Thanks to everyone who attended Heart for Congo. It was awesome!
In this podcast we talk about how we were all blown away by the Wacongo Dance Company.
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Last Friday we were honored to serve as dinner hosts for some Congolese friends who live in Pittsburgh. We discovered that the Wacongo Dance Company are good company, indeed; in this podcast I speak with two of the music, drumming, and dancing group's leading members, Anicet Mundundu and Elie Kihonia.
Last Friday we made good on our promise to treat the WACONGO Dance Co. to a traditional Congolese dinner, and on this week's podcast, Jeff said that I'd share the recipes I prepared. If you haven't listened to the podcast yet, click here and bend an ear! You'll hear some good conversation with guests Elie Kihonia and Anicet Mundundu. Below you'll find not only the recipes you can use to make a Congolese feast of your own, but get a peek into our post-fundraising-event celebration.
If your mind is on how you can learn something about this regional cooking, click on The Congo Cookbook to browse an online storehouse of recipes from all over Africa. Some may be easy to pull together with a few substitutes, but others require ingredients that you might not find in your corner market--especially if you live in rural areas; however, if you live in a place like Pittsburgh, there are some world food markets around that stock things like palm oil (standard cooking oil for most traditional dishes I know), gari (cassava powder), plantains (cooking bananas), cassava leaves (greens), and maggi cubes (a type of flavoring/vegetarian boullion).
In particular, gari (or, what we called bugali) might strike the American palate as unusual. I know the kids dining at the table who'd grown up here in the US were unfamiliar with it, and went for the rice instead (a popular plan B that goes with all the sauces). Bugali a dough-like starch made with precooked cassava powder. You have to mix the powder vigorously and long with boiling water until it's the proper consistency--not too soft (otherwise it gets sticky); it needs to be just firm enough that you can easily tear off small pieces and press a thumb dent in the middle; while dining, it works almost like a small, edible spoon. This is what you dip in various sauces. It's hard work to make bugali right. In Swahili the verb you use is "kusonga" which means "to press" or "put pressure on" the bugali. It's more of a kneading action than anything else. I miss having the proper tools--what I really need is a big, sturdy wooden spoon, but I made do with a metal one--which I bent rather badly by the end. Here is a glimpse of the process and the final product (part of it, anyway).
In addition to the base starches bugali (gari), and rice, here are the main dishes I prepared:
Eating together is more than eating together--particularly in Congolese culture; when you feed someone or eat someone's food, you have an opportunity to show trust, appreciation, and care, and to really enjoy each other's company during moments of nourishment and satisfaction. Also, to my particular taste, this kind of eating is not pinkies-up, but rowdy and full of fun, laughing, and talking. Teasing each other and trying to make each other fat is a constant source of amusement. At the beginning of the meal, when I welcomed everyone to the table, I dictated that no one would be allowed to rise again unless they had gained at least five pounds. The response suggested our guests happily accepted the gustatory challenge. Last time Jeff and I were in Congo, force-feeding was a source of 60% of the humor at the dinner table. After we were completely full, Bizi would trick us into eating a little more by sneaking a portion of something onto our plates using clever variations of the tried-and-true "look over there!" technique. After a bout of retaliation, during which Clementine (Bizi's wife), Jeff and I collaborated to saddle Bizi with an extra potato on a night he was particularly full, I remember him crying out, in defeat, "Who did this?!" When we all grinningly pretended ignorance, he waved a finger at all of us and said "tomorrow I will be more vigilant... unfortunately, I will also not be here" (he had a dinner engagement elsewhere the following night). Then he forced down his potato before collapsing in a heap on the couch.
It was our great pleasure to personally thank the WACONGO Dance Company for their brilliant performance at our event (the video of which we will make available on the site soon) and to enjoy their excellent company. As we work to partner with Congolese who are making good changes in the Congo, it's also important to us that we make connections and network with Congolese who are doing the same here in Pittsburgh. The WACONGO Dance Company and Afrika Yetu clearly enrich this city with their services and their talent. Now that we know them a bit better, we are pleased to call them not only partners in our efforts, but friends.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo -- a vast, resource-rich, yet underdeveloped and war-torn nation in central Africa -- is one of the poorest countries in the world.
A Pittsburgh couple with deep ties to the region, Becky and Jeff Cech, have decided to do something to help. "Heart for Congo" is a cultural event and fundraiser supporting a teaching project in the Congo, featuring a silent auction of art, Congolese snacks, crafts, short films, and a performance by the Wacongo Dance Company, a traditional Congolese dance and music ensemble. The event is Saturday at the Paramount Pictures Film Exchange, a historic building in Pittsburgh's Uptown neighborhood.
The silent art auction features donated works from primarily local artists, including James Simon, Christo Braun, Tim Oliveira and Pat Perry. Proceeds benefit the Congolese Advocacy Memorial Project (C.A.M.P.) Fund, which supports a rural nursing school, medical aid organization and teaching projects.
This year, C.A.M.P. is collaborating with a Congolese university on "The Jitoe Project," which seeks to help build Congo's professional class. In Swahili, Jitoe means "give of yourself," an expression that describes gifts of time, service and talent The Cechs will contribute their professional skills for a year in the Congo. Jeff Cech, who recently earned a master's degree in journalism and media arts from Duquesne University, will teach classes at the Universite Chretienne Bilingue du Congo (UCBC) in broadcast journalism and media ethics.
Becky Cech, a Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh, grew up in a rural area of the Congo, where her father was a hospital administrator and headmaster of a nursing school. She plans to teach writing and African literature at UCBC.
"Heart for Congo" will last from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday. The Paramount Film Exchange is located at 1727 Boulevard of the Allies, with an entrance on Miltenberger Street. Admission is $5. Details: www.congostory.org.
John Prendergast, Co‐Founder of the Enough Project, an initiative to end genocide and crimes against humanity, gave a talk at the University of Pittsburgh on February 23, 2011. He offered some excellent advice for individuals committed to ending human rights abuses, encouraging all of us to get involved and take action; his work compliments the CAMP Fund goals, and he has good, practical advice for ways to help that
He will be speaking about sexual violence in D.R. Congo in the Frick Fine Arts Building on Mon., Feb. 28, 2011 at 7 p.m. He will also be showing the film The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo. In it, Lisa F. Jackson, a film-maker who was herself a rape victim, tells her own story and invites Congolese women to offer theirs. Jackson's aim is to help her audience understand this particular dynamic of war in the DRC .