK. And they sold yogurt! And bread! And rice cakes!! (Note the double exclamation points after rice cakes.) All at the same time. We started to get cautiously optimistic. Then BAM! One day a friend sends me a text message, "Have you seen the new Shoprite? I just bought a box of Cheerios for $5!" What the what?!

Shoprite is a South African grocery store chain. When we took up temporary residence there for Charlotte's birth, our Afrikaner landlord referred to it as the place, "I don't go." She preferred the more high class Pick-n-Pay. This is how we knew Shoprite was right for us. It's cheap and a little bit rundown. Perfect.

Shoprite: Kinshasa Edition truly is beautiful. As far as we know, there's never been anything like it here. There's a parking lot and shopping carts that #1 roll and #2 you can put your kid in them without worrying about infectious diseases. There are aisles and aisles of stocked groceries. Sure, there are still the $40 melons and $80 chocolate cakes, but for the most part most things aren't prohibitively expensive.

For example, Adam and I are currently excited about our freezer full of frozen peas. Small bags only cost about $2. This is unheard of. We are now the proud owners of a few boneless chicken breasts for only--I forget how much, but it was under $30, so that's good. Charlotte was mostly happy to see two men dressed up as La Vache qui Rit. Further evidence that this is a bigtime, professional grocery store.

Okay, I'm now realizing I've written perhaps Mama Congo's longest blog post about a grocery store. But I have to admit that as we were walking through I thought of some friends who left Congo about 4 years ago, and what they would think of the city now. And then I teared up a little when I saw an entire aisle of baby gear. Is change on the horizon in Kinshasa? We're cautiously optimistic. There's a rumor that the prices will rise after May 6. This makes no sense, really. But neither do $40 melons.

20 April 2012

Cooking with the Mamas: Mandazis

Mamicho is from Eastern Congo, which is quite far away actually. She speaks Swahili and has a whole set of different recipes from the folks here in the west. I asked her if she’d make Mandazis for us. These are basically East Africa’s fried dough dish. Doesn’t every culture have a variation on fried dough? (Think: doughnuts, beignets, churros, koeksisters...)

She asked Mama NouNou if she could help too since she’s a baker extraordinaire. Here's her recipe and how we made them:


2 tbsp softened butter
4 tbsp sugar (add more of less sugar depending on how sweet you want them)
1/4 cup powdered milk
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp yeast
3/4 cup water

Mix butter, sugar, powered milk and flour.

Dissolve baking powder and yeast in warm water. Add to dry mixture.

Gradually mix together.

Knead 5-10 minutes until it reaches a wet dough consistency.

Cut into rectangles and let rise (about 30 minutes).

Deep fry until golden brown...and enjoy.

--We added a little bit of powdered sugar on top to sweeten them up a bit! And Adam was tempted to take one of our baby medicine droppers and inject vanilla custard. That would have been pretty delicious, but not very authentic...

Baby Charlotte chows down on mandazis in Zanzibar

Next up: A fry-off with beignets. The colonial import/fried dough treat made here in Kinshasa.

17 April 2012


All I have to say is that Sarah started this.

She posted this challenge the other day:
Anthony Bourdain says the only place he's never been and wants to go is Congo. Come on over, Tony.
So, I was all, "I LOVE Anthony Bourdain!  Isn't he great?  What if we could really get him to come here?  Oh wow!  What a super great idea, Sarah."  (I really talk like that.)

And she says, "What are you talking about? I can't stand Anthony Bourdain.  He's an idiot.  I just thought it was good that Congo got a plug on American television."

Sarah and Paula Deen.

Or maybe Anthony Bourdain started this.  He was the one who told Jon Stewart that the DRC was on his list of haven't-been but wanna-go countries. I find it hard to imagine that Tony would need a hook-up (isn't he already friends with Tim ButcherHoly Congo!), but maybe he needs a little more motivation?  So, we'll start the chorus this week:

Sure, Tembo is great.  But, the main reason anyone should visit Congo?  Well, Tony actually said it quite eloquently himself:
 Because it's essentially the same story every week of a guy going somewhere, eating stuff and coming back, we're definitely making an effort to try and get into places like Libya and the Congo to tell some more difficult stories. This is not a political show, but I think that what people eat is, in itself, very political. Without having us tell people one way or the other how I feel, just by showing what people eat and don't eat in a place, and how they feel about their food, and how they behave around their food ... that gives me a lot of satisfaction, particularly when it's places that surprise people. I like being surprised. I like, at my age, being forced to learn stuff. Big stuff and little: learning how to order breakfast in a country where I don't speak the language and haven't been before -- that's really satisfying to me. I like that

Surprise?  Forced to learn?  Is that what you like?  Well then, Tony, COME TO MAMA!

(stay tuned.)

16 April 2012

Cooking with the Mamas: Bitekuteku

Sometimes we like to stage cook-offs between Mamicho and Mama Youyou. And then reap the benefits. For example over break I said, "Wow, I really love Bitekuteku. Can either of you make it?" Knowing full well it's impossible to be a Congolese woman and not know how...

