One man’s meat is another man’s poison
Old African saying
The gastronomic inclinations of many an African, matched against the dietary
provisions at many international – non African – conferences make for interesting
By and large, it would appear that if the combined views of the Ghanaians, Nigerians
and Ugandans are anything to go by, the African diet is by far richer in spice and
style. The European diet on the other hand is …well, anything but spicy. Actually,
dour and colorless would be more like it- a wicked combination that has conspired to
rob many an African of belly-full enjoyment at these events.
Ojigwe arrived weary and hungry from Lagos.
“Can I get some food to eat?” he thundered.
“Well, you could get some bread … a tuna sandwich and a drink…”
Ojigwe is outraged. “We want real food o, madam. What kind bread be dis?!”
For one invitation only session, I am asked to specify the dietary needs of the
Ghanaian delegation. I mischievously opt to go to town with a wish list. I tell
conference organizers that my people have a preference for fufu, ebunubunu soup,
grass cutter meat, snails and dry fish. If however, it is only waakye, talia, wele,
fish and egg with “please make the pepper plenty, small”, we are quite willing to
We arrive at the event salivating in glorious anticipation. A departure from this
bread staple – finally! Bread in the morning, bread in the afternoon, bread in the
evening. Soft bread, hard bread, extra hard bread. Brown bread, white bread, cream
bread, yellow bread, cake like bread. Bread with jam, with cheese and with soup or
what looks like it!
We are disappointed! Instead of the rich menu proposed earlier, they start with oval
bread and then follow it with something that looks like meat pie wrapped around some
bokor bokor leaves. And then, there is the salmon with the so called risotto. And
then dissert – some sweet something to be eaten with a baby spoon or a fork. A look
at your neighbor’s plate makes you sadder for him; multi colored leaves, leaves,
Na leaves we go chew?!
We in Africa don’t have time for this poco a poco eating. Small bread here, small
soup there, a little cake and straw berry ice cream there! The big bang approach is
to be preferred. Come to Africa and see something; we like it hot, spicy and
massive! No banana afterwards! If anything, the banana will precede the real meal in
an attempt to tamper justice with mercy. Why spoil the soft, hot ewokple against
some properly pepperized and gingerized tilapia in raw pepper sauce with strawberry
ice cream afterwards?
At their deceptive best, the organizers advertize a lunch reception. Again, hopes
are high. And again, the hopes are thwacked. First of all, it is a standing event,
further dissipating the little energy left. The diet is a mixture of drinks and
flour—based preparations of different varieties and some biscuits. Drinks are served
in small plastic cups. Small poverty-stricken cups! Do they know the size of the
‘cup’ that big brother Wedg uses to take his morning dzogbo in Dzodze? Surely this
is a joke called lunch!
Midway, a beautiful African sister whispers, “Is this all, or is lunch now about to
It is what we might refer to in Ghana as small chops. With small chops for lunch
and dinner, nkitinkiti inevitably sets in with the approach of night. In your room,
you cautiously approach the bowl of groundnuts, strategically located by hotel
staff for your nocturnal edification. Never mind that you have always viewed the
ground nuts with great suspicion. Should you or should you not? It is tricky. Will
the cost be on the house or will the merciless capitalists have their say and their
way? You twirl the bowl round and round and finally decide against consumption,
your hunger pangs notwithstanding.
In the morning, the verdict comes in. Your worst fears are confirmed! The hotel has
billed you four good Euros for that miserable bowl of ground nuts that you only
touched in admiration and in exchange for which you could have had two big jars of
the stuff back home. In the ensuing conversations, it is revealed that the hotel
has some device that monitors touch. You touch and it translates to “you have
eaten.” In other places, we are told of how every time you open the fridge, you are
automatically billed on the assumption that you are drinking your head off!
Really? Is someone spying on us?
Gastronomic suffering is however not equitably distributed, I discover. Ample
evidence abounds of many including some honorable Ministers who travel armed to the
teeth with shito, tinned fish and gari. For such people, when others complain about
the pediatric doses, they simply smile in mock sympathy. Your pain is not their pain
and your suffering not theirs. So famous has the shito become that some African
compatriots have been known to exclaim “Where is that black thing you Ghanaians
always carry everywhere?” Of course this would be in a dire moment of need with the
said fellow African salivating for a piece of the action—“that black thing” that
will add that sharp zing that is woefully absent!
After three days of this poverty-stricken existence, the sons of men and the
daughters of Eve begin to lose weight. You long for the motherland. One more week in
Oyibo land and you will be dead meat. There is a mass resolution. Oyibo is killing
us softly! We must go back to sweet Africa and to colorful meals. We dream of eba
and ogborno soup spiced with crayfish. We salivate for tuo zaafi and bito soup or
with ayoyo floating in ground nut soup. This is real tasty piping hot soup, not that
acrylic preparation that looks like mashed off -white chalk and tastes like half
To worsen matters, it is dispensed from a machine! How can you cook and supply real
pepper soup from a machine and not expect us to be suspicious? Totally unacceptable!
You can never eat fufu with this concoction they call soup! My mother will be
God bless African cuisine and may he reveal to Europeans, the delights of life
beyond bread. As for me, in twelve days, I have had enough bread to last me a
lifetime! A final plea; when we do have visitors, let us have mercy and give them
real food to eat. They are really suffering! If not, why will that Japanese I met at
the East Legon joint swallow the sizable omo tuo balls in two morsels only and
promptly wash it down thereafter with a generous helping of palm nut soup?