Category Archives: food

Moo!

The cow is an amazing animal. For some (Indian Hindus) it symbolises God. For some, it is a tool for agriculture, for ploughing the fields and for fertilising the soil. For some, it is a means of transport. For others, it is a source of nourishment – providing beef, milk, cheese, butter and leather. I think most people would see a cow as wealth.

As a Fulani girl, I certainly have much love for the cow. As you may have read from my earlier blogs, my infancy/toddlerhood was spent on my granddad’s farm (Benue Valley Farm, Fufore). Although the horses are up there with all the great things in life, I always had a special soft spot for the nursing cows and their calves. The bulls to be honest just scared the hell out of me so I always stayed well away from them but not so the calves. We Nigerians believe that when bulls see red, they charge (I am not sure if this is a wider belief) – because of that whenever I forgot to check my clothes before heading to the farm, I would sit in the car in fear of being gored to death. So the bulls get a bit less love from me although I do admire their huge humps from a safe distance.

I remember the joy when we got to the farm after some time away to find a fresh crop of calves all soft and wobbly on their legs, sticking as close to their mums as they physically can. It was fascinating watching them breastfeed and I remember feeling sorry for the poor mums as the calves violently suckled on their udders. If we went early enough, we would catch the milking and the milkers (they were men!) would squirt warm milk straight into our mouths as we danced around in joy. I loved watching as over the days the calves grew in confidence and started to stray away from their mums in little groups. And it was one of those magic moments to see them run for the first time, venturing out into the big bad world without their mum by their side. I must confess I am not sure if calves run but I don’t think they gallop or do they?

There was one particular cow in the herd that was people-friendly and liked to be petted. Now most fully-grown cows are quite aloof and stately so being petted is not something you would do. The calves are usually quite skittish too so cow-love must normally be from a distance. Not this heifer. The herdsmen would call to her using a strange sound that was neither word nor whistling but a cross between. We would scan the herd excitedly, hundreds of cows milling about soon after coming back from grazing into the pen. Then eventually a dark brown cow would emerge from the group and head straight for us. She would poke her head down and through the wooden slats of the fence to the little people waiting expectantly and we would stroke her warm hide and feel the way her skin vibrated and rippled. That is what stays with me; the warm leathery feel and her large eyes looking at us as if with fondness. She was so patient too. She stayed for as long as our attention was fixed on her and we would stay with her for as long as our mama or granddad would let us.

My other main interaction with cows came around slaughter times. My mum, being from a farm and daughter of a Fulani man, preferred to slaughter a cow when we needed meat and then freeze carefully packaged parcels of meat to use daily over time until we went through it all. Just before we ran out of beef, we would get delivery of a bull and he would be tethered to the tree in the back garden and fed some grass. I am not sure why he was kept for days before he was slaughtered but I would hang about the back door, half afraid and half wanting to make friends. I would take a pace back when he mooed and stared at me. Eventually, I would make my way to within a metre of him and talk to him. I would bring fresh water and grass and watch him eat and drink. I would inevitably ask my mama if I could name him but I was forbidden to do so. My mama explained that if I named him, I would start seeing him as a pet and then it would be haram (i.e. forbidden Islamically) for me to eat his meat. So I would refrain from naming him but nevertheless, I would be his friend for the rest  of his life.

I watched the slaughter every time despite the sadness it caused me. I would stand inside the parlour (sitting room) and stare out the window as the men tussled with the cow to get him to lie down. They would tie his legs together and dig a hole beside his neck. Next would come the sound of metal on metal as the knife was sharpened as per halal slaughter tradition. I would whisper prayers for a swift death at this point. Then his neck would be extended and with a prayer, the cut in one swift motion. The smell of fresh hot blood spurting into the waiting hole is an ingrained memory. The bit that followed was the worst bit for me…it was chaotic with blood on hands and the volume of the work to do to clean, parcel and tuck it all away into the meat freezer. My main job was to help braid the intestines which we would cook with liver and kidneys to make the most delicious sauces. Much as I had mixed feelings about those days, I learnt much from them. Not least where my meat comes from and facing the fact that an animal has to die for me to enjoy some meat. So I have the utmost respect for meat.

