Encounters Between Cultures – Oyibo in Africa III

Not morsel of food goes to waste in a Igbo-Nigerian village kitchen. Not one grain of rice. I used to think it absurd the way women spent valuable time chasing after the last grain of rice or the last piece of crayfish in the washing bowl to add to the pot.  If it found its way to the soot covered floor it would be picked up, washed with great care and put in the pot. I wondered how much of a difference that really made. Conservation wasn’t a fad, it was a way of life.  I was less careful during food preparation, I was used to wasting food, I grew up in prosperous overfed America. Surely, it didn’t matter if a few grains of rice or crayfish fed the ants, the flies and the cockroaches, there was lots of food to go round and they were God creatures too!

I certainly didn’t think throwing out the entrails of a chicken mattered, no not the heart gizzard and liver, the intestines. But it did, and I got into trouble for it. A considerate woman calls the local urchins and gives it to them in exchange for help with some household chore like washing the pestle and mortar or fetching firewood and saw dust for the burner. They would carefully wash and clean them, roll them on sticks and roast them in the fire with salt and pepper. Anyone familiar with Nigerian cuisine knows every part of the cow is eaten too. A Igbo-Nigerian delicacy I don’t see made any more involved catching the blood of a slaughtered goat in a bowl of salt water, letting it congeal slightly, pouring it into the clean stomach sac, boiling and slicing it up into the pepper soup.

I was usually in too much of a hurry to finish cooking and do important things, like listen to music, write poems, read books and day dream, to obsess over a few grains of rice or chicken entrails. My aunts and my mother in law were not impressed, I was not considered good wife material. I was also reluctant to use fish and meat in the same pot of soup much less snails and bush meat too.  I was assured that this was very very bad for the long term success of my marriage. The way to a Nigerian man’s heart was definitely through his stomach I was told. Pot bellies were not only a sign of affluence they were also a sign of a loving attentive wife.

Long after I learned to make the kind of soup that single urban Nigerian women now use to woo potential suitors, my husband, a finicky picky eater, stayed resolutely skinny.  No amount of assurances or tearful denials on my part could convince anyone that I wasn’t deliberately starving him or that I wasn’t a bad wife. You had to be a bad wife if your husband did not gain weight after marrying you, even worse was if he lost weight after marrying you then you weren’t just a bad wife you were an amusu or a witch that sucked his blood. His mother and sisters felt obligated to torment you for trying to kill their son and brother, just in case you were.

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