Conversation over Cassava

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10 September 2013

DSC00531I went to visit Sister Margaret at St. Monica’s school next door to the birth center the other morning. She was peeling cassava roots with some others. A ways off, music was playing … That music had been going on for four days.

We talked, and Sister Margaret told me it was music being made at a funeral for a older woman, the mother of the family of that compound, who had died at LaCho Hospital and whose body had been brought back to be buried. Sister Margaret said that for a man, a funeral lasts three days, but for a woman, four. This is like the birth rites: when a baby boy is born, an Acholi woman stays three days in her hut; when a baby girl is born, she stays four. Then she does light work, like cooking, but she won’t go back to fieldwork for some few weeks.

I knew the funeral had been going on because a pregnant mother had come from it to give birth to her child at the birth center, but it was interesting to listen to Sister Margaret talk about the correspondence between the Acholi birth rites and death rites as she peeled the cassava.

The outer skin of the cassava got dropped from the knife to a pile, to be fed to the pigs or poured out on the garden, and the inner part got dropped into a large bowl. Later, Sister Margaret planned to dry the peeled roots for storage, and then they could be ground up and made into posho to feed the students once term resumes. Nothing wasted.

It takes one year to grow cassava. Sister Margaret decided to harvest this cassava now because all the rain was starting to spoil the roots. I was interested – and the next day, I was glad I had seen how she peeled the skin because I ended up eating a fresh cassava for lunch, one that was given to me and that I peeled with my fingers, because our ambulance-truck got stuck on the road … and I was hungry!

Fresh cassava tastes like an Irish potato and a coconut put together. It’s not as hard as potato, not as sweet as coconut, but still, that’s the closest comparison I can think of now.

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