11 July 2009

fresh milk

When we first started doing research on Burundi one thing that worried us about the food situation rather than excited us (fresh mangos and pineapple!) was milk. We were under the impression that the only milk available would be very expensive powdered or irradiated, shelf-stable milk-like products. I resigned myself to two years of nondairy creamer in my coffee.

However, soon after arriving we noticed there were a lot of cows here. And a lot of tasty, fresh beef. Naturally we began to wonder if there wasn’t fresh milk available somewhere as well. (Just look at those happy, delicious, albeit thin, cows.) One day a coworker of Mike’s pointed out a place to buy fresh milk. It was as if we’d been inducted into a secret club. A building with a sign-less white façade has a grated door that leads you into what Mike calls the “Milk Bar.” There’s a counter, where if you bring your own bottles, a woman will fill them for you, asking “Pasteurize ou non pasteurize?” The first time we went, we decided to get unpasteurized milk and boil it ourselves. That was a disaster, so since then we’ve always filled up our three Nalgene bottles with lait pasteurize.

The reason Mike calls it the Milk Bar is this: In a separate room there are tables and chairs where men (and the occasional woman) sit and order milk by the glass. Cows are a sign of wealth and only the healthiest, wealthiest people can afford to drink a big glass of milk. It’s like a status symbol, to be seen sitting at the bar drinking a glass of milk. The women working behind the counter spend more time processing the receipts of the customers drinking milk by the glass than they do filling bottles for folks like us.

We love our fresh milk. It’s so wonderful in coffee. Our cook makes the creamiest ice cream and other desserts with it. There’s no such thing as a choice between non-fat, skim, and whole milk. It’s all full-fat milk, all the time. When we get back to the States, we’re going to be snobby fresh milk people who won’t be able to stand Stop & Shop homogenized milk by the carton.

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