So… one of the first things I learned about Burkinabe culture was that women do the cooking. Not always – in restaurants, it is often men’s job. But usually.
Now, this might seem a little bit unimaginative, after all, in most cultures it is women who do the bulk of the cooking. This comment took me by surprise, though, because it came in response to a different question I had asked: who does the back-breaking job of grinding grains into fine powder so as to make the various types of dough and fibre that are the basis for most meals? There’s cassava dough, maize patties, sorghum purée, and probably dozens of other dishes that require hours of pounding at a mortar to perfect. Naively, I wondered if, perhaps, men didn’t do the grinding bit.
No, apparently that’s a part of cooking. When I probed a bit further, trying to understand if there is in fact a division of labour, I was told two interesting things:
1: It is men’s job to make sure there is enough grain stored up for women to grind. Sure, women may work in the fields alongside the men, sure women might even have their own fields to plow. But at the end of the day, it is entirely up to the man to guarantee the family won’t starve. The granary is his little private domain – he’s not going to let other people in there, especially if it’s nearing empty, because that would be too grave a shame upon him. Instead, he has to sort. it. out!
2: Women don’t really want men helping in the kitchen (which includes standing in the yard with a body-sized mortar and pestle grinding grains). It’s their private sphere. It is not unlike the bathroom in the West. The way I would feel if a man were to walk in on me while bathing… well, that’s how a Burkinabe woman would feel if a man were to walk into her kitchen. That’s what I was told, but I admit I’m not fully convinced – after all, it was a man who explained this to me. Seems a bit convenient of an excuse, I’m afraid.
But one thing is for sure, those Burkinabe women sure have earned my respect! Regardless of why they do it, they sure do a lot.