You Chop, I Chop (2)

Food for thought


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)

16 responses

  1. It is true all ur say, and its d same all over nigeria. For my sister’s wedding(3 days) 4 cows were killed, people ended up taking raw meat home even after eating to their satisfaction. I’ll say most of the time its greed and not actual hunger. We like to hoard for the rainy day instead of prepare for it. People have left peasant farming hence there is shortage of food for the avg man in rural cities because the blue collar job they are doing isn’t enough to buy the expensive foods in the market.

    The so called elites who fight for food at gatherings is what bothers me, which leads me to classify it as greed. Plus u know in our individual cultures, its the culturally acceptable thing to do by offering people food, so if they don’t get it, they feel offended. I remember growing up, I used to get offednde when people came visiting(especially at weekends), my mother will go on a cooking spree asking us to serve like a mini restaurant(and I had to do the dishes) and I used to question her how she knew they were hungry but she always said, we are igalas, that’s how we receive people, by giving them food when they visit you. Anyways back to nigeria as a whole, we just need to start being content with what we have and go back to having small vegetable gardens so we have an abundance of food if not anything else.

    I have a theory for the chicken scourge, in my place chickens are kinda sacred because they offer them as sacrifices to the dieties and the only way u get tot eat chicken is when it has been offerred as a sacrifice, making chickens expensive and not an everyday meat option, I don’t know bout the rest of nigeria.

    P.s a bbm contact had a groundnut pyramid pic up as display picture to which he said, ‘if found, pls return to kano’.
    I thot that was hilarious.

    Sorry for the long comment *blushing*

  2. lol. i was laughing almost all through while reading this article. i am igbo too and distant relations i dont know always ask “imaro onye mbu? ichezona mbe……..(u dont know who i am? have u forgotten when……….bla bla bla) Your uncle get supa retentive memory o, all because of the food involved. lol.

  3. Hahahaha, funny stuff. Hunger dey wire people for Naija o. Actually today sef I went for a wedding and left only after eating, I know I know poor form but I figured after giving my gift a brother needed to eat

  4. my grandmas half sisters!!!! i rest my case here.

    God forbid that i have their genes in me, but sometimes the buffet table looks tres appealing. I do it with class and style… a girls got to have puff puff and more😉

    but seriously, we’ve got to be Thankful!!! There’s poverty out there and its mad crazy. I’m just glad i’ve been shielded from all that and i hope beyond hope that i can do my part in making things better for those around me.

  5. lol.ur so on point with the igbo culture of relatives always asking if you dont remember them..and the way they’ll hug you eh, as if..that ur uncle sha.lol.i rest my case

    as for hunger in the land, its plenty.in fact, hunger and greed.not only in the villages even in the cities. i n lagos for instance, at most parties that are usually held in a residential area, you’ll still see uninvited street guests coming to chop. its a pity sha..and ur so right about the chicken thing too. i wonder why its that way. I guess its cos the focus we shud hav on agriculture and farming is not there. Farmers are not encouraged cos the govt doesnt rily subsidize them.

  6. totally agree, theres massive hunger in the land, it is frightening, many times during discussion i’d say oh poverty is not an excuse’ but visiting naija damn it’s poverty and greed all rolled into it, almost as if the the rich/politicos are scared of what they see when they roll about with their suv or get irritatingly stuck in traffic! I still dont know why chicken is expensive in fact i dont know how food is more expensive in naija than Uk, with all the local mini farms and fish farm business everywhere

  7. Esco Happy Sunday! Anything for boys? Lol I honestly don’t understand how you didn’t win any awards o! I sha voted for you, and I want to tell you ‘well done, keep it up, God bless you.’ Your posts should definitely be published man!

  8. @ Munira – wow, people were carting away raw ? how kind of you guys to give them anyway. Back in the day, beggars and destitutes were the ones who used to storm events at the end with nylon bags to collect remnants on guests plates or the ‘bottom pot’ from the caterers. Now the situation is so bad in Nigeria, that many people are glorified beggars even though they look respectable. Hunger is no respecter of persons. I feel so bad about the situation. Even standard items like bread and garri are so expensive now.

    Your mum is right. It is not only an Igala tradition but a tradition in most ethnic groups in Nigeria. When you offer a guest food in your home, you are being hospitable in the highest manner possible. Even the English offer tea sometimes. There are times when my sister wont have the complete ‘workmanship’ fee to pay her mechanic for working on her car, but the mechanic never used to bother because he was always eating in her house. She even used to give him foodstuff.

    Many people whose domestic helps steal from them or harm their kids is because they starve the helps or discriminate against them with the kind of food they eat.

    You made a moot point about the chickens. Hmmm…

    Nice post – the longer the better.

    @ Che – these type of uncles are a dime a dozen, eh? Why do they get offended when you honestly say you cant remember them? I was only 3 for goodness sakes. I do remember eating akara balls every Saturday though. Nice one

    @ Sir Fariku – You too much jare. if you gave them a gift, then you have a right to grab a plate and leave.

    @ fantasy queen – Yes o. We all owe it to ourselves to help those around us

    @ Stelzz – the government is really not interested in agriculture for now, or so it seems. i think people should do their part by preventing wastage at events and allowing destitutes take the excess remains.

    Btw, I saw ur profile pic today in your blog….Nice

    @ Dam Dam – all those fish farms and mini-farms are glorified ponds and gardens. They cannot cover the sheer demand.

    @ Chicken and Chips – Happy Sunday my correct person. thanks for voting for me. you can also follow me on twitter @Escowoah. Plans for a book are underway. Nice one

  9. This was hilarious. My early years was spent in Ibadan (within the grounds of United Missionary College, Oke-Ado to be precise). I still have fond memories of that peaceful city. However, I remember quite clearly my mom had a garden behind our bungalow, where we grew pepper, tomatoes, green vegetables and also reared our own chickens. Since it was a teachers’ training college, some of her students occassionally popped in to help with the weeding and planting. To top it all, we had a bakery right at the back on the other side of the fence (so every morning, we were assured of hot bread). I should not describe my daily breakfast take out to school, you’d be green with envy. lol.
    It consisted of fish fingers, sandwich, tree top (it used to be sold in small satchets). Don’t know why it was discontinued. We’d top it off with a bottle of green sandy (if i’m correct).
    Those were the good old days. Fast forward to 2011 and i’m in Lagos – the commercial nerve centre. Where and how possible is it to have a small patch of garden within a rented apartment? Your guess is as good as mine. Land is pretty expensive and way out of the common man’s league that I have resolved to relocate back to Ibadan and build my dream house with my own garden. There’s great poverty in this land and the earlier we cultivate the habit of mechanised agriculture, the better for us. Sorry for the long post but I tend to wax lyrical when I remember those good old days.

  10. Lovely blog, first time here!
    I agree with Munira greed certainly has a lot to do with it. Heard a story about an aunty who always spent her weekends at ‘owambes’, she would invite her nieces and nephews who after a few trips would refuse to go with her because she would embarass them. The story is that she had enough money and food to host parties every week but once she got to those parties she ate, drank and generally ordered food as if she was starving!
    This is not to say that poverty and hunger do not exist but it is everywhere! My mum would make sure we ate and our bellies were full to ensure we did not drool for food before we went out for parties!
    A lot needs to be done to eradicate the hunger in our midst!

  11. ah gosh!!! i just stumbled on ur blog but i have to bookmark it. u are a breath of fresh air. couldnt stop laughing, great writer!!

  12. 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.

    THAT JUST MADE ME LAUGH!! I WILL REMEMBER THAT THE NEXT TIME IN THE VILLAGE

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