From a Fulani point of view, a cow is more than just a source of meat, dairy products or manure. To us, the cow is the symbol of wealth and I suspect respectability to some extent. Every Fulani person that can afford it has a cow or 2 somewhere back home. I used to have a herd that started from a heifer bought for me when I was a baby (this herd has been lost in time). A couple years ago, my mama felt guilty about my loss so she got me another heifer and I am proud to say I also have a calf that is about 6 months old today. Beautiful calf too – light brown with intelligent eyes. I feel an inordinate amount of pride for my cows and I know many a Fulani woman (or man) feels the same. Of course cows are a source of security because they do fetch a mint in the market so should you need a lump sum, you have it banked. Also we love our milk, yoghurt and man-shanu (which is like ghee) and in the old days, we controlled the supply of those. Around our parts, there is no better treasure to give to your wife when you marry her than the gift of a young heifer. It warmed my cockles when Roger Federer (the greatest tennis player ever!) was rewarded with a cow when he won the Wimbledon trophy for the first time. Now those Swiss know how to appreciate talent!

It is widely known in Nigeria that the Fulanis have a love affair with their cows. We are proud cow people. The saying goes that a Fulani man would let you steal his wife but touch his cows and you are a dead man. You may have heard of the skirmishes in North-central Nigeria around the Jos area which lead to a lot of deaths (of Fulanis and Josites alike) peaking about 4 years ago. Rumours are that at the centre of this bloodshed was the killing of herds of Fulani’s cows in protest of the Fulani herdsmen letting their cows graze on private lands. Suffice it to say, in a place like Yola which is Fulani central, no one dares steal or harm a cow because we all know how true the fears are. Heads will certainly roll should you mess with this Fulani woman’s cow (in a non-violent way of course because yours truly does not sanction violence). Also cows have free reign to roam in many Northern towns and cities and when they cross roads, we all have to sit patiently in our cars and wait until they stroll off the road before the journey can continue. That is major in Nigeria because as most people know, we are not big on patience.

My husband and I on the face of it have not got that much in common and when people ask me I struggle to come up with more than a couple of reasons. However, last year I realised probably the biggest unifier between us is the cow. He is Zulu you see and they too are cow people. So when I comment on how gorgeous cows are and take pictures as they stroll past my car or graze in fields, he totally gets it. I found an art gallery (Whitewall Galleries on Colmore Row, Birmingham) when in town with my husband last summer and although we disagreed about many paintings on display, we totally fell in love with one. A picture of a smiling cow by a fabulously talented local artist. I still have my eye on it and now that we have bought the house, it is next on the shopping list.

A Frenchie Couple of Days

Ebola is easy [to catch]. In the 1990s scientists in America put an [Ebola] infected monkey in a cage on one side of a room and a healthy monkey in a cage on the other. Two weeks later, the healthy monkey was dead. Following a spate of Hollywood films, most people believe the human race is at greatest risk of annihilation from a giant meteorite or some kind of religious nuclear war. But if Ebola ever gets on a plane, experts say that 90 per cent of us will be dead within six months. It is known in America, where they are good at names, as a ‘slate wiper.’

I am quoting directly from Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘The World According to Clarkson’. I have been trying not to lotl (laugh out too loud) as he brilliantly ridicules everything from the Lottery’s Heritage fund to the British Government’s then PM His royal Tonyness to the fact that Germans actually rule the world. Of course, the Ebola bit is not in the least bit funny. It is kinda scary in this period when Ebola has taken nearly 1000 lives in Africa. Having read half of Clarkson’s book so far and finding myself agreeing with him on things I never thought we would have in common, I came across this quote on Ebola and it prompted me to put the book down and write this blog. I am currently sitting in Charles De Gaulle Airport (Paris) and trying not to be suspicious of everyone that passes by me. I am especially trying not to be racist against my own race since majority of known infected patients are from West Africa like me. I am to my shame eating my first Mackey D’s meal in 5 years because it was a choice between a McDonald’s, something piggy or a dry bit of chicken for the price of venison in a Michelin-starred restaurant in England. In the end, it was an easy choice, if a little disappointing.

