” I don’t get it,” a friend of mine said, “you and that girl from Niger, whats her name ? Your best friend ? You two, you seem to be the only ones who are picking up weight in Mali ?
” Martina, her name is Martina, ” I replied a little thoughtful because he had rightfully told the truth.
It was obvious! I was picking up a kilogram for every year because AICHA CCOOKED ! Aicha cooked up a storm in my kitchen day and night. After having employed a life time guard, my resistence to having further people around me and taking over necessary daily tasks had been broken down by African logic and was close to zero. A personel guard could not be topped! Or only by a cook !
In my first week in Nara, a young woman had been coming to my house for three consecutive days to see me. The first two days I had stayed too long at the office and she was already gone when I came home which was not good, so I was told by Kodjo, but on the third day she was still sitting in front of my house when I hurried home earlier from work not to upset Kodjo again. Aicha ! A beautiful name and a beautiful woman.
” Aicha wants to cook for you ” , Kodjo said. ” She is a good cook, and you have to eat. “
That was definitely true and I had not been eating a lot these last exciting days. So what the heck, let her cook, I thought. Aicha had a tiny baby, named Moussa and now my houdehold counted already three – not including the animals like Egon, the water-fetching donkey and the young but growing chicken family.
Aicha visited every day the Nara market, understandably preferring the food and kitchenalia line, bringing home whatever she needed to make us a healthy Sahel meal.
She had a budget to buy groceries and meat that she used during the whole month and the money was better guarded than a donation box in a catholic church in Poland.
For lunch she usually prepared rice with different Malian traditional sauces or stews everyday. In the evening there was grilled chicken, grilled fish or beef skewers with fried potatoes, vegetables or sometimes salad. And no I did not get sick from the salad. The menu could also offer couscous. Except for the meat and the onions none of the ingredients were familiar to me. It did not matter. She made ginger juices, prepared her own chilli paste, called piment in Nara. She baked maize bread. Cooked with red palm oil.
She made a sauce from Baobab leaves. Cooked with Cassava and bananas. Huge bananas!
Made a peanut butter sauce with chicken and chilli ! YES!!
It did not occur to me that my colleagues did not eat twice a day hot opulent meals. If you have Aicha ! You love Aicha !
With the equipment I had received cooking did not always go smooth. Even Martha the Sahel hound ( I will tell her story a little later ) could not help at times. It was my employers philosophy that technical advisors in developing countries should not display too much luxury. No luxury at all in fact. And indeed nobody had a gas stove in Nara.
But Aicha cooked ! And she took this task serious. Very serious! After a while she cooked on fire and then the food got even better. Fresh, lovingly prepared food. Aicha’s cooking became famous in Bamako because colleagues and friends visiting me and not living the same culinary pleasures as I did, told wondrous stories about Aicha’s meals.
Aicha’s cooking was so tasteful and amazing that I could negotiate more than once a reduction in consultants fees for training and other educational measures in Nara when meals were included in the payment. Aicha’s meals! Aicha cooked at night for guests and Nara dignitaires. Aicha had a calling and followed through with it.
I did not mention that Aicha was a traditional healer as well!