For The Love of Amala

I remember being fond of Amala, growing up. As a child who did not fancy eating, surprisingly Amala had a way of whetting my appetite and melting my heart.

Most Nigerians who eat amala, love this food to its light weight morsel and it can be eaten at any time of the day (I don’t mind eating amala in the morning). Popularly paired with ewedu and gbegiri, these partners in crime when garnished with a variety of different cow parts aptly branded as Orisiris’ will leave your stomach rumbling for more.

There is something about amala when eaten hot, it gives the replica of a sauna effect to the body. It is a sweaty contest that engages the two hands while the right hand is swooping the amala in, the left hand is busy wiping the beads of sweat oozing out from the pores of your face. Most people savour the Buka-type of amala but many of these roadside canteens are poorly ventilated, this leaves the armholes of your clothing sticky with sweat and engraved with circular bold patches. But when you step out, there is a wide grin on your face, a toothpick hinged unto of your tooth because it was a keenly contested fight but you knocked the amala out and won.

Amala is a very important food in Nigeria especially among the Yorubas, it is locally labelled as ‘Oka’ and originates from the Western part of the country. It is crowned one of the prime Yoruba culinary especially among the people of Oyo state. This popular delicacy is made from yam or cassava flour. The flour also known as Elubo is processed from yams when they are peeled and dried. Ever wondered why it is dark in complexion, Amala derives its colour from yam when it turns brown after drying it.

Nothing kills the swag of any amala faster, than when there are lumps in tiny clusters all over the food. But thanks to the omorogun, when wielded with precision and just the right amount of muscle contraction, the amala served is soft and uniformly textured. This morsel is believed to have some medicinal powers ingrained within its fibres that fuels its consumers with grit and oomph. A famous Yoruba saying also attests to the medicinal prowess of this food, “Iyan ni onje, oka ni oogun, ki enu ma sile ni ti guguru’.” This saying is translated thus, ‘Pounded yam is food, Amala is a medicine, and popcorn is an appetiser.’ It is indeed a medical prescription for some folks, they cannot do without a dose of amala daily. It is a violation of their fundamental human rights to deprive them of this delicacy.

What the love of amala can do knows no bound. Sometimes while eating, the soup may drip down to the elbow but the mouth refuses to let go and sucks the trickle at the tip of the elbow. This may not exactly be your style, but some folks can go to that extent for the delight of this wholesome food. How do you like your amala, island or mainland style? While some people want their amala swimming in the soup – Island, with the ewedu and gbegiri forming an asymmetrical circumference round it, the stew is poured like local gin over the amala in obeisance and the beefs stand like pillars adjoining it. But others still prefer their amala detached from the soup, served in different china wares.

My late grandfather, Pa Jude Akanbi was an amala aficionado. He loved eating amala with efo riro and ogbufe washed down with freshly tapped palmwine. It was always hard for him to hide his glee whenever my cousins and I visited him in the village during the holidays. Grandpa never failed to share his darling dish with us, having us form a crescent round his table, each taking turns as we partook in this hallowed communion.

There are some unspoken rubrics governing amala, but the principal rubric is, amala must be eaten with the fingers at anytime and anywhere. Lest we forget, the amala contest is best fought with the fingers engaging these steps in no particular order – rolling the morsel slightly into a ball, then lapping up the soup with the morsel quite rounded, while intermittently tearing the beef, showing no mercy and breaking the bones with pleasure. Amala is a hand to mouth affair, how dare you use fork and knife to eat it? This classy act of using cutlery is a disrespect to the holy grail of this esteemed dish.

The teeming number of local restaurants who have carved a niche for themselves as connoisseurs of this local delight ‘Amala joints’ continue to triple every day, with wide tentacles reaching many cities in the country. Foodies who are resident in Lagos, know there is a directory of cool spots where this food is sold with Abula, a combination of ‘Gbegiri and Ewedu’ soup and eaten with its characteristic colours of heat and sweat.

Amala is chiefly eaten by all and sundry, crisscrossing its way through different tribes, borders and it has gained a national status. The Oyo state government hosted a fiesta, ‘Ajodun Oka’ late last year to celebrate and preserve the ‘Amala’ culinary heritage which is a symbol of pride to the nation locally and internationally.

Originally Published on Kalahari Review

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For The Love of Amala

My African Literati Love Story

african-literati-love-storyOur love story began years back, over two decades ago. Every weekend I ransacked my mother’s makeshift library which was a stack of books piled up in termite bitten and dust laden cartons on her wardrobe. Despite stern warnings to stir clear of the books, reminding me all the time that some of those books were older than i was and that she had bought them before ever thinking of marrying my father, the bond between us grew stronger and there was no turning back.

I remember the sleepless date nights we had with the Pace Setter Series, my favorites still remain Too Cold For Comfort, The Undesirable Element and The Deliquent. These series stirred my thirst for adventure, they were the perfect dessert after a long hard day at school solving algebra and calculus. Then I stumbled on the Chinua Achebe series, breaking into the world of young Chike and how he had to navigate his way around the river. No Longer at Ease and Okonkwo’s journey to death in Things Fall Apart opened my eyes to the rich culture in Eastern Nigeria. Wole Soyinka’s Ake: The years of childhood and Ola Rotimi’s The gods are Not to Blame stimulated my appetite to dig into the archives helping me to embrace our political history. From Buchi Emecheta’s Bride Price and Joys of Motherhood to Elechi Amadi’s Sunset in Biafra, Chukwuemeka Ike’s Bottled Leopard, the list is endless. They formed the building blocks of my addiction to fiction and flair for writing.

