The Laughter of Women
What Do the Femmes de Virunga and Female Chefs Have in Common?
Before sunlight Cristina García Suárez wakes up and, after a small breakfast, drives her car to the restaurant in the foothills of the Amboto mountain in the Basque region of Spain. The pandemic brought the up-and-coming young chef back to her hometown, Durango, and to a remote mountain restaurant called Mendi Goicoa, which in Euskera means “the mountain from above”. Like so many mountain peaks, Amboto is charged with myths and traditions.
Testing the limits of traditions is often what inspires Cristina, as when is bringing together sweet and salty ingredients in her foods. Cristina has worked under the guidance of some of the most prestigious chefs in Spain and learned to trust her own judgement and to own her talent.
When Cristina works in her stylish restaurant kitchen, she can look out through the wide window screens onto the Amboto. They say the Goddess Mari lives up there in a cave. Mari represents the pre-Christian earth mother. She helps farmers predict the weather and the outcome of the harvests. Mari is powerful, independent and beautiful. She is served by a court of witches and female spirit guides. When they laugh they do so from their core, showing their teeth, unafraid and strong.
When clouds cover the Amboto mountain, Mari has come out of her cave—or so goes the myth. Those are the most harmonious days in Cristina’s kitchen. Among the guests at Mendi Goicoa a precious feeling of peace sets in.
It is the same feeling of peace that moves Léontine Kavira as she looks up from her tiny plot of cacao trees onto Rwenzori, the white mountains of the moon in Eastern Congo DR. Mountains convey their peace to people in ways that make one think of the gods.
Not long ago, there had been godforsaken days in Leontine’s life. When soldiers marauded the villages and took all the women they could lay their hands on. Famine was only a bad harvest away and not every child grew to adolescence.
At the age of thirty-two, Leontine is in her middle-age according to Congolese life expectancies. But even though her bones are starting to ache on the long daily walks to the fields for water and for wood, life has become more tranquil and productive in Mundubiena and the other villages bordering on Africa’s oldest national park, the Virunga.