I know I must have done a bit of nasty and absurd things in my childhood but this is probably one of the earliest, which kind of sticks out to me more. I am constantly fascinated and humored by the silliness and extreme childishness of this particular incident.
You know one of those afternoons that the sun just blazes ferociously across the sky, scorching you terribly and targeting very specific parts of your body, most especially the back of your neck, around your auricles getting to your ear lobes and the sides of your face, burning them so hard you’d think your skin would probably melt or peel off from absorbing so much heat. But somehow, it never does. Strange, right? Well, it is in those few times that I usually find myself thinking of the hawkers on the streets and wonder how they manage to survive under the cold fury of such a merciless sun. Hmm, but I guess that’s a story for another day.
So it was one of those outrageously sunny afternoons, I remember, the
afternoon Mama made her super delicious abenkwan to go with the fufu she had pounded. I must have been about five at the time and my sister, Victoria—who is an integral part of this story—should be about two because I’m three years older than her. I don’t remember exactly what day of the week it was. Forgive me, I was five and couldn’t care much about anything. But, if I’m to take a wild guess now, I’d most likely settle on a weekend, most probably, a Saturday if I’m to choose again precisely. I’d choose a weekend first because that would explain why my mother hadn’t gone to work. Then presumably a Saturday because I recall vividly that my father, my elder sister, Bella and my mother’s younger sister, Dadavi Akuvi, were all not at home. My dad should be at work as usual. Dadavi Akuvi and Bella, would be the ones taking care of affairs at Mama’s shop for sure. If it had been a Sunday, everyone would have been present when the incident took place, but none of them were. It was probably narrated to them later by my mother of course, that I can be sure of.
Sadly, I don’t remember exactly who it was that pounded the fufu but it would definitely be one of our numerous extended family members from my father’s side since we were staying at my gandfather’s at the time at Anloga. Anloga is a small town which forms part of the Oforikrom District, located in Kumasi in the Ashanti region of Ghana. Mama kept trying to find the perfect spot for us to hide in the open veranda where we sat, whenever the sun would catch up with us. The sun did not take it easy on us as it kept catching up with us after every recent move we made; then we’d have to move again. Mama would gather the cooking utensils she was using for her soup and move till she found a shady corner, then she’d beckon us to join her.
We (Vic and I) were not inside the house for two main reasons. One was for us to watch and learn from Mama as she cooked, me especially, while helping out with little errands like bringing her the salt, ladle, bowls or basically anything she’d need to aid in her cooking. The second, was so she could keep an eye on us. I could hear Mama’s abenkwan boiling under the influence of the red hot coal in the coal pot beneath it. Guda-guda. The refreshing aroma that reached my nostrils is something I haven’t been able to erase from memory till date, sixteen years later. Well, that’s mainly because my mother’s soup still harbors that same refreshingly inviting aroma that can just make anyone desire to taste it, regardless of whether one is hungry or not. Soon, the mouthwatering meal was done with and was ready for consumption. Mama took out an old, used and deep silver bowl and put in fufu for two. She scooped ladles of the soup and meat into the bowl till the fufu was almost invisible in the sea of soup surrounding it. She then warned us sternly that we shouldn’t dare drink the soup and leave the fufu behind or else, she would deal with us—and anybody who knows my mother well knows better than to have her deal with them.
‘I am not giving you another drop of soup if you finish this one I have given you before the fufu. I can’t waste my soup on two people who don’t give me any money for housekeeping in this house.’
Of course Mama said this in Ewe, my mother tongue, and it sounded very scary to our little ears. With that said, she left us to go and fetch water from one of the neighbouring houses which we would use for domestic activities later in the evening when everyone was back. So, Vic and I started eating our food, obediently following Mama’s orders at first. After taking about five tiny morsels of the fufu each, we decided unanimously that the fufu wasn’t nice; we were interested in the soup.
‘Can’t you see the fufu is tasteless without the soup?’ I said to Vic.
‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘It remains in my mouth long after the the soup has travelled down my throat and I don’t even know whether to swallow it or chew it.’
‘We don’t chew fufu, we swallow it.’
‘But it is not nice at all.’
‘Mmm okay, let’s do it this way then, when we take a morsel of fufu into our mouth, then we sip a little soup instead of just dipping the fufu into it, that way, we can swallow it,’ I suggested.
Smart Lizzy—supposedly smart at the time—had found the perfect solution for our problem; an excellent way to make ‘fufu swallowing’ easier and little Vic was super excited about the idea. She praised me for the marvellous idea and asked why we hadn’t thought of it earlier. So happily, we’d take tiny morsels of fufu, put them in our mouths, raise the bowl of soup and sip a little, taking turns each. My sister was overjoyed and said she now liked the food better. We paid very little attention, in fact we paid no attention at all, to the rapid rate at which the soup was dwindling, leaving the fufu behind. After a while, sense and reality kicked in and Vic exclaimed,
‘Eli, hw3 nkwan no de3 aka!’
It was then that I noticed the giant ball of fufu staring the both of us in the face, struggling to survive in the now almost next to nothing pool of abenkwan around it.
Yieee. Asem aba.