This is one of my main gripes with Paris. On British telly, all the chefs are always saying how all food French is simply amazing and many a guidebook or review will agree with that. Well, that’s a lot of kaka I tell you. The first time I went to Paris, I innocently believed in these chefs’ believes so imagine my horreur when I asked for a bit of authentic French fod (onion soup) and when it came it tasted like dirty boots with no salt and the texture was not much better. Now I am one of those people who once I make a choice to have a meal, I can usually eat a fair bit of it and remain positive even it is not the best meal I have tasted. With this soup, the crushing disappointment combined with the disgusting taste and I couldn’t manage more than a couple of spoon fulls. I had to resort to sharing my mama’s salad which thankfully was more palatable. Then on my 2nd trip this time with my mama and dear sister, we were on the Avenue de Champs Elysee when hunger struck and we decided to chance the overpriced restaurants there. What we got was edible this time but my good God! It really wasn’t worth paying an arm and a leg for. I mean my sister enjoyed her frogs’ legs but my badly done chips were not worth the plate they were served on. The best food I have had in Paris was either from a fast-food joint (mostly crepes) or from the home of a family friend who lives in the suburbs. Maybe the reviews should specify this salient fact. You can get good food in Paris if you like baguettes or crepes or if you happen to know any Parisians who would cook for you.

My 2nd gripe is related and is about how expensive everything is. A can of pop in England ranges anywhere from 50p to 80p. In Paris, and not in a posh area, I have just paid 1 euro. I walked past a plastics shop and a cheap tatty toilet brush would have set me back by 6.90 euros and a single croissant in the land of croissants was 90 cents or 1 euro. What a scam! My ‘cheap’ McD meal is 7.70 euros (compared to something like £4 in England). A single to the airport, their equivalent to Heathrow is just under a tenner. A simple phone charger was 25 euros and a £100 mobile phone costs 200 euros. Don’t even get me started on their ‘fashion’…the simplest vest top would buy me a lovely dress in H&M England. To be fair, my cousin dragged me into their H&M and I realised that H&M is amazing even in Paris and it has French fashion to boot so I know where I will be going for my ‘French fashion’ the next time I visit Paris.

My biggest gripe is the stench. Don’t get offended if you are Parisian and reading this but man alive! I stepped off the plane and 100m away from the first restrooms, I could smell the stale urine. I declined to use the ladies at this juncture because I thought this is because they are the first restrooms after getting off the plane so maybe that why they are so smelly. Not so! Just before immigration, I spotted a seemingly isolated Ladies and off I went. The stale urine smell was pervasive even though the floor looked clean and dry. As I really did need to go by then, I inhaled and ran in to do my business. I came out and joined the ‘queue’ for immigration. I use the term queue loosely because apparently people here do not know the term. After 2 families squeezed in front of me in the queue and I was forced to endure the body odour coming off them, I cottoned on to the technique and pushed and shoved with the best of them. By the time I got to immigration, I was sick to the gills with all the smelly people around me and hacked off by their disorderliness. I almost forgot I was there because my one supportive uncle had invited me to come and spend a bit of time with him and his family as they holiday in Europe for the summer. And over the past 48 hours, the only bathroom I went without the stench was in a mall at La Defense so if you have to use a public restroom in Paris, I suggest you hold it until you get to this oasis of true hygiene.

There are numerous other things I do not love about Paris but I shan’t go into them all for fear someone labels me an anti-Frenchie and tries to stab me to death. What I will point out is that there were not even cute babies and young children to soften the disappointment and lighten the heart. So where are all the pretty Parisian kids in their designer clothes, enjoying frogs’ legs and foie gras? Maybe they all go to the French Riviera in the summer and are not due to return until the school term is about to start. I did have a good laugh at some of the fashion though. Lots of uncool ‘edgy’ fashionistas on show but the one that made me pinch myself so I would not lotl was a middle-aged lady in knee high cream pop socks tied up using wisps of netty material worn with open sandals and a long flowing black coat of shiny pseudo-suede material. OMG! Give me our English goths and emos anytime. I did clock a cute white baby who might be Parisian in the airport but doesn’t matter, plenty of mixed race and African babies going through Charles De Gaulle to brighten up my day. So now I understand the comments of some of my friends who greeted the news that I was going to Paris with a look of bewilderment and quite a bit of amazement that I had been to Paris twice already and was willing to go for a third time. Je suis une ‘silly’ saucisson! Hehehe.

