Sunday, August 1, 2010

Chicorée Café

I've already noted how French is not my lingua franca.

When I first went to Ali-Sabieh I stayed at the Hotel Palmeraie with my colleagues from Nairobi; thereafter I stayed in the guestroom at the LWF compound. In between I returned to the capital for a few days and, while there, purchased a few things from the 'Cash Centre' (this place, and 'Casino', are the two places in this country that mostly closely approximate the grocery stores I am used to in Canada).

I'd been drinking far too much Coca-cola in the morning - throughout the day, really - so I was determined to resume drinking far too much coffee instead. I attended at the 'Cash Centre' and purchased an electric kettle and what I thought was instant coffee. The packaging was a little different from what I was used to, and it purported to be invigorated with various vitamins and minerals. Inside the container was what appeared to be dehydrated, instant coffee.

On returning to Ali-Sabieh I awoke the next day to make instant coffee that first morning back. To my surprise I discovered I had, rather, purchased a delicious chocolate breakfast beverage. On further examination - trial and error, really - I discovered it could be mixed with either water or milk, hot or cold.

While this delicious chocolate breakfast beverage was a welcomed surprise, it was not the hot caffeinated coffee-like drink I'd planned to have purchased.

The next trip back to the capital, some three weeks later, featured another trip to the 'Cash Centre' and another attempt to find instant coffee. I did manage to find it in a small aisle of all those things you might associate with coffee: filters, sugar, coffee whitener (probably), and tea. On comparing the different brands available to me, I selected to one that not only provided me with the best value (the brand name appears to be 'Le Prix! gagnant'), but one that also appeared to be the most fancy.

The picture on the jar looked more exotic than regular coffee - one of the reasons I purchased this brand over the others (not being able to distinguish between them by what was written on the labels). In Canada I typically drink coffee, where possible from Tim Hortons. There are fancier places, serving coffee-like beverages with fancier sounding names, which come in cups of fancier sounding sizes. I'm really just sure about what coffee is, though, and I'm not too sure about those other things; and if it is just coffee, why it's just not called coffee.

I never actually used the instant coffee after returning to Ali-Sabieh; I'd already formulated the routine of Coca-cola and canned mango-drink in the morning (I think you have to call it 'drink' when it's mostly made from sugar - but the cold mango pulp and sugar beverage is really quite good). Part of my breakfast routine of buying one or two baguettes from an old woman who show's up at Ali-Sabieh's roundabout at 7am or so, then buying my Coca-cola and canned mango-drink, before I head to Ali-Addeh for the day.

As I've already related in an earlier post, I've since relocated from Ali-Sabieh and am now back in the capital, having largely completed my field research in Ali-Sabieh. I returned on Tuesday to collect my things. I might have returned on Sunday or Monday but over the course of the weekend (last weekend, not this weekend) I came down with my first case of food poisoning since arriving in this country. The early part of last week was consequently a write-off.

In the capital, at the branch office, I've been assigned a new desk after having played musical chairs during my last few visits: I'd begun in the resettlement office; was relocated to the protection office; and now finally find myself sitting with the Associate Liaison Officer to IGAD in an area I refer to as the Annex. I keep my electric kettle on the floor, behind my desk, and I keep my instant coffee in one of the desk drawers along with a variety of other things. (Wednesday or Thursday of last week was 'Toilet Paper Ration Day' so I have two rolls in one of my drawers to get me through the next month.)

Yesterday, Saturday, I came into the office to do some work. I like coming in on the weekends because it's a little more quiet and I work on the weekends because I'm boring. But because it's my own time I can also occupy myself with whatever I might choose to occupy myself with (like a child who sees something shiny, I'm easily distracted by any foreign stimuli).

On paper I seem pretty exciting, having travelled to far off places and having done some pretty interesting things. Pictures of me posing with cadavers and live crocodiles exist. In practice, however, I'm really quite boring. Thursday after work I went out bowling with some colleagues, and while I won't say what any of our scores were, I will say that I had the highest one. But when left to my own devices I prefer to sit with an internet browswer open on my laptop so I can look up whatever might come into my head.

Yesterday, in the office, while making my coffee I came to wonder what it was I was preparing. I entered the name into Google and was directed to my favourite place to spend time (though en francais, as I wasn't yet aware of the proper English translation).

Evidently, whatever it is I'm drinking, it's just fancied-up poor-man's instant coffee. On learning the history of 'chicory', and how it has been used as a coffee substitute for poor people and in war time conditions, it doesn't seem so fancy anymore.

I don't think that really matters though. I think chicory is always going to taste a little more exotic than just plain coffee, because I now associate this different-tasting coffee with an odyssey of multiple trips to the 'Cash Centre' and arduous research in the Annex. It will always remind me of Djibouti somehow.

No comments:

Post a Comment