But along the line, I fell for the seductive lines of JK Rowling and was whisked off to Hogwarts, spellbound from Harry Porter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry Porter and the Deathly Hallows. As I moved from JK to Danielle Steel, Sidney Sheldon and Tolkien, the flame of our love began to fade as I lost track of time engrossed in their pages. Then I felt a shift in my taste buds, as I sailed across the Trans-Atlantic Ocean on the hardbacks of Stephen King, Patterson, Grisham and others, I felt you were not good enough for me again.

Years have gone by, and I had to join the rat race in the daily hustle to have butter on my bread which has eaten a large chunk of my time. But thanks to the likes of Adichie, Wainaina, Ama Ata Aidoo, Habila, Sefi Ataa, Okoroafor and more, my heart yearns for those late nights we had in the past and to hide myself in your embrace. You were a great companion who never complained when I needed a place for my loneliness. I do not fear death when things fall apart because I have you as a thread of gold beads around my neck. I will always remember the memory of love, we shared under the udala tree on the famished road. But I know everything good will still come because I am no longer at ease to write about your brilliant literary exploits.

Your Runaway lover and reader

Originally published on Brittle Paper

My African Literati Love Story

Secret Santa

As the year winds down, I always yearn for Christmas with so much anticipation towards the festivities which colours the atmosphere and fills the air with nostalgia. My perspective of Christmas changed six years ago by a traditional ritual which I have participated in for over two decades of my life.

My father died of prostate cancer while I was writing my final SSCE exams; this was chiefly because we too poor to mull over the option of surgery, when we could not even pay for his second round of chemotherapy.
Being the eldest child, I had to put my dream of becoming a doctor on the shelf and step into his shoes to fend for myself and the family, so I took up a job as an office assistant. But the zest to earn the most coveted prefix, did not stop me from sharing with whoever cared to listen, how I planned to save the world one day at a time.

My heart sank as I stepped forward to accept my gift from the Secret Santa exchange which was hosted by the Admin manager on 20th December 2009, it was a white envelope. While everyone in the office was all smiles as they opened up their gifts, the Christmas card I got read thus –

          "Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone"
                               Charles Schulz

Although the words did not mean much to me, especially when I was hoping to get a Tom Ford shirt or Michael Korrs wristwatch. By the time reached home, it was quite late and all my siblings were in bed but my mother was still awake.

“Somebody from a courier service delivered this here today, she said handing a brown envelope to me”. A short note was inscribed on it, ‘With Love From Secret Santa’.

Still a bit confused, I open it, the content of the envelope was a scholarship letter offering me admission to study Medicine and Surgery at University College Hospital, Ibadan fully funded by Hopevine Foundation.

Dear Secret Santa, if you are reading this story, I want you to know that I graduated as one of the best graduating students of my set in 2015 and I am presently working with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. Thanks for believing in my dream, going the extra mile and showing me that Christmas is love in action.

Secret Santa

#WorldFoodDay– Mitigating the Impact of Climate change on Food Security in Nigeria

world-food-dayToday is the World Food Day, a day of action against hunger in honour of the date of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in 1945 and the theme “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.”
One of the biggest issues related to climate change is food security and the global population is growing steadily and is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. To meet such a heavy demand, agriculture and food systems will need to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and become more resilient, productive and sustainable. In a research conducted in 2005, it was reported that even a slight change in climate could affect the production of crops. Accessing the food harvest was once rather straightforward as it was largely a matter of harvesting and extrapolating with minor adjustments. However, it has all recently changed in the recent years and is no longer only slowing or accelerating of trends but in certain cases, the direction is reversing.
“Hunger remains the number one threat for heath and most of the world’s hunger comes from developing and less developed countries globally. There are 1.02 billion undernourished people in the world today” – (World Food Programme, 2009).
climate-foood-agriculture The World Food Summit in October, 1996 has defined Food security as when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy lifestyle.
Nigeria is still faced with the problem of associating their food supply with the ever increasing demand for it even after four decades of attaining their independence and due to economic recession, malnutrition and household food security are related human welfare problems that heightened.
While the public and political debate on climate change has traditionally been dominated by players in the energy and energy-intensive industries, this has to change. Food and beverage companies also need to have a clear interest in early and effective action on both mitigation and adaptation. As an industry with such a sizable emissions footprint and one that relies on millions of farmers and agricultural workers in regions that are already being significantly affected by climate change, the sector also has a major responsibility to play a prominent role in fighting climate change.
Some mitigation measures to cushion the effect of climate change are construction of wide drainage channels for flood control and clearing all drainage ways for easy flow of water. Dissemination of information about climate change in local dialects at the grass root and campaign against over stocking of livestock and overgrazing of a piece of land as a way of avoiding land degradation.
Climate change is impacting negatively on food security in Nigeria as shown by low agricultural productivity. A large number of Nigerians are still malnourished, hungry, starving and poor and have various health problems due to food