Girly Man

I listen to Ed & Rachel on Heart FM on my daily drive in to work (as I always do because it is the best programme on radio!). Yesterday’s morning’s phone-in was about celebrating the ‘girly’ things that our men do that we think are great. So that got me thinking and this blog was born. Before I do that, let me just say I do not actually think these things are girly. I think the things I will praise below are just nice, lovely, sensitive traits that are brilliant regardless of gender. It is just that because men have the wrong idea about what it is to be a man, these nice things are now feminised. So to the men in my life whose traits I will be praising, I want to reassure you that I am in no way questioning your manhood or masculinity. I am celebrating you in all you glory!

My granddad, he of the military ways, is the only man I know who always has lip balm with him and applies liberally. Also, he moisturises daily and I know this is still true because last time I went home, I decided not to take any moisturiser with me and the only place I could find some was in my granddad’s bathroom. He had several bottles of lovely stuff and my skin was happy throughout the holiday. More importantly, he has lovely moisturised skin, his diabetic feet are the most beautiful I have ever seen and he has none of the skin complications associated with diabetes and hypertension. Well done Baba!

My teenage cousin (Baby A if you have read my blog) is a very creative boy and one of his ‘hobbies’ is cooking. He can cook a 3 course meal and seems to enjoy it but what I was most impressed by is that he can cook the loveliest crepes (thin pancakes). Impressed not only that he can make them delicious, thin, round and unbroken but also that he uses reconstituted powdered milk and if I hadn’t know, I would never have guessed. He also gives lovely hugs and likes to sit and talk about the important things in his life. And when I am not in the same town as he is (which is most of the time these days), he will often say hi or good night or send me emoticon hugs randomly. Warms my heart I tell you.

My brother-in-law’s best ‘girly’ trait is that he celebrates his love for his family. When he and my sister moved into their home, he spent a considerable amount of time and money choosing and framing pictures of their close family members. And by their family, I mean his family and my family. Imagine my surprise when I found the loveliest framed photo of my mama’s in their bedroom and one of me with the pictures of his sisters in his study. Awwwh! The other thing is his ability to turn the volume up when his favourite music is on and dance around the kitchen without any inhibitions or when in the car, do a perfect imitation particularly when it’s a girl singer lol. Before he lived with my sister, I thought that was a girl thing. But apparently not, thank goodness!

There are lots of girl things that I have come across that I have loved and still love in the uncles and cousins, patients and friends too. I know a man who loves black nail polish and getting his nails done who has to hide his love for fear of people’s acid tongues. I know of a younger brother who buys the best hand bags for his sister who is my friend. I know of a cousin who when he was younger loved nothing better than to brush his mum’s gorgeous hair. I know several who love to be hugged just like I do.

Special mention to my dear husband though. I love so much about him but foremost are the girly traits that were like girl-magnet when it came to me. I think the seed of love was planted when he was honest about his feelings and that he let me see how vulnerable falling head over heels had made him. He loves my pink fluffy socks which even I find too girly to wear out and he is not shy to admit it either…he took them all the way to Nigeria when he went to ask for my hand in marriage. My poor sister got a shock when she spotted my socks peeking out beneath his trouser leg. George also has a onesie (I am not sure how to spell it but you know what it is when I say it is like a large baby grow/jumpsuit/overall). He insists that it absolutely is not girly but I beg to differ. On babies is where it should be. On girls, it is cute and could even be a sexy slouchy playsuit-type affair on a young lady. On a boy up to primary school level I could persuaded to see its merits but on a man old enough to shave and father children, I am in the ‘please no’ group. Dearest old George pretended that I could have the onesie when I shared my concerns but did I ever get to wear it? You know the answer to that. The onesie is a bit of a uniform these days and I have to actively order him not to wear it to restaurants or the cinema. He even turned up at the hospital I am currently working in wearing the onesie and asking for me. Oh the embarrassment! If I had known, I would not have owned up to being his wife.

So to my granddad (Baba), Baby A, George and all the unmentioned cousins/friends/little ones that have made my days with their ‘girly’ ways, I love you all and please embrace the girl in you. One love.

