Kibuye Kitchens

by Julie

When people ask me what I miss about living in a developed country, my answer is usually: restaurants. I love going out, looking at menus, visiting local dives, trying new things, sitting in coffee shops. I love traveling to new places by soaking in the atmosphere of a restaurant – the lighting, the music, the smells, the sounds of sizzling coming from the kitchen. And ok, I’ll admit it, I like going out because it means I am not cooking or doing dishes! I finish my meal and someone magically whisks away the dirty dishes and I enjoy a cup of coffee and possibly a yummy dessert. Going out to eat has always been a treat, but since living in rural Burundi for almost a year, I have really come to appreciate the luxury of restaurants!

So what DO we do for meals here at Kibuye? Without restaurants or any prepackaged, frozen, or boxed food options, planning ahead is a must for every meal. I am definitely not a chef, but I have learned so much about cooking – and life in general – from the other women on our compound.
With limited ingredients available locally, these women amaze me in their creativity and “can do” attitudes! What they can prepare, some days without electricity or running water, is inspiring.

We all hail from different parts of the US, Canada, or UK, so each of us have different dishes that we cook to make our homes feel like “home”. For me it’s cornbread in a cast iron skillet when I’m homesick.  For Lindsay it’s the days-long process of making sauerkraut. Even with our different “specialties” and “go to” dishes, we all use the same basic ingredients, so there are some similarities in our weekly menus.

Breakfasts are usually oatmeal or zucchini bread, eggs and whatever type of fruit is in season. Bananas are plentiful and always a favorite! Very rarely someone will make a treat like donuts on a weekend, but ohhhhh, there is nothing better than biting into a piping hot homemade donut! Unfortunately (or fortunately?) they are very time consuming to make, so for the most part – we try and keep it simple.

All the Kibuye families seem to have the staple “rice and beans” at least one day per week. There is one type of bean produced locally and we all buy about 1 kilo dried beans every week. The dusty beans must be carefully inspected by hand before soaking because the bag is peppered with sticks, rocks, dirt and little bugs who love to burrow inside the beans. But they are very affordable, as is the rice. Many families have a big batch on hand not only for their family, but also to help feed the Burundian househelpers, gardeners, and night guards who help us with everyday life.

Another dish that appears almost weekly in most of our kitchens is pizza! Pizza has always been a favorite of mine. But I must admit I liked it because it was so easy. I could order right from my phone, wait about 40 minutes for the doorbell to ring, serve it on paper plates, and voila! Easy delicious meal with no clean-up!

Here in Burundi, “pizza night” is still just as fun, but it is anything but easy. If you have ever made your own pizza dough, you know it must rise, be rolled out, and placed on a carefully prepared pan. None of us have pizza stones, so most pizza at Kibuye is baked on a rectangular cookie sheet. We make our own pizza sauce from tomatoes grown locally, but Italian seasoning is not something you can buy here, so we have all packed some in our suitcases (or asked visitors to bring some with them!).

The cheese stands alone
We can purchase only one type of cheese in a shop about 30 minutes away. It is generic in its flavor, probably best described as a cousin to Colby or perhaps a very mild cheddar. So it’s not exactly mozzarella, but it’s our only option, and it works for us! Popular pizza toppings among the families are green bell peppers, onions, pineapple, and sometimes imported canned mushrooms or olives. Pepperoni is a rare treat from America that gets used only for special occasions!

Making pizza by flashlight
All meat, for that matter, is sort of a “special occasion” thing. There is a boucherie (butcher shop) about three hours away in the capital city, Bujumbura, but getting meat up the hill to us is no small feat. Someone from our team goes to Bujumbura at least once a month, and they may go by the boucherie, but there are many obstacles. The shop is not open on Sundays, and we tend to go to Bujumbura on the weekends. When we do buy meat, we put it in a freezer bag, which sits in a hot car for a few hours driving up the hill. We must put it in the freezer the moment we arrive at Kibuye, but often our refrigerators are without power for 12+ hours, so the meat may not sufficiently freeze quickly enough. I have unfortunately thrown out more precious meat than I would like to admit, so we have learned not to buy that much, and don’t depend on having meat a lot. The whole compound is either full-time or part-time vegetarians, by necessity if not by choice.

We make sure our families are getting protein from non-meat sources, but this highlights one of many reasons there is so much malnutrition in Burundi. If our families, who have refrigerators, electricity, cars, and money, struggle to get protein into our diets, imagine how much more difficult it is for the average Burundian to incorporate meat into theirs!

Some Burundians might periodically buy a goat kebab, or brochette, sold at a local stand in our village. They are really tasty, and it’s fun to watch them cook, but you need to buy them on the right day, at the right time, if you want good meat!

Some days I can allow my mind to drift away to large grocery stores and cool restaurants. I can even feel sorry for myself at times that I don’t have everything at my fingertips like I used to. And yet, when I look around me, it seems almost ridiculous the amount and variety of food that I do eat here compared to the Burundians we see every day. It is a paradox. In some ways we feel like we “do without”, but we know we also have much more than is necessary. So this is what we grapple with. Even food reveals our sin nature. But we carry on, being thankful for what we have and letting ourselves splurge on occasion without guilt.

We appreciate your prayers as we daily face the severe poverty around us, wanting to help, but wanting even more to help empower the future leaders of this nation to care for their own. Pray for our families. Pray that our homes and dinner tables will be places of peace, laughter, and thankfulness.

And if you ever come visit us in Burundi, you will have the opportunity to taste African rice and beans and goat brochette from the village, but you may also be surprised by the culinary creations you will find in any of our homes!

Bon appetit! 

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