Vivre en l’Outre-Mer, or, The Trials of Living in French Congo ca. 1923: Part III

Once settled into their bungalow overlooking Stanley Pool in Brazzaville, the Vassals faced the problem of hiring household help, especially a cook.

Stanley Pool

Unlike many Europeans, they found a cook who knew his business, of whom Gabrielle wrote:

I am glad, too, to have a change from German cooking.* Our primitive black Matamba is far superior to the fair, civilized Anna we have left behind [in Germany]. In such extremely primitive surroundings, I come to a meal without any expectation of pleasure, and the surprise of of a well-composed meal carefully prepared is continually renewed. We often bless his last French mistress and the gourmandise of herself or her husband which gave her the energy to teach him so well.

Old Brazzaville Market

As for shopping for food, that seems to be have been a totally different matter altogether:

After dinner he comes for orders and to dictate his expenses. Hajcovir (haricots verts), six sous. Poulet, 4 francs. 5 ajanas (ananas), dix sous. 12 oeps (oeufs), 3 francs, etc., etc. It is no use telling him what to buy the next day, for the probabilities are that he will not find what I want. I only tell him what not to buy, such as fish full of bones, pork, etc. But the results is that he often returns from the market with nothing.

Nothing? How can that be, she wondered? Easy, seasonality and famine and drought. Nevertheless, as she exclaimed about this state of affairs:

Qu’est-ce que tu as apporté ce matin? Rien. Pas de posson? N’y a pas. Poulet? N’y a pas. Bananes? N’y a pas. My despair makes no effect on his black inanimate express, and I wonder whether he has really been to the market at all. It is too late at that time to kill a fowl, so I give him macaroni, rice, or potatoes from my larder, gather a few tomatoes or beans from the garden, and for that day we are vegetarians. He generally has a small provision of eggs from the day before.

Mrs. Vassal was learning that in Africa sometimes food just doesn’t appear whenever or in however form you might want it.

 *The Vassals lived in Germany prior to their posting n Africa. To be continued …

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