Thursday, April 4, 2013

Pascoa (Easter) in Bafata

View of Bafata and the River
For being a mostly Muslim country, everyone takes advantage of the Easter holiday. And every holiday has its go-to location, for Easter its Bubaki, the capital of the islands in the Bijagoes.  I wanted to go too! Because “Everyone” was going, but I took this opportunity instead to go to Bafata to get to know my family there a little better.
            At this time of year Bafata is hot!! In terms of elevation, this region is slightly above most places in the country. People here call it a mountain; I would call it a hill, if that. 
            But the great thing about being in a hot place is that Ice cream is appropriate at anytime of day! Ice cream here doesn’t have milk, it is juice from Cabacera ( or other fruits) that is frozen in a small plastic sandwich bag. It doesn’t look super appealing, but it taste would make you think you were eating rainbow sherbert. It’s amazingly good, 100% all natural, and really easy to make!
A huge abandoned swimming pool that's next to the river
            On a camping trip to explore food systems in the Desert of Arizona and New Mexico, our rec leader shared with us a book called 17 ways to eat a mango. Its based in Sri Lanka, and is about an American who goes with the intention of mas exporting mangos, but along the way learns the “zen” way of eating a mango. For example, a sour mango, rather than be cursed, can be mixed with sweetenings, vinegar, ginger, cinnamon, cardamon,  to make delicious sour mango chutney. Similar to the " when life gives you lemons" saying. Its a quick read, but has a great message. But what I’m getting at, “zen”-ness aside, is that there are literally 17 ways to eat a mango. (And 65 ways to each a cashew, but I wont even get into that.)
            It’s not quite mango season yet, but the mango trees throughout Bafata are loaded with Mangos.  There are 3 huge mangos trees by my aunt’s house where I was staying, and we would send my younger cousins to go hit a couple of green mangoes off the tree.  We ate the mangos:
One of my uncle Cherno's 2 wives and her eldest daughter Mona

1)   Whole, with skin, in big crunchy bites
2)   Peeled, sliced and devoured
3)   Peeled, sliced and sprinkled with salt then devoured
4)   Peeled, sliced, and smashed with salt, pimenta (hot pepper), and gusto (bullion)
5)   Boiled, then mashed with sugar- almost like apple’sauce but mango instead.

            If you’ve never been in a place where you have cheap and easy access to . After breakfast you call over someone selling cashews- at the price of 5 for 25 cents, you know we were buying close to 20 cashews. And doing the same after lunch. Most folks don’t eat the cashew, they just suck on the juice, chew on the meat of the fruit and spit it out.  Then in the late afternoon, folks walk around selling cashew juice. So we buy a liter and sip on that. After 2 days we accumulate a decent amount of cashew seeds. We roasted those and snacked on cashew nuts before lunch.
The deserted old down town in Bafata
            Guinea Bissau gets 6 months of rain and six months of sun. If you throw the seed of a fruit you just ate on the ground in the US, in our mind we know that a tree COULD grow, but feel people can say they have done so. Here, if you throw a seed on the ground, something will grow. That’s how fertle the soil is here.
            I feel like I’m talking a lot about food. But each meal tasted like a meal for royalty. I am not ashamed to say I ate WELL, almost too well. But living and eating here has absolutely changed my definition of fresh food. On top of the fresh fruit, each morning I would accompany my cousin to the market where she would buy our food for the day. We had Caldo de Mancara ( meat in peanut butter sauce), Caldo de Chebin ( Meat in palm oil sauce), and fried fish, all of which were served over rice.
Big plate of Caldo de Mancara ( Rice, meat in peanut butter sauce)
            Late at night there are little booth type places that have cuts of meat ready to grill.  We were looking for food late on the first night in Bafata. We approached the booth and my cousin ordered. I immediately said a little prayer, I already had the stomach flu and I really didn’t want to start my Trip in Bafata over the toilet.  But once they put the plate of grilled meat in front of us, we ate until the plate was clean.
            Needless to say, I’ve been raving about that grilled goat meat since we ate. It was grilled with onions and seasoned to perfection. We ate it with mayo and fresh baked bread. Usually I’m anti-mayonnaise, but it had been seasoned with herbs to give it a little flare.
            In Bafata (at least during the holidays) there isn’t much to do, nor is there much going on during the day. You handle your business in the morning. Come home in the afternoon to rest and eat lunch. It’s just too hot in the afternoon to doo much. In the late afternoon there is a lot more movement, but at night is when folks really get active.
Bafata is Hot!! so everyone came to swim at Hotel Trinton
            Besides just walking around town or hanging out in the down town area, there are two main go-to nightlife locations. One is Hotel Trinton, the other is Kiss club. Hotel Trinton is a hotel with a swimming pool, bar, and a mini-club. To me, and anyone coming from the US it seems pretty standard, almost lacking even to US standards. But there is nothing else here like it, so its one of the hottest spots around town.         
            Club kiss is just a club, but it’s the only one in the city, so every party animal in Bafata can be found here. But I seem to have really bad luck there. I forget sometimes that I stand out like a  I get a lot of unwanted attention, so Kiss club was a flop for me. I also don’t have the stamina for late nights anymore. I’ve gotten into the habit of getting up at 6:30 am, so by 11pm I’m ready to call it a night.  But it’s a cool place, it has two floors each with its own dj.
Amilcar Cabrals House
            Amilicar Cabral had started a lot of his revolutionary work in Bafata.  My cousin Papa took me to the old downtown to see Amilcar Cabral’s house.  The old downtown area is sad site to see. It has a colonial Portuguese feel, much like Pelorinho in Salvador, Brazil (for those that know) but it is a ghost town.  The houses are abandoned and the roads are deserted. The only thing that is active is the police station.
            But it’s easy to imagine all the hustle and bustle that used to take place there. And it’s in such a beautiful part of Bafata.  All the development here is right next to the river. It immense potential, all that’s missing is the investment, from my perspective that is. One of the biggest issues Bafata is transportation. The old down town is at least a 20minute walk from the new downtown. Bafata has no toca-tocas (aka public transportation) and very few cars. Most people get around by walking,  unless you have a bike or a motorcycle.  
            Amilcar Cabral’s house in Cape Verde is equivalent to the Presidents house. It’s huge, decorated, and memorialized.  Amilcar Cabral’s house here in Bafata, well, at least it looks newly painted. Its like nothing ever happened here!

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