Brummie Beautiful

Before I became a Brummie, I lived in London. My oldest friends in the UK mostly live in London and most thought I would be back to London first chance I got after uni. I had other ideas. When I applied to study at the University of Birmingham, my top reason was not how well the University did in the overall league tables (it is one of the top ones) or the style of teaching at their Medical School (systems-based learning with early clinical contact which suited me perfectly) or even the extra-curricular opportunities available (our uni loves sports and music). I just knew that the Midlands was the place my heart felt the strongest pull towards.

I first visited the Midlands a year after moving to the UK when we went to Nottingham to visit an old classmate of my mama who happens to be a GP whose son was at the Medical School in Birmingham. I loved the idea of the Midlands, ironically it brought to mind Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings which is based around Birmingham and the West Midlands but I didn’t know that then. There was something about the calmer pace of life that I was immediately drawn to and the open spaces and clean air in Nottingham. My London stresses simply fell away and yet it felt like there was enough to do for me here. The best way I can describe how I felt is that my pulse matched the pulse of the Midlands.

Knowing how I felt about the Midlands and having spoken to the medical student son of the GP friend of my mama’s, I knew that my 2 certain UCAS application spots for medical school would be Nottingham and Birmingham. I ended up applying for a spot in Imperial College and Kings College (both to match my Queens College pedigree). I persuaded my mother to accompany me to the Open Day at the University of Birmingham and my top choice became Birmingham. I loved it all. From New Street Station which to be honest wasn’t all that (although we are awaiting our new state-of-the-art concourse and generally more beautiful station which is being worked on as I write). To the pace of the life – there was enough bustle for me not to be bored bearing in mind my Lagos and London background. To the mix of people – black, brown, white and many shades in between of all shapes and sizes and how happy majority of people seemed to be as they rushed around shopping and working. And finally the beautiful grounds of the University of Birmingham which impressed me from the moment I stepped out of University station and cast my eyes on the Iron Man on the little roundabout leading to the main University Campus.

The longer I have lived in Birmingham, the more in love I have fallen with it. People are scornful of the ‘accent’. Err, the accent y’all think is Brummie is actually Black Country and majority of people in Birmingham City do not sound anything like that! And I don’t even mind the black country brogue despite the fact that when those people speak to me, I have to focus really hard and find myself staring at their lips as if I can lip-read. The other common misconception is that it is all warehouses and dirty ugly buildings which I am sure are a stereotype from the war days. Well, you should see Birmingham now. We have lovely centuries-old cathedral and buildings, many right in the centre of town. We have a beautiful open market on weekdays behind the Bullring and the Rag Markets which are closed also behind the Bullring. I cannot not mention the Bullring because it is now a major family attraction for all its shopping and food court. Also the Mailbox which is glamorous sister of the Bullring with its more expensive designer shops and trendier restaurants, bars and clubs. There is the Arcadian with all of its entertainment by night and dining facilities by day. Our China/Oriental town is thriving right next to the Arcadian with Chinese supermarkets and many restaurants to choose from.

The Jewellery Quarter is simply the place to be if you are looking for a great deal on diamonds and precious metals. If you take your time browsing, you will find jewellery shops with beautiful antique one-off pieces like the pearl bracelet I wore on my wedding day. There are also jewellers there who will for a fee design unique pieces for you or use an old stone to design a new piece or re-structure an old necklace or bracelet to suit you. I lived in the JQ so you could say I am partial but it is a lovely place to live with lots of flats perfect for single young professionals or newly cohabiting partners who are yet to start having a family. The cemetery is a peaceful place to hang out…it is a proper old-school one with large tombstones and in many spots, whole families laid to rest together over the years. For the year I lived there, I would walk through the cemetery every morning and evening and say a prayer for those whose bodies were laid there and I would wonder about their stories and smile at the fresh flowers placed at gravesides.

The biggest thing for me though is the people of Birmingham. Of course we have our EDL-racists, our illiterate chavs, our stinky tramps and our gangs which are not the best but which large city doesn’t have them? As the second largest city in the UK, we have our fair share of the not-so-desirables but you have to look deeper than that. We are a melting pot of all the races of the world. The ‘minorities’ here are not minorities. We have large communities of Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Jamaican, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Polish and Iranians. You name it, we have got them in fair numbers in Brum. With all these groups comes the variety of music and food on our streets. We have festivals to cater for all the different groups. We celebrate Eid and Diwali with as much gusto as Christmas. We have plays celebrating all the different cultures. The highlight for me, we have children that are more mixed than in any place I have lived. We have the unlikeliest of mixes…black and Chinese, black and Indian, Pakistani and English, Spanish and Turkish, even Nigerian and Polish. As a paediatrician, it is a privilege for me to get an insight into these families and appreciate the diversity of my home. Simply put, they say home is where the heart is. For me, Birmingham is where my heart is.

