Exploring the Local food while Volunteering in Liberia
I spent the better part of 2 months volunteering in Liberia as a nurse with Cross Cultural Care. On arrival, finding some local food was on the top of my list.
On a Mission for an Authentic African Meal
There are two volunteers that arrived unexpectedly on my second night in Monrovia. Sally and Stan. They have been volunteering in Robertsport for about the past three weeks. Sally is an RN and Stan is working with C3 to set up a rainwater catch system to increase the availability of water. The Locals are currently bringing water from the nearby river up to the hospital for things like flushing toilets and washing hands.
Sally and Stan were on a mission to find some local food for me for dinner. Anyone that knows me, knows that I am not fearful of the street food and I generally seek it out. Sally and Stan are no different. We ended up sitting on benches along the side of the road and eating with our bowls in our lap. The food was amazing and fortunately, there were no ‘after-effects’ from the street food.
Food Name: Cassava Leaves
This dish is from the Via tribe and happens to be a national favorite of most west Africans. Although cooking methods varies by country, all west Africans love their cassava leaves. In Liberia it is cooked with assorted meats, onions, hot peppers and palm oil and is served with rice. – AfricanDelightFoods.com
This is another dish enjoyed last night which is cassava leaves ground in palm butter. Again with wonderful spices and flavor and served over rice.
Casava Root and leaves are utilized for many of the local dishes. According to Wikipedia, cassava contains cyanide and has to be prepared properly in order to release the cyanide and avoid poisoning. Fortunately, I avoided any sort of cyanide poisoning.
C3 – A Day in the Life of the Volunteer
The MoH here in Liberia has provided financial assistance for C3 to provide the volunteers with assistance to make life in Robertsport just a little easier. I’m provided with a cook and a cleaner. Jebba currently fills both roles for me. She cooks 4 days a week and cleans 3 days a week.
I have to say that although I love having the help, it’s a weird feeling to me to have someone cooking for me. For whatever reason, the cleaning doesn’t bother me; I’m unsure if this is because I’m not at home while she cleans or because this is a service that I’ve paid for in the states. I will say that although having a cook is a bit uncomfortable for me, the food has been amazing and I’m thrilled to have her. It’s been a wonderful experience to have someone cook local foods for me and I’ve found that I have enjoyed everything that’s been prepared.
The locals eat a variety of fish from the Barracuda that is wonderfully large and meaty (and my preference) to dried and smoked fish which tends to have many more bones and much less to my liking.
Learning about the history while volunteering in Liberia
If you are familiar with Liberian history, the US sent many of our slaves here after they were freed in the United States. Many of Robertsport’s population are descendants of these slave families. I think because of this, it makes it difficult to have one of them waiting on me. Let me give you an example:
Jebba comes to the house on Monday through Thursday evenings arriving around 5pm.
She then serves my dinner and sits to the side, scrapping the bowls and eating from them. I’ve offered her to sit and eat with me but the closest she has come is to sit away from the table in one of the chairs instead of on the floor next to the kitchen. After I finish eating, I generally pack a small amount to have for lunch the following day and offer Jebba to take the remainder home for her and her family (she has two girls at home that sometimes come with her).
Local dishes include:
- Cassava and Cassava Greens
- Potato Greens
- Eggplant Soup
- Fish, fish and some more Fish! (It’s a fishing community after all)!