Encounters Between Cultures – Oyibo in Africa II

I was treated with less privilege at the boarding school where I was eventually sent to acquire some much needed survival skills. It was a struggle for first second and third place in the food line and so on till the last place.  I always found myself last. It wasn’t polite to push and shove now was it?  At least that was what I had been taught so I hung back and was pushed and shoved right into starvation.  If you are last in line you get the meanest part of the food, the charred scrapings off the bottom of the pot. Your growth is stunted and you could become a moron from the lack of nutrients and iodine to your brain. I never forgave my father for sending me there and denying me an additional 3 inches and 10 IQ points.

This unseemly rush for food was absurdly followed with lessons on the proper use of cutlery. We stood round long tables (all the chairs were broken or stolen) and I learnt to press my charred rice grains onto the back of a fork with a table knife from the nuns that ran the school. Sometimes they tried to bring order into the food line with long supple canes. This was for me an invaluable lesson; Americans just shovel food into their mouth with fork, spoon and even knife. Still, the school was more like a Victorian orphanage from a Charles Dickens novel than a Swiss finishing school; primitive facilities, brutal adults, rigid discipline, mean unruly students, forced prayers and false piety.

My education in African food etiquette continued when I got married. I married early to escape my fathers’ tyranny, only to discover that all Igbo-Nigerian men are tyrants especially when they are in the role of husband. And I did not have just one husband. According to the Igbo rules all my husbands’ relatives, male and female were considered my husbands. While it had nothing to do with sex it did mean that I was expected to treat them subserviently like I was expected to treat my husband and that included feeding them. The most entitled of the lot were my husbands’ sisters, before long I was thinking of them as the Three Witches and myself as poor Cinderella. (I had a melodramatic victim mentality back then.)

Anyway before I learnt my lesson many a household fight had ensued over the fact that I failed to distribute some dish I cooked to all my numerous ‘husbands’. Mind you I did not begrudge any one food, it just didn’t occur to me to cook for ten or twenty every single time I made a snack especially when there was already enough food in the kitchen to feed a football team. But it was the ‘principle’ of the thing. I wasn’t ‘sharing’. The Three Witches took sharing very seriously, so seriously in fact that they frequently helped themselves to their share of whatever it was they felt entitled to including my clothes, the car, money and of course the food, leaving the rest of us to eat without meat.

Food worth fighting over (From Google Images)

Food is definitely worth fighting over (From Google Images)

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