Saturday, February 21, 2009

Eat Or You Die…

My boss was in the bank. As I sat outside waiting, I stared at another bank that had closed mysteriously.

One day customers woke up and went to the bank only to be told their bank had been shifted to another branch. No reason, no explanations. Just like that.

I wondered why the shift. Was money mysteriously disappearing from their vaults? Was the building haunted? Why then did they still maintain security staff and a fully functioning ATM at an abandoned bank building?

“Ek’ aaro oh!” Her greeting broke into my reverie. I looked at her. She carried her baby in the crock of her armpit and held 2 deep plates in each hand. Their contents were visible. One contained garri, our culinary lingua franca, the other held water.

“Ek’aaro!” I answered. My Yoruba was very shaky but at least I knew a greeting when I heard one.

I watched as she sat down and lay down the baby on one thigh, parallel to the ground. It was an odd position to keep a baby so I looked on fascinated. She then proceeded to turn all the water from one small bowl into the other that contained dry garri until the whole thing turned into that popular breakfast of champions called “G4” or “garium sulphate” or even better, “cassa-flakes”. She wanted to soak garri.

I noticed two other things. One, that she didn’t sieve (or filter, depending on your grammar) the garri to remove the particles of ash, cassava fibers and other such debris floating on top. Some people claimed that if you did, you took away the garri’s “power”. Second, she didn’t have a spoon with her.

She looked up and caught me watching as she did her “chemistry experiment”. “E wa jeun”, she said. I knew that one too. I was very amused. “Eseun ma!” I replied as I smiled and shook my head for emphasis.

She then turned the child (I could see it was a boy) on his side, wrestled his arms together behind him and pinned them with her elbow. The child, very much aware of what came next began wailing in a shrill voice that attracted the attention of other onlookers until one by one they looked away. They were probably used to this sight by now. I went back to my role as her only spectator.

I watched as she skillfully tilted the garri solution until it ran into her cupped palm placed around his mouth, all the while keeping the child trapped within the fortress of her arms and thighs. The mini-river began gushing in and each he opened his mouth to gasp, the liquid flowed in with each sob.

Somewhere inside him, an unyielding esophagus was reluctantly widening, trying in vain to block out the river which was building up behind his lips and yet responding to his body’s natural reflex for air. It even opened wider with each gasp. I had heard and read of the technique before but I had never seen it till now.

I just had to capture this. I brought out my phone and scrolled to the camera menu. She was a bit far off so I had to zoom in so as not to catch her attention. The picture quality wouldn’t be too good but I wouldn’t want to be responsible for the poor child choking to death! I even thought of making a video with my phone. This would probably make great material for CNN’s iReport. Or would they just turn it around and use it as propaganda to show the “primitiveness of Africa”?

I tried to change my phone to video mode but the stupid thing was acting up. I still watched the child and his mother as he choked and a huge fountain of garri shot out of his throat. His tummy widened more to let in the vital source of nutrition. Another river flowed, this time from his eyes. I was still debating the video question when my Boss walked out of the bank and we had to go.

I still think about the scene I had witnessed. That child had refused to eat. His mother had forced him to. Somewhere in his puny heart he hated her at the moment but he’d say “Mummy, I love you” hours later when she lay him on the mat to sleep. Rather than let him die without eating, she would nearly kill him just to feed him. Ironical. One way or the other feeding and death were involved. OK, maybe it wasn’t as drastic as that.

He would grow up someday to become a strapping young lad, probably the toast of the ladies. Or who knows, the MD of that bank with the mysterious building. Or maybe, President…

He will recall many things: his mother’s love, his personal milestones, his hometown, his first real kiss. He wouldn’t remember the times when his mother force-fed him as a child.

Or the Phoneparazzi that snapped her as she did…


Ek' aaro oh! -- Good morning

E wa jeun -- Come and (join me to) eat

E seun ma -- Thank you ma’am

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Doctor Dolittle

Warning: Animal lovers and some squirmy people might find this post… well… squirmy

Ever since I moved into my new neighbourhood late last year, I seem to be caught up in a “Dr. Dolittle” moment of some sort. You all know Dr. Dolittle don’t you? That funny vet guy who talks to animals?

Well, me and these animals seem to be communicating alright. I can’t hear what they’re saying much but they sure do get my message: GERROUTTTT!!! It’s that simple.

I’m beginning to suspect Noah must have ditched his ark right beside my house and some drunken scholar mistakenly wrote Mount Ararat instead. Ever since I moved into this house, I have seen (and been bitten by) every specie of ant known to man and Martians alike. The other time I turned on the bulb late at night to see a family of spiders scurrying across the floor like as if they had a movie to catch and were late.

Then there are the usual suspects: rats and cockroaches. Like any self-respecting bachelor knows, nothing spoils a guy’s rep worse than cockroaches. I mean, that lady you’ve been eyeing may never know there are rats in the house unless she sleeps over but cockroaches…!

I mean, check this out: After weeks of persuasions and negotiations, she finally agrees to pay you a visit. Your house is clean, the can of air-freshener is half empty and the wine is chilling at minus 6 degrees. She’s laughing at your jokes, your apprehensions are gradually dying out and you actually begin patting yourself on the back.

Hold your horses! Just when the conversation becomes lighter and you’re about to ask her her favourite position, that silly cockroach on your wall close to the ceiling who’s been straining to eavesdrop on the gossip leans over too far and falls right on top of her head!

It happened to me once and I can tell you, the only funny thing was the sight of the lady in question dancing “atilogwu” as she tried to get it off without ripping her weavon!

Now, before the thought enters your head, no, I ain’t really untidy, honest! The dumb things just hide in the most unimaginable corners until I’ve finished my spring cleaning then they come out to show me who really owns the house. Imagine! Like after boiling a kettle to take a hot bath, out pops a cockroach in your bathing water. What was it doing inside the kettle for goodness sake? Taking a sauna? And there you were thinking only you hated the Harmattan…

Anyhow, before I go on and on, here are some pictures of the Dolittle moments I’ve phoneparazzi-ed in my house over the past few weeks:

Scenario 1: This poor bugger probably thought he was the Michael Phelps of Rat-dom. He drowned in a basin in my kitchen while practicing the backstroke in preparations for the Animalympics. Predictably, I didn’t mourn.

Scenario 2: The power company’s struck again! It’s pitch black but you just need to visit the loo. Thankfully, there’s a torch at hand so “no shaking”! You go to the White House, point the light at the WC bowl and this is what you see:
I can’t figure out what it is with these animals and water. Tried flushing the bugger but he just came up for air each time. Finally had to give the dumb lizard a hand. NOOOOOO, I didn’t stick my hand in there! I just put in the mop handle and left him to figure out the rest…

Scenario 3: Still relishing your victory in the former scenario, you suddenly discover that you’ve used up all your water and need to get more. The tap inside had stopped running so out I went to get me some and something HUGE leaped out of the darkness at ME!
It took all my manliness to prevent me running back indoors screaming like a banshee. Anyway, I gathered my resolve to look outside again and as you can see from the pix, this warty fellow wasn’t even camera-shy at all like as if he owned the front of my door! Now, I really don’t mind toads but my mum has a saying: Where there are toads (and frogs), snakes will surely come…

Let me stop here for now. Have a pest-free week!