Côte d’Ivoire: Where storytellers can save your life

Drinking gnamakoudji is a serious business

Last week all I knew about Côte d’Ivoire was that it is now more famous for its coffee and cocoa than it is for its Ivory. Given that it is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, I presumed this would be a joyous week full of wired happy people sharing Ivorian chocolate. But life is never that simple. Supply chains are complex beasts, so while you can be pretty sure that there might be some Ivorian cocoa in any chocolate bar you pick up, you can rarely prove it. I visited 5 or 6 chocolate shops and found single source chocolate from Dominican Republic, Ecuador and many others, but not what I needed… Finally though I found “West African” chocolate, so I made do and would recommend it wholeheartedly!

Coffee and chocolate — possibly from Cote d’Ivoire, perhaps not

If I was Ivorian, this traumatic, Homerian tale of one man’s search for the perfect chocolate would have kept you on the edge of your seat, for this is a nation of griots — the ancestral chroniclers and raconteurs that are foundational to the cultural memory of the region. I did not know that such things existed but they were at the heart of this week’s film and book.

Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote, is a novel told in the oral tradition, outlining the history of President Koyaga of the fictional République du Golfe. He meets several leaders from other fictional countries all of whom explain how to run an African country correctly. This is parody and satire at its best, savagely taking down many of the African leaders I have read about over the last 50 weeks. I’m not sure I would have understood it though without having just genned up on the foibles of the leaders of Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and others. Indeed I probably missed several jokes on the grounds that I’ve not yet read about Togo! I don’t think that the author, Ahmadou Kourouma, would have got away with the novel without creating fictional countries to lambast. His anger is clear as he describes an Africa which is: “as rich in violators of human rights as it is in hyenas… a land as rich in shameless lying heads of state as it is in vultures.” Sadly despots are rarely fond of being mocked and Kourouma found himself exiled to many different countries. I guess it’s not easy being a griot …

…for example, in this week’s film Night of the kings a young man is sent to prison only to find that he has the unenviable task of telling the inmates a story to keep them distracted whilst their leader kills himself. What’s worse, as soon as the story is over, they will kill him. The longer his story, and the longer he can keep their attention, the longer he stays alive. Amazingly this is based on a real prison where the prisoners choose a story teller (or Roman) each night to entertain them. They do not, however, kill them at the end. So that is something!

Aubergine is always the right answer

This week’s food was also entertaining. We plumped for a rice and plantain meal as this is always easier to sell to the kids then foufou, but the star attraction was this delicious aubergine dish to which we added vegan chicken. Having been unable to find an Ivorian drink anywhere, we combined it with gnamakoudji, an potent ginger drink that should kill any illness, especially if combined with tequila.

So that’s Cote d’Ivoire, a great film, a great book, great food and a great drink… in addition, I found this fantastic album Ivory Coast Soul 2 which is really worth a listen, as is presumably Ivory Coast Soul 1 if anyone knows where to find it!

And so we bid farewell to the Ivory Coast and hello to the Dalmatian coast of Croatia.




Zero carbon lockdown travel through books, drinks, food, films, music and the magic of living in multicultural #Birmingham.

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