You chop, I chop/ E no good to chop alone o….
Remember that old school Nigerian jam from way back? I do. Do you recall the message behind it? Probably not. The singer encouraged everyone to live and let live – and to share food or any benefits with your fellow man. You may want to read Part 1 of this particular article written weeks ago, if you haven’t before you peruse the contents of its sequel.
My aunt and uncle came to spend a few weeks with me some weeks ago. They brought a video recording of an event that had occurred in their home-town recently, and one of the things I noticed was that the videographer kept zooming his lens over the kitchen where yam was being pounded, oha soup was being stirred, and a cow was being butchered. He almost even ruined the footage, performing a close up near an older lady who was preparing party rice, and the agonyi woman ended up shoving him away with her pestle. Make you comot for kitchen before you thief meat. He hardly even interviewed or shot the celebrants themselves.
What further broke my heart was later footage of the end of the event showing some kids fighting over remnants, one of them tackling a chicken’s foot until its claw was doing him waka.
How come chicken and poultry products are big men’s or middle class food in Nigeria? Isn’t it a wonder? Chicken in Naija is more of a big deal than meat or fish, while in England or America, it is the opposite. In fact chicken is the cheapest form of meat one can buy abroad, with the battery farms and all. In some Naija events or weddings, if you were given meat with your rice instead of chicken, you felt slighted and betrayed.
It was with this kind of mindset that a guy called Bode travelled to Scotland, UK with his wife and kids for the first time for his MBA program. Then on his 2nd week there, he discovered a shop called Farmfoods which is a UK chain of stores which specializes in frozen food and groceries. He nearly jumped out of the roof and even kissed the oyibo shopper next to him when he discovered the price for a whole frozen chicken – 1 Great British Pound. No VAT, no gimmicks, no shit. He quickly brought out money he was supposed to use for an important textbook, and bought like 7 packets.
He dashed straight home and summoned his wife for an emergency meeting.
“From now on, there will be changes in this house. See those 7 fowls there? I want you to cook all of them, and include in the children’s diet. My kids must eat chicken from now on.”
And so it was. His wife made chicken for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast? Grilled chicken in a bun or between slices of bread. Lunch? Rice and chicken stew, or efo with diced chicken wings and eba. Dinner? Fried chicken and wedges. His kids also took chicken to school as a packed lunch –chicken nuggets and some veg. Or a chicken fillet sandwich.
And on Saturdays, Bode watched Arsenal lose or draw their games, on Sky Sports, as he enjoyed chicken and gizzard peppersoup with a cold can of Fosters.
Soon the kids and wife got sick of it – they were almost growing chicken feathers and a comb. His youngest one started spitting out his chewed morsels during dinner. Bode didn’t care – it was a case of chop and quench until his Masters program ended.
Ah, awoof de run belle, but na at all at all na him de wound belle pass.
I know someone who loved TFC so much when they first started that he knew the words to the theme songs from one of their TV ads and sang it in the shower every morning. Do you remember the one with the words “We do chicken…”This dude also really likes Maxwell’s “Pretty Wings”
But really what is really going on in Nigeria? I have said it a million times but I won’t quit because when I look around, my heart bleeds. You won’t believe how bad things are here – more than half of our population cannot afford 3 square meals. This was a land of oil palm plantations. We used to grow cocoa, now we export kokolets
The groundnut pyramids have been replaced by square pegs in the round holes who have no master plan to return this nation to agriculture. We have gone from farming to famine. We have a lame government distributing rice to political sympathizers for votes like the Red Cross. Have you seen people at events in rural areas?
First of all, in most villages, before you can do your traditional marriage, pay a dowry or even bury someone, you have to perform some traditional obligations like provide foodstuff or cash for the village elders and kinsmen. And these people also show up at your event and demand their own tent or your event would be torpedoed or sanctioned by the community. You get the impression that some of the rites performed have little to do with tradition and more with economic interest. Have you seen these elders put away food?
At one event in the village, they handed a group of 15 elderly men, a huge tureen of oha soup and a very large slap of fufu. The soup contained more than a 100 pieces of meat, shaki, pieces of dried fish etc. The food was served in a way so that they could all eat together as it normally done in the rural settings to save plates.
These men proceeded to gently and painstakingly removed all the pieces of meat and fish bit by bit from the soup and requested a separate platter so that they could place them there so that nobody would feel cheated. They then divided the meat/fish piece by piece. And you know that it is mathematically difficult to divide 100 by 15, but they did it without a calculator.
They then proceeded to eat the fufu, each rolling a lump, dipping in the soup, and then swallowing turn by turn in a circle. Then one of them while dipping in the soup, found a loose piece of fish which had not been seen earlier. He attempted to hide it in his palm behind the lump of fufu he was holding, but one of the others spotted him and alerted the others.
They scolded him, and he had to forfeit the piece of fish to the platter to be shared! These dudes should be appointed to share our Federal Oil Revenue to the states.
So it is obvious that food is still a problem for most in Nigeria even among the middle classes. Many average people show up for weddings at the reception just to eat, and then they beat it immediately afterwards. They wear their fine cloth and look respectable, but dem no dey write am for face. I have been at weddings where well turned out people were scrambling for small chops on the table. Some people arrive at the reception, find a table, sit down and get busy, and by the time most other guests come, they see toothpicks and greasy plates where the small chops used to be. And the funny thing is that the greedy person would be hiding behind sunglasses, feeling cool and acting like nothing has happened.
My sister went to Aba to stay with an uncle for a few weeks when she was about 9. They went outside to play, and after an hour, my sister came running back in crying. My uncle asked my sister what was wrong. She complained that some of the other kids on the street were seriously abusing her, calling her “Lagos miss road” or “osisi” which means “stick” in Igbo, because she was rake-thin.
Unimpressed, my uncle said “If they called you that, go out and abuse them back. Call them ‘hungry people.’
That was the supreme insult. Forget someone calling you an axe murderer or a rogue; in Nigeria, especially in the East, if they called you hungry, you are finished socially.
When I just came back from England, I travelled to the East for a family wedding event. My father called me to come and meet some friends and relatives who had been asking about me during my absence.
There was one particular man, a red capped older man, who grabbed and hugged me, when I was introduced to him. He asked “Esco, do you know who I am? Can you remember me?”
I tried to think but drew a blank. If you are Igbo, you would probably have been asked this question before by distant relatives or uncles, and they take it personally if you say you don’t remember them. The trick is to say you do remember them, and that they are your uncle or ‘father’s brother.’ It won’t be a lie – every man much older than you is your uncle in Nigeria.
I didn’t lie though ”Sorry uncle, the face looks familiar; but I am not sure..”
The man looked really hurt and looked at me like I had betrayed him. He repeated in Igbo “So imagho onye m bu?” (So you really, really, really do not know who I am?)
I felt like saying “Nope sir…but I am sure you are about to educate me.” I didn’t.
“Uncle” educated me “ I am your dad’s brother Chief Eugene Onyeora. I am from the neighboring town from yours. You have really grown. The last time I saw you, you were just a little boy of about 3 or 4. So you cannot remember? I came to your house in Lagos on a Saturday morning .You were at the dining table, and you were having sweet akara balls for breakfast.”
Akara balls? This dude even remembered the food I was having when he came to our house in the 80s. I mean really? What an event. He remembered that day for the akara balls. Not because something really important like a man landing on the moon or someone breaking the 100 meter record, or something grand.
From the way he sounded, I am sure he was asked to come and eat as a polite gesture, but he didn’t decline.
Born sinner, the opposite of a winner/
Remember when I used to eat sardines for dinner/
Notorious B.I.G (Juicy, 1994)