Bonding with George

Last week, I was feeling out of sorts so I went up to the neonatal surgical ward to do some paperwork and get away from the Surgical Doctors’ room. As I sat at the desk staring into space and ignoring the paperwork, the student nurse walked by cradling a 2kg baby in her arms. I perked up immediately, baby = happiness to me. I asked her if I could have a cuddle and she happily passed him over because, she explained, he was a py who was not settling and needed to be held a lot. His name was George. Like my husband. Happy coincidence. I scooped him up and continued to do my paperwork. I got up to find a drug chart at a patient’s bedside and the poor little mite must have thought I was about to drop him when he grabbed my ID lanyard and held on for dear life. When I sat back down at the desk, I had to gently prise his hands off my lanyard and settled him back down.

I finished my paperwork and just sat there enjoying my cuddle when his nurse came to ask if I wanted to feed him too. She must have not expected a yes because she was very surprised when I jumped at the thought. After reassuring me that feeding a 2kg baby was the same as a chunky 4kg one (which I had experience of) and that he was likely to vomit afterwards, I put an apron on and settled in the armchair. Turns out George is a champion feeder. As soon as I popped the bottle in his mouth, off he went. I had to take the bottle out intermittently because I was worried he wasn’t pausing enough to breathe. As soon as the bottle was drained, he vomited up a third of the volume he had just guzzled down and then went back to sleep as I mopped him up. I tried burping him but he was already in dreamland so after about 5 minutes of a back rub, I went back to cuddling him until my bleep went off. George, bless him, was so comfortable the bleep did not jar him awake as I feared. I put him down for a sleep and dragged myself away to tend to my actual patients but you know what? My ‘out-of-sorts’ mood was cured. Glory be to George!

Straight Up Nigerian

Nigeria is a humongous country so I will not even attempt to write about it all in one little blog. It would take a whole book to make a dint in the story that is Nigeria. This blog will focus on my memories of growing up in Yola.

Yola City. 2 words. Enough said but just in case you have not sampled the delights of my hometown, I shall expand on the 2 words. Why do I love Yola so? Biggest reason is because my mother is the happiest there and whatever makes my mama happy, I love. Yola like me is full of contradictions. It is still small enough in Yola town (different from Jimeta a.k.a Yola North) that most residents either know me or my mama and will definitely know who my granddad is. So I cannot go round being naughty willy-nilly because they will come round to my house and make me feel like I am 3 years old again.

Knowing so many people is a great advantage. When I visit Yola, I get lots of food brought round and somehow these people know all my favourite foods, all the food I spend many hours daydreaming about back in Birmingham. Every morning is like a lottery and throughout the day, I intermittently check on the little dining table by the fridge to see if there have been any food deliveries. This time, I got at different times: Dan-wake, waina, masa, sinasir, dakuwa, kosai, gari basise, okro soup, this tapioca-type grain which I had with yoghurt, zogale (a.k.a moringa) seeds which were awful, a traditional kanuri drink made up of milk with bits of chewy yumminess in it, dambun nama, zobo and more. I was in food heaven. I ate small portions often in an attempt to get through a bit of everything. I didn’t remember half of those who sent the goodies to thank them but you know what? They probably got report that I stuffed my face with all of it and are satisfied they have done their bit to feed me.

