Friday, March 13, 2009

Candidate for a Coffee Table Book

Cooking Hut Love

If you paid real close attention to our Reeds in Liberia blog, or better yet, if you have spent time in rural Liberia, you know something about West African villages, and something about community huts. In almost every village, there are at least two huts used by anybody and everybody. The most famous is the palaver hut, which is an open structure used for talking, hanging out, and especially for meetings. The hut is often a place where neighbors or family members come to lay disputes before community leaders or chiefs in order to reach resolution. The palaver hut has become something of a metaphor for peacebuilding, because out of chaos and noise (palaver), comes resolution and peace.

Less famous, but probably much more popular, is the cooking hut. If the palaver hut is the symbol of desire for harmony, the humble cooking hut is the place to where, since childhood, the West African villager has looked with undying hope. Hope that Grandmother or Aunt or Mother will soon arrive and begin pounding palm nuts or cassava, hope that steam will soon rise from the rice on the coal pot, hope that a hungry belly will once again feel full. But more than a metaphor, it is a real place it is where real people get together everyday, cook what they have and make it taste great, and share it with whoever is around. It is the center of human life in West Africa.

So, whenever I visited a village, if I could, I took pictures of the community huts. Every one is different, a unique jewel in hidden places. I think a book of pictures palaver huts or cooking huts and their people is a great idea, but for now, I offer you a sampler: Cooking huts I have known and loved.

We start with a couple of huts in Johnson Town. The one above has a foot high mud "wall" or lip of sorts, mostly to provide protection from the rain during the wet season. Its late morning, so the hut stands empty.

The second Johnson Town hut was nicely shaded. If you look close, you see the fat gray peafowl on the left.

Kakata. The Anderson and Zar clan gather for a meal. A very open, very basic cooking hut just outside of town. You can tell this is close to town, with amenities like clotheslines and chairs.

Note the way the area surrounding this Koon Town hut has been washed away by the rains. The pathway has dropped about a foot.

In some part of Liberia, the mud walls are crafted to look rounded and almost soft. This one is a cooking hut with a small room that served as a home.

Cooking huts become a bustle of activity in the early afternoon. Mothers with babes, dogs with tongues hanging, and little kids wondering, "What are you looking at?" Renita in the background. This is at Bong Mines.

It is interesting to note the social pecking order. Table cloth-honored guests in the hut with the men, women and young people wait "outside" for turn to eat.

On the way from Rivercess. A nice October day.

Outside of Buchanan. The village is expanding a bit, so a new, temporary hut is in action on the left.

The Children Waiting. In Todee, there are several huts in close proximity. It is not time to eat, but the kids are bored (no school here) and hungry, so here they wait.

...and wait...

...and wait.
Eventually someone shows up. This is one of my favorite cooking huts. Its in Koon Town.

Same hut, better angle. There is something so real, so close to the earth here. Renita likes this image so much, she uses it as her desktop picture. Keeps things in perspective.

In Gbaye's Town. A heavy layer of palm branches and ditches protect from the wet season, but here in the dry season, everything is dusty.

Even in communities with zinc roofs over solid houses, there is a cooking hut in the back, or at least an attached open "kitchen." Since the method of cooking is charcoal, outdoor cooking is the only way to go. This one has a great roof and a nice, cooked-in look.

I don't know, but there is something evocative about an empty cooking hut. One of my favorites, from Kakata.

...And the winner is--- Gbaye's Town cooking hut! Love this shot. You can just tell by looking, this is where the action is every morning and afternoon. This is the hearth of Liberia.