They also think it's hilarious that Adam is the house chef and get a kick out of teaching him tricks-of-the-Congo-cooking-trade.

So here is the first installment of Cooking with the Mamas: Bitekuteku


Serves 2-4 Congolese, or 10-12 Foreigners
2 large bunches of young bitekuteku (or spinach if you’re Stateside)
3 cups of green onions, chopped
2 small eggplants, peeled
1 onion, chopped
4 tablespoons oil (traditionally palm)
2 tablespoons baking soda
2 bouillon cubes
Pinch of salt
Optional ingredients: ground peanuts, fish

Boil the greens in baking soda for 3-4 minutes (This helps it keep its green color.) Drain and rinse (Be sure to rinse off all the baking soda.) Set aside.

Saute onion in oil, then add green onion, eggplant and peppers.
Add the greens and stir. (Here is where "rich people" would add fish or ground peanuts)

Add bouillon cubes and salt.

Cook until desired consistency (add a bit of water if necessary, but usually not.)

Serve with rice, plantains, beans, chicken or comme vous voulez!

Side note: As we prepared the Bitekuteku I swore we didn't really have anything in the States like it. And that the blog readers would be very fascinated. Then Mama Youyou and I were watching Cooking for Real on the Food Network, and of course she was making collard greens. Mama Youyou gave me that, "Are you kidding me?!" look she does so well...

p.s. I just saw that Bitekuteku is also known as the slightly-more-recognizable, amaranth! (Jill)

15 April 2012

Friday List


Anthony Bourdain!  Come to Congo!  We know you want to.  Operation "Tony, COME TO MAMA" underway.  Stay tuned for a week of food posts designed to entice him our way.  We've also got some personal connections we're planning on milking for all they're worth...but, let us know if you have other ideas for getting his attention.

Really?!  Couldn't stop myself from thinking how my kindergartner would fare.  Ugh.  Stop it.

Elias looking out over Kinshasa from the EU offices.

And.  Also in my catching-up-with-the-NYTimes reading:  Thinking about the urbanization of Africa.

Mad Men.  Really want to watch you.

Johan's been (attempting) to download a bunch of music thanks to birthday Amazon.com gift cards.  His favorites?  It's between the new Dirty Three and the new Twilight Sad.    Oh, how I love a good Australian hairy post-rock violin.  Seriously.  It's amazing.


I know that the "French parents are THE BEST" books are all the rage right now.  And that the commenters on NYTimes.com love to hate "wild generalizations" of another culture - particularly when it's somewhat critical of Americans.  Yeah, I read Pamela Druckerman's highly-touted book.  But, I'm really thankful to Karen Le Billon's thoughtful Michael Pollen-meets-Jamie Oliver-meets-really-likeable-mother-who's-also-a-great-writer-and-researcher recent release, French Kids Eat Everything.

I really want my kids to love and appreciate real food and this book was kind of great for me.  I liked what she had to say Friday on the Motherlode too.

Radishes and navy beans, pumpkins and garlic sausage….what French kids are eating for school lunch this week!

And.  I promise the return of the pink arrow when we work out whatever kinks are preventing us from having workable internet on most computers here at TASOK.  For now, it's just too laborious to use one computer for graphic design and another for internet.  Sorry.  I'm a little lazy, it turns out.

Unreasonably excited to be flying Brussels back to the U.S. for summer vacation.  Now, don't burst my bubble with stories about how crappy the flight will be.  I have my heart set on spending my layover in Brussels (vs. Addis Ababa) shopping the Euro pharmacy in the airport.  Gwenyth understands.


Doing a lot of cooking, grilling and baking over break (well, Adam is). Did you know he's a fries expert? Guess the Belgians have worn off on him. His fries are made with such care, our friends claim he names each one. The trick is the double fry.

Played this game, Cards Against Humanity, last night. "A party game for horrible people." Extremely politically incorrect (the faint-of-heart excused themselves early). Already thinking of who will get it as a Christmas gift. Or you can go to their website and print it for free.

Read this article this week. And I have to say, I believe in the power of Epsom Salt. When Charlotte was born, the SA sisters and doctors recommended a "swim in the sea" for its healing properties. I whined it was too cold, so they said bathing in Epsom Salts was a close second. I think I've gone through a truck load of this stuff since.

One topic of conversation at Easter dinner, Lehman's Hardware Store. In the days before the generator, I used to dream of all their great electricity-free appliances.

12 April 2012

Jungle Land

Okay.  I'm struggling with feelings of deep failure over missing a post yesterday.  Sarah and I have researched this and being inconsistant on your blog is NOT THE WAY TO WIN OVER READER'S HEARTS AND MINDS.

But, I will, issue a two-part blame for this incident.

1.) It was not my fault.  It was the Internet.  I swear.
2.) Easter Break laziness played just a small part.  (In that, yes...I could have taken my neighbor up on a kind offer to use a third-party Internet USB thingamajig while standing in the middle of the soccer pitch so that it would actually work and posted a little word to you fine folks.  But, Easter Break eased my usual compulsive sense of misplaced responsibility and I did not do that.)

Instead, yesterday, we went to Jungle Land.

I asked Elias what he thought was at Jungle Land.  He said, in no particular order:

1.) Bouncy castles.
2.) Slides
3.) Metal cages full of animals that the kids can play around but not with.

This is what we found:

1.) Weird bouncy things.  Lots of them.  (Blow-up bouncy party structures are big business in Kinshasa.  We personally know at least one person who owns one to rent out.  She makes a pretty little penny on it too.)

2.) Slides.  Check.

3.) But no caged animals.  Lou was not pleased with this disappointment: 

Instead, my kids happily played with miniature plastic houses like they were at Disney Land.  They obviously do not remember that these things are ubiquitous to American backyards.


Lou & Charlotte bounced on the see-saw for awhile.  No one looked particularly happy, but no one wanted to get off either (except for that poor guy who's job it is to bounce two-year olds on a see saw).

It rained a little Seattle-style drizzle and we went to the inside ball pit.  I was kicked out for being sock-less.  Adam somehow managed to sneak by.  He's such a rebel.

Afterwards, we celebrated our not-an-amusement-park success with the $6 "Business Lunch" at Hector Chicken.  Yeah.  That's right.  $6.  For chicken, fries, and a drink.  In Kinshasa (land of the $18 sandwich).  The owner is terrifying at first, but then gives small screaming children little toys.  Amazing.

You should have seen the sign proclaiming "Free Range Chicken."  Awesome.  Our Hector Chicken didn't quite look like this: (Ack! I need my pink arrow capabilities back...)

Such a funny little Kinshasa outing.  The kids totally dug the huge amusement park and fancy fast food.

10 April 2012

Les Pâques and Hot Cross Buns

Today's post was supposed to be so much more interesting, witty, and intriguing.  But. After hours of wrestling with my frenemy, "The Internet in Kinshasa", who has repeatedly erased all of my eloquent words and thoughts, I leave you with these photos (the only ones that would load).

There was also a small car-chase episode on the way home from the grocery store this afternoon, that leaves me a bit tired.  Don't worry, I'll tell the story later.  It's a good one.  Which involves Mama YouYou telling Sarah and Adam that "I think Johan is just about to get beat up by an angry woman!" (Don't worry.  No one was injured during the creation of this keepsake memory.)

On a calmer note, here are a few photos from our sweet, simple Easter:

Marbled eggs.  Our teacups will never be the same...

Our Hot Cross Buns.

Hot Cross Buns.  I got in my mind that we must make these little treats this Easter. I had toted back bags of currants from South Africa last Christmas and they needed to be used in a worthwhile manner to justify the effort (and the extra bag I bough to carry them, and other "necessary" foodstuffs back with us to Kinshasa).  I got myself into trouble, however, when trying to be overly thorough in explaining the buns to Elias - who was helping me make them.  Hot Cross Buns have a complicated past, it turns out.  My small helper lost interest when I told him to "hold on, I need to Google this."

So, I sang the song instead.

9 April 2012

The Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra (or their real name, l'Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste)

What's an advantage of being up sick at 3am? I'm not competing for bandwidth and can stream this story that aired on 60 Minutes. Well, it's loading at record speed of about 7 seconds at a time.

Adam and I were a little worried Mike Wallace's death would preemt this much anticipated story, but thank goodness this orchestra got some American press. There's a semi-well known documentary that came out a few years ago about them, Kinshasa Symphony. But it's in German. The most fascinating parts of the film show the musicians repairing already crummy instruments with things like pieces of a bicycle and old tire parts.

What the film skimmed over and the 60 Minutes piece left out entirely, is that this orchestra is made up of Kimbanguistes. Kimbanguism is pretty bizarre branch of Christianity founded by their prophet, a Congolese man, Simon Kimbangu. Its official name is L'Église de Jésus Christ sur la Terre par son envoyé spécial Simon Kimbangu, or The Church of Christ on Earth by His Special Envoy Simon Kimbangu. Has there ever been a better title?

May 25th is their Christmas. Last year I happened to be driving (okay, riding I'm not that brave) to the airport on that day. Along the entire route Kimbanguistes were marching, dressed in green (notice all the green in the 60 Minutes piece?), playing instruments. Traditionally they walk between two points, which are probably at least 30 miles apart. They sing and dance and play music all day carrying banners with Kimbangu's face on them. I tried to interview my driver about their beliefs, but he gave me the French equivalent of, "I have no idea why they do that. They're weird."

Our neighbor and teacher at TASOK practices with the symphony every Friday. We see him cramming his enormous cello into a tiny Jimmy and rattling down the road to practice. He says they're very welcoming, but he isn't allowed to officially perform. They've gotta keep up their claim to fame of being the "only entirely black orchestra in the world." I think that's awesome.

In two weeks they happen to be playing at TASOK for a fundraiser. I'm not sure we can afford the tickets. We'll probably just sit on our porch and listen.

P.S. Can 60 Minutes please win an Emmy for making perhaps the ugliest, fluorescently-lit, Congolese warehouse look beautiful? Those are some amazing cameras.
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