One man’s meat is another man’s poison - Old African saying
The gastronomic inclinations of many an African, matched against the dietary provisions at many international – non African – conferences make for interesting analysis.
By and large, it would appear that if the combined views of Ghanaians, Nigerians and Ugandans are anything to go by, the African diet is by far richer in spice and style. The European diet on the other hand is …well, anything but spicy. Actually, dour and colorless would be more like it- a wicked combination that has conspired to rob many an African of belly-full enjoyment at these events.
Ojigwe arrived weary and hungry from Lagos.
“Can I get some food to eat?” he thundered.
“Well, you could get some bread … a tuna sandwich and a drink…”
Ojigwe is outraged. “We want real food o, madam. What kind bread be dis?!”
For one invitation only session, I am asked to specify the dietary needs of the Ghanaian delegation. I mischievously opt to go to town with a wish list. I tell conference organizers that my people have a preference for fufu, ebunubunu soup, grass cutter meat, snails and dry fish. If however, it is only waakye, talia, wele, fish and egg with “please make the pepper plenty, small”, we are quite willing to compromise!
We arrive at the event salivating in glorious anticipation. A departure from this bread staple – finally! Bread in the morning, bread in the afternoon, bread in the evening. Soft bread, hard bread, extra hard bread. Brown bread, white bread, cream bread, yellow bread, cake like bread. Bread with jam, with cheese and with soup or what looks like it!
We are disappointed! Instead of the rich menu proposed earlier, they start with oval bread and then follow it with something that looks like meat pie wrapped around some bokor bokor leaves. And then, there is the salmon with the so called risotto. And then dissert – some sweet something to be eaten with a baby spoon or a fork. A look at your neighbour’s plate makes you sadder for him; multi colored leaves, leaves, leaves!
Na leaves we go chew?!
We in Africa don’t have time for this poco a poco eating. Small bread here, small soup there, a little cake and straw berry ice cream there! The big bang approach is to be preferred. Come to Africa and see something; we like it hot, spicy and massive! No banana afterwards! If anything, the banana will precede the real meal in an attempt to tamper justice with mercy. Why spoil the soft, hot ewokple against some properly pepperized and gingerized tilapia in raw pepper sauce with strawberry ice cream afterwards?
At their deceptive best, the organizers advertize a lunch reception. Again, hopes are high. And again, the hopes are thwacked. First of all, it is a standing event, further dissipating the little energy left. The diet is a mixture of drinks and flour—based preparations of different varieties and some biscuits. Drinks are served in small plastic cups. Small poverty-stricken cups! Do they know the size of the ‘cup’ that big brother Wedg uses to take his morning dzogbo in Dzodze? Surely this is a joke called lunch!
Midway, a beautiful African sister whispers, “Is this all, or is lunch now about to be served?”
It is what we might refer to in Ghana as small chops. With small chops for lunch and dinner, nketenkete inevitably sets in with the approach of night. In your room, you cautiously approach the bowl of groundnuts, strategically located by hotel staff for your nocturnal edification. Never mind that you have always viewed the ground nuts with great suspicion. Should you or should you not? It is tricky. Will the cost be on the house or will the merciless capitalists have their say and their way? You twirl the bowl round and round and finally decide against consumption, your hunger pangs notwithstanding.
In the morning, the verdict comes in. Your worst fears are confirmed! The hotel has billed you four good Euros for that miserable bowl of ground nuts that you only touched in admiration and in exchange for which you could have had two big jars of the stuff back home. In the ensuing conversations, it is revealed that the hotel has some device that monitors touch. You touch and it translates to “you have eaten.” In other places, we are told of how every time you open the fridge, you are automatically billed on the assumption that you are drinking your head off!
Really? Is someone spying on us?
Gastronomic suffering is however not equitably distributed, I discover. Ample evidence abounds of many including some honorable Ministers who travel armed to the teeth with shito, tinned fish and gari. For such people, when others complain about the pediatric doses, they simply smile in mock sympathy. Your pain is not their pain and your suffering not theirs. So famous has the shito become that some African compatriots have been known to exclaim “Where is that black thing you Ghanaians always carry everywhere?” Of course this would be in a dire moment of need with the said fellow African salivating for a piece of the action—“that black thing” that will add that sharp zing that is woefully absent!
After three days of this poverty-stricken existence, the sons of men and the daughters of Eve begin to lose weight. You long for the motherland. One more week in Oyibo land and you will be dead meat. There is a mass resolution. Oyibo is killing us softly! We must go back to sweet Africa and to colorful meals. We dream of eba and ogborno soup spiced with crayfish. We salivate for tuo zaafi and bito soup or with ayoyo floating in ground nut soup. This is real tasty piping hot soup, not that acrylic preparation that looks like mashed off -white chalk and tastes like half cooked mpotompoto.
To worsen matters, it is dispensed from a machine! How can you cook and supply real pepper soup from a machine and not expect us to be suspicious? Totally unacceptable! You can never eat fufu with this concoction they call soup! My mother will be greatly scandalized!
God bless African cuisine and may he reveal to Europeans, the delights of life beyond bread. As for me, in twelve days, I have had enough bread to last me a lifetime! A final plea; when we do have visitors, let us have mercy and give them real food to eat. They are really suffering! If not, why will that Japanese I met at the East Legon joint swallow the sizable omo tuo balls in two morsels only and promptly wash it down thereafter with a generous helping of palm nut soup?
PS, I was on my way to this soccer forum when I saw this...so I believe it makes it soccer related