She came to my office early June after calling and asking for directions. It had been a while since we had seen each other so we hugged and chatted a bit till she revealed the reason for coming to see me.
“We are finally doing it.” She said with a glow on her face.
“Wow! Congratulations!! I am so happy for you.”
“Well, it’s not the main thing; it’s just the introduction.”
“Regardless, after the introduction comes the main thing.”
“Anyway, I wanted you to come and help me out.”
“Okay, you want to do salad?”
“No, just fried rice; do not really want to stress myself. How many people come for the introduction anyway?”
She was right. An introduction – what we called mbib – was usually a small affair. I had never been to one and this was an opportunity to compare what I have heard to what I was going to see.
We agreed that I should be at her village early Saturday morning, the 15th of June; so we could go to the market together.
The rain fell heavily on the early morning of the 15th but I wasn’t too apprehensive. I have found out in these parts that rain rarely mars any event. Case in point was when I went to help her during the demise of her potential Mother-in-law sometime last year. Despite the rain and before it abated, two pots of Afang soup and Fried rice and one pot of Jollof rice had already been prepared, the Salad just took a while and that’s because even though I had all my veggies, I couldn’t mix with cream till the event had started; and yes it was the best salad everyone had tasted.
“What are you eating before you leave?” My younger sister asked.
“Boil the unripe plantain in the kitchen, my scent-leaf sauce is in the fridge.” I told her.
I had my yummy breakfast and twenty minutes later was out of the house.
She has said by a primary school, so I asked around and was directed to her place. It was really late for us to go to the market, and this had me worried a bit but thankfully knowing about by perpetual lateness she had gone to the market on her own. After exchanging greetings with her parents, I changed and joined her and other women in the outdoor kitchen, exchanging greetings with those as well.
Sitting down, I looked round at the women all engaged in one activity or the other, picking waterleaf, pounding the afang, making fufu and turned when she placed hot chunks of meat in front of me. I knew what I had to do, re-cut the meat and cook again after thoroughly spicing it before frying it.
It was after I had seasoned the meat and told her to help me with the firewood that I had a hint of what I was going to do.
“Cook the rice?” I asked a bit astonished.
“Ehen now, why did you think I dragged you here? Your salad was delicious, everyone was asking how you did it and that is why I want you to cook the rice.”
Did she know my salad was delicious because I didn’t stay close to the fire for long? I only needed the diced potatoes warm and hot water to wash the canned veggies. Stay calm, I told myself and waited as she started the fire.
“Do you know what these are?” She asked, showing me palm kernel chaff, since they were disfigured and looked strange I shook my head and received a lecture on what they were and what they could do.
“Perhaps, I should introduce you to someone so you would know more about your roots.” She continued teasing me mercilessly.
“And are our roots tied to cooking with firewood?” I asked, sticking out my tongue at her and walking back to join her other friend in chopping the veggies.
“I won’t allow you taste my pepper soup,” She said at my retreating figure.
The meat was done and it was time to fry, and that’s where my problems started. In frying, I had to stand close to check the meat and still make sure the fire was hot. Several times I would close my eyes as smoke from the fire would make it almost unbearable for me to see amidst the tears. But I did that successfully and the fried meat came out as delicious as if I was in my smoke free kitchen, doing what I know how to do best.
“Sorry, what can I get you?” She asked as soon as I told her to measure the rice for parboiling.
“A Malta Guinness, for strength!”
All through my preparations for the rice, I kept thinking; ‘what if I made the rice too soft, too salty, too strong, too everything!’ People were not known for compliments especially fellow cooks. The women had just finished cooking their Afang Soup and there had been complaints of there being no salt in the meat with no one taking responsibility for not seasoning the meat. If anything happened to my Fried Rice, I would be the only one to be blamed!
“Oya mma eno…I have parboiled the rice for you.”
“Thank you,” I replied; standing and taking everything with me to the fireplace. The rice was going to be cooked in two batches. Going close, I poked at the fire and after getting a sizeable blaze, I placed my large pot on top of the stand.
Needless to say that I cooked the rice crying because of the smoke and using a ladle that was too heavy to handle, anyways after cooking, VOILA! IT CAME OUT PERFECT! But to tell the truth, I felt dizzy from the smoke but since I have always been told I am a strong girl, I couldn’t tell anyone and instead basked in the praise of my admirers and critics who doubted my abilities initially.
No one knew I nearly fainted at the thought of going near the heat again but I put on a great resolve and did it again.
The above picture speaks more than my one thousand plus words…hehehehe Enoquin…omolomo to shon…omo la tile!