Much of life is about hunger and yearning, about desire and need. Want. Must have. Should have. Such is the life of Colomba, the five-year-old girl in “Igifu,” the lead story in Scholastique Mukasonga’s new collection with the same title.

The story recounts Colomba’s mind-bending experience with a hunger so vicious that it sends her to the most unlikely places in search of food. The juxtaposition of longing and vivid images of food — steaming, beautiful, corn cracking, smoke, sweet, saucy, the cruelty of a hunger that cannot be sated. One that rises with the sun and sets in the west.

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The knowledge, feelings I experienced in Rwanda will never, ever leave me. And  when I think of the setting for this story, the heartbreak and destruction, all I want is to feed Colomba joy and peace. I want to serve her something nourishing and light, delicious, aromatic, soft, colorful, warming. I want her belly, in its deepest depth, to put out Igifu’s light. Forever.

I’ve known many hungers and sometimes, like the mother in the story, you try to feed them because you’re a fountain, but there you are sprouting on empty.  I say name it, name that hunger, call it the thing that it is. And then find a way to soothe and sate it, in the darkness and in the light.

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Ingredients

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 lemongrass stalk, cut into 3 or 4 pieces and bashed a bit

2 Irish potatoes or 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks

1 medium or 1/2 large carrot, peeled and cut into chunks

1/2 red onion, cut into chunks

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 ground black pepper

1/2 ground dry red chilies

3/4 cup of coconut milk

4 cups of water

1 – 2 cups of bok choy or your favourite greens, washed

2 sweet, small peppers, chopped

Directions

  • Set a pot on medium heat and add the oil
  • Add the lemongrass, stir and cook a couple of minutes till fragrant
  • Add the potatoes, carrots, onion. Season with the turmeric powder, black pepper, salt and ground red chilies and stir. Let cook for 4 – 5 minutes, stirring so the vegetables are coated
  • Add the coconut milk and stir again. Bring to the boil then add the water
  • Stir, check for seasoning and adjust
  • Put a lid on the pot and let cook on medium to low heat till ready
  • Add the greens and chopped peppers, stir and turn off the heat
  • Serve when ready, with some bread if you like or over rice

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