Yola’s geography is awesome. We are in the North-east corner of Nigeria. In the old days, we were definitely in the savannah but now with all the aggressive deforestation by unethical businesses, we are part desert and part savannah. When you drive to Adamawa from Jos/Bauchi sides, you can see the more abundant greenery and exotic plants give way to Neem and baobab trees and green green grass in the rainy season dotted with low shrubs and anthills. I think Adamawa has cleaner crisper air and I can almost taste Yola when I drive into the Adamawa region. The river Benue goes through the state and is an amazing sight to behold in the rainy season. In the dry season, the water level is so low that the river Benue is reduced to a network of streams. In these months, you can see families fetching water, doing their laundry and bathing in those streams. I always want to stop the car and go down into the river bank, feel the sand underneath my bare toes like those families. In the rainy season, it is very different. The banks of the river are full to bursting. In fact more and more these days, we get floods as the effect of global warming is felt. Around Numan if you look carefully enough down at the river from the bridge, you’ll see how there is a clean side of the water and the dirtier muddier side of the water and curiously, the 2 seem separate as the river gushes past. I cannot remember the explanation my mama gave me when I asked decades ago but it doesn’t even matter to me. All I know is that the clean water somehow knows not to mix with the dirty water despite there being no physical barrier separating the 2. Incredible.

I love Yola market especially on ‘market’ day which has always been on a Friday. Back in the day, my mama banned us from going to the market unless in the company of adults. Most of the time, we obeyed that rule but not on Fridays. Every Friday, we would find a way to sneak out of the house with all the pocket money we had managed to save and head to the market. The biggest draw was the snake charmers who would display their trained cobras and even pick on members of the public in the audience to help them out with their tricks. My mama hates snakes so although I was less afraid of them, there was still a healthy dose of fear that I inherited from her. I used to have to look away from time to time during those displays as the excitement crossed the border into fear. However, I never turned down a chance to go there as long as my sister and I were in town on the Friday.

The other act we loved was the monkey owners. These people were less reliable and would turn up randomly. They even went house to house to perform and get given change. I loved the monkeys best and would pray for them to turn up every day during the school holidays. Sadly, my house was never visited. I am not sure whether it is because of our scary dogs or maybe my mum or stepdad were not receptive. Anyway, I was resourceful enough to catch them at the market or neighbours’ house. Another reason for my love of Yola market is the contraband fast food on sale. Contraband in my house meant any cooked food from a kitchen whose owner we didn’t know personally. Naturally I loved everything not cooked ‘at home’ so I was a regular customer and my favourite buys were Dan-wake and allele (bean cakes) cooked in tins with a drop of palm oil to make it glorious. Mmmm, these 2 foods are still my absolute favourite snacks from home.

Other delights I will never forget in Yola market include Amani who had a bad scarring infection on his face once upon a time and his vegetable stall. I loved the exotic fruit sellers sitting in the fruit section who came with their fruits picked fresh from the villages in our state. I loved the goruba sellers right at the back of the market especially because they had sacks of the thing and I always wondered if they ever sold it all and what sort of tree the gorubas came from. I loved the ‘odds’ lane where everything from nails to tree gum for charcoal ink and batteries were sold. I also loved the sweets man near the Fulani ladies with their fresh milk and yoghurt. I was a regular at his stall and especially loved it when he went to Cameroun and came back with the little pink mint balls with green stripes called bon-bon. On the rare occasion we needed to buy yoghurt, I would speak to the Fulani ladies and be amazed they spoke my language because these were the nomadic Fulanis (the bororos) and they were so pretty and different from us. I would watch in fascination as they tipped a ceramic dish of yoghurt into the one I bought without disturbing the smooth set of the yoghurt. I was so happy then. Le sigh.

I will finish on one final point about Yola. I loved the neighbourly spirit in the community when I was little. I rarely ate a proper meal at home in those days. I was always round one neighbour’s house or the other eating their meals because it was different from the meals at home. You know as a child, the grass is greener on every other side. There was always food in these homes and I was always welcome to it. I ate to my fill and said thank you then off I went. Mango and guava trees were abundant in those days (and I guess still are) and when those fruits were in season, I would forget about meals and just gorge myself on those fruits, sitting high up in the trees. So much so that I was constipated half the time because in my impatience, I would eat the fruits half raw particularly the guavas. I, of course, kept my medical problems to myself because I knew fully well it was self-induced and that actually my mama was clear on the rule that we should not be eating unripe fruit. One year, we discovered the delight of climbing up date trees and we were round Amadi’s home daily, eating so many dates that I still cannot handle more than 1 date at a time these days. I had a whale of a time growing up in Yola despite all the naughtiness. I have no regrets fortunately.