"No. Really. What is it?" He looked across the table to me for some assurance that I was playing some cruel joke on him. He had heard that newly arrived volunteers were often the butt of jokes like this one. Just for fun, of course.
"Its blood sauce," I said, shrugging. My mouth full. "Madame Akibode killed a couple of goats and the sauce is cooked from the blood. Ask her if you dont believe us." Amy nodded at Ben in agreement. We were finishing our second or third helping of the stuff, and Madame looked on proudly as we ate. It was tasty and rural and full of personality. Not trendy or urban enough to be found on the menu of the African restaurants we would later find in Seattle. Madame Akibode enjoyed eating and cooking good food and this dish was no exception. She served the blood sauce with grilled duck over fonio, the local grain. We washed it down with what ever suited our tastes.
Madame was our landlady and was the head of the rambling concessione in which we rented an apartment. In her own way, she tried to oversee and buffer our stay in Togo, giving us advice as she saw fit and warning us away from those individuals that she didnt approve of. She had rented the deux chambres-salon-cuisine to two other former volunteers and saw herself well suited to the role of counselor to newly-arrived Americans. After seven or eight years of being neighbor to Americans she felt that she knew us well.
Ben had been at post a month at most, coming to post following the winter stage at Pagala Gare. Amy and I had arrived at post about 16 months earlier. Today was the annual May Day picnic. It was the height of the Togolese dry season and the countryside had been parched by six months of no rain. The whole town showed up for the fete held at the Prefectures picnic grounds. The grounds were situated in a grove of old kapok trees just down the slope of the plateau a bit from Prefets house. The earth of the picnic area had been swept bare with straw brooms, as was the custom. If there was any vegetation in sight, there were sure to be snakes, and snakes were not welcome visitors at anyones picnic
The May Day picnic wasnt your standard picnic throw a blanket on the ground and open the basket event. Here all the stops were pulled out. Households carted most of their furniture through town to the picnic grounds - either loaded onto taxis or onto the backs of strong lycee students. Sofas and easy chairs. Tables and chairs. Stereo systems and televisions and oscillating fans powered by car batteries or generators. It was a status event for the community. Everyone got a chance to show off their finery to one another in a nice public outdoor setting.
Ben laughed, and accepted another serving of fonio. Madame smothered the fonio with the blood sauce. It was thick, rich and was an irridescent greenish-red in color not like anything Id eaten before. She made sure he got several juicy pieces of duck. The sauce was spiced with piment, garlic, onions, and green pepper corns that had been ground into a thick paste before cooking. With a sauce as spicy as this one I liked the pilsners that the Benin Brewery in Lome brewed. Ben had at his place a big bottle of Lion Killer that he mixed with bitter tonic. Tantevi, across the table was working on her third bottle of Pom Pom At other tables were calabashes full of palm wine or tchuke. Even a bottle or two of sodabe could be found if one asked around.
Madames meal went on and on with courses of fermented pate and fufu topped with boma sauce. Floating innocently in the boma sauce were those exciting little green peppers that looked like pumpkins. These peppers were always a bit warmer than you thought they could ever possibly be. Some even volunteers claimed never to have been the same after eating one or two too many of these peppers.
Madame Akibode ended the picnic feast with djeunkume. This was the traditional Akposo fete dish in our area. When authentically prepared in the Akposo manner, djonkume consisted of corn meal, tomato paste, onions, garlic, and house cat all steamed together to the consistency of polenta. As the one of the bonnes served the final dish, Madame lamented to us that no house cat had been readily available and that she had used chicken in the dish in its place. At the mention of house cat Ben laughed again, nervously eyeing the blood sauce.
Near the end of the meal our table was visited by one of our French language professors from stage. Ankuvi was in town to visit one of his brothers (meme pere, different mere) and came over to greet us. He was invited graciously by Madame to sit down and asked to be served the blood sauce dish. Ben eyed him and after a bit, worked up his nerve to ask if Ankuvi knew of the sauce. Anku smiled. Blood sauce had been a favorite of his fathers first wife and it was served often in his concessione. He never passed up a chance to try a really good sauce, smiling towards Madame Akibode. Ben looked away from his plate and shocked those seated at the table as he jumped up and bolted away from the picnic grounds vomiting. Later, back at home Madame listened, sadly shaking her head as one of our neighbors children described Bens vomiting as he raced towards his moto. Americans were allowed some eccentricities, but in her eyes some things behaviors like these were not to be tolerated. Ben was never back invited for a return visit to the Akibode table, and his visits to our place were infrequent and only when Madame was away.
(Thanks, Larry! By the way, the tribe Larry is working for is putting together a web site at www.elwha.org).
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