Yesterday marked the 47th anniversary of Burundi’s independence from the greedy clutches of Belgium. In advance of the celebration, major roads were blocked every morning so that the military could practice its march, making traffic so horrendous that pulling one’s own fingernails out would be more pleasant by comparison.
I had hoped to attend the events at the stadium, but since my taxi driver didn’t work that day and I had no other mode of transport, I ended up spending the day in my apartment. Most of the expats I had talked to were steering clear, some going out to Bora Bora for the day. Unfortunately, as I don’t have a television or radio, I couldn’t even follow the ceremony remotely.
All was not lost. I spent the day listening to audiobooks I downloaded for free and cleaning my apartment. By noon, my street was loud and bustling, as men congregated at the little bar across my street for brochettes and beer. While it usually only becomes crowded around 6 pm, the holiday meant that drunkenness could begin earlier. By the late afternoon, the aroma of goat brochettes wafted into my apartment, and a dinner of avocado didn’t seem very interesting. I had to have a brochette.
Spraying myself head–to-toe with bug spray, I put a little bit of money in my pocket and decided to brave the crowd of drunken men. I popped downstairs to see if any of the Burundian or Rwandese girls wanted to join me for a drink, and a couple of them did.
The outdoor bar, I discovered, is called “Where the Pretty Girls Are” in Kirundi, which is somewhat ironic because before we arrived, there was only one girl in the entire bar, and she worked there. The patrons were markedly male, from the boy that sat outside the front gate with a plastic tray of hard-boiled eggs, to the middle-aged businessmen who leered at the single waitress. I went straight to the back, to the small hut where the brochettes were grilled, to place my order.
As it turned out, they have three kinds of brochettes (!): Goat, beef, and sausage. I had never heard of a sausage brochette, so I naturally ordered one of those, along with a goat brochette. About ten minutes later, the brochettes emerged, with a side of grilled plantains (I can't eat another banana, so I passed them along to my friends) and some pili-pili. Unfortunately, for some reason, the pili pili sauce I have tried here just isn’t hot enough for me…it has a bit too much vinegar and doesn’t have the same flavor as the kind I am used to in Rwanda. I joked with the girls from downstairs that I was going to go to my apartment and bring down the pili-pili sauce I made the other day, which is much better (and spicier!).
While I was enjoying my brochettes, a couple of fights broke out in the street. Men were pulling off their shirts and throwing punches, rocks, and anything else they could find. Apparently one guy had poured a beer on another guy’s head, and all hell broke loose. I would say this was a product of their having been drunk all day, but it’s actually a pretty regular occurrence on my street. I finished up, settled my check ($1 per brochette, and 70 cents for my Amstel Bock) and headed back to the apartment, happy that I had finally satisfied my craving.
In case anyone is interested in making pili-pili sauce, here’s the recipe:
Pili-Pili Sauce (Rwandan style)
2 pili-pili peppers*
3 tablespoons oil (more or less, depending on how thick you want the sauce to be)
Mince the onion and add it to a pan, frying lightly. Dice the tomatoes and add them to the pot when the onions are transparent. Mince the pili-pili (being sure not to touch the seeds!) and add to the pot. Let simmer until it becomes a thick sauce. Add salt to taste. Store in the refrigerator for a month or more!
*Pili-pili refers a small pepper that resembles a Scotch Bonnet pepper. I’ve tasted the Scotch Bonnet, and it’s not the same, though! Pili pili tastes vaguely tropical, as if it had a touch of mango. The actual name of the pepper is Akabanga (pili pili is just a general term for “chili” in Swahili). Bon Appétit!