We were just about halfway through the meal and almost all the soup was already gone. What do we do? I began to panic as I remembered Mama’s strict warning, prior to her departure. Vic suggested that we wait for Mama to return and then beg her for another ladle of soup, which we’d consume considerately this time. I vehemently objected to the idea.
‘No!, Didn’t you hear what she said before leaving? She’ll beat us.’
Vic agreed because she knew. Actually, Mama would beat only me, because I was the eldest and there was no way I was going to allow that to happen.
Hah, never!, not this sunny afternoon.
I had to think of something fast. There was obviously no way we could eat the fufu raw either—I could try but Vic wouldn’t.
‘So what do we do then,’ she asked me cluelessly.
Right then, I got the strangest idea ever, and yet again, my still developing brain in my tiny head at the time thought it nothing less of brilliant. I told Vic and she consented, it wasn’t like she knew any better to object anyway. So the idea was to keep adding bits and bits of water to the remaining soup till it became plenty enough that we could use to finish the fufu. After all, was the preparation of abenkwan not about adding water till you reached your desired level? Besides, I had seen Mama do it. A little water shouldn’t make much difference anyway, or so I thought naively. I convinced Vic that the soup would remain just as Mama had made it and that she wouldn’t even notice, let alone suspect a thing. Little did I know! So I took the cup of water beside us—the one meant for us to drink and wash our hands with after eating— and slowly, I poured a little into our bowl of fufu and soup. The soup rose to a slightly higher level. I asked Vic to taste and tell me if it tasted differently. She did and reported it was still the same.
‘Herr, Eli wonim nyansa oo,’ she chanted gleefully.
The plan was working perfectly and we continued our meal, till I decided we should add a bit more water whenever the level of the soup diminished.
‘That way it’d stay plenty till we finish the fufu and drink the rest. After all, it doesn’t change anything.’
And that was how our generous bowl of abenkwan gradually transitioned into this pathetic bowl of ‘nsuo nkwan’. The soup had become so watery that it was generally impossible to still call what we had in front of us as ‘soup’ from the look of it. Basically, it looked like an emulsion of water and oil, with the thin film of oil dancing across the surface of the water and some clinging firmly to the edges of the bowl, as if holding on for dear life. At this point, Vic could tell she no longer liked the taste of the soup or whatever mixture it was I had created.
‘Eli as3 nkwan no asesa oo, 3ny3 d3 bio,’ she said.
I assured her that it was okay and that we just had to gulp it down and finish the fufu quickly before Mama’s expected return. She complied even though she kept reminding me of how tasteless the soup had become, every now and then after every morsel she took, as if I didn’t already know. I too knew very well how badly the soup, or should I say ‘what was supposed to have been soup’ tasted but to whom was I to complain, when I was the sole manufacturer of this disaster called soup? I just kept swallowing my fufu forcibly, morsel after morsel, and praying we finish it before Mama comes back. As expected, the dreaded happened and some few minutes afterwards, Mama came back. It did not take her long to notice the ridiculous mixture sitting in front of us.
‘What is this that you guys have done!’ she screamed.
Vic was quick to answer.
‘We made the soup plenty,’ she said innocently.
‘Well, the soup was getting finished and we didn’t want you to beat us so we added a bit of water. See how plenty it has become,’ Vic continued.
I remained mute, fearing that any word from me could translate into doom for me, so I gladly let her speak on our behalf or should I say, on my behalf. Mama laughed so hard and long, hitting her hand on the wall from time to time amid breaks in her laughter, shaking her head.
Whoo…, I heaved a sigh of relief.
At least Mama wasn’t screaming or shouting insults at us or trying
to locate the nearest stick around; she was laughing.
‘So how do you like your new soup now,’ she asked us, still laughing.
Once again, Vic answered, ‘Well it is not exactly like yours. This one is tasteless, it’s more like water.’
‘Because that’s what it is! This is water and oil, not soup! How foolish can you be.’
She took the bowl and poured away the liquid mess I had made. She then gave us fresh hot soup from the saucepan. This time she did not warn us about finishing the soup before the fufu, she warned us against adding water or any other thing to it and even said we could come for more if we needed.
Wow! It seemed my ‘nsuo nkwan’ had done the magic: first, we got to escape the beatings and on top of that, we got to enjoy more of Mama’s delicious abenkwan. Yay! We finished the rest of the food in joy.
Lesson (that’s if there’s any to learn anyway): Desperate situations call for desperate actions. Haha.
Akan/Asante Twi phrases:
Fufuo – fufu; an indigenous Ghanaian dish (typically the main dish of Ashantis) made from pounding cassava and plantain together till they mixed into a perfectly smooth mass or ball. Sometimes, cocoyam and yam can be used to replace plantain.
Nsuo nkwan – Watery soup
Abenkwan – Palm nut soup; a type of soup made from palm nuts used to eat fufu and many other Ghanaian dishes.
Eli, hw3 nkwan no de3 aka – Eli, see how much of the soup is left.
Yiee, as3m aba – We’re in trouble or translated directly as ‘Trouble has come’.
Herr, Eli, wonim nyansa oo – Wow, Eli, you are very smart/ you are very wise.
Eli, as3 nkwan no asesa. 3ny3 d3 bio – Eli, it seems the soup has changed. It’s no longer tasty.
Ao, Mawunye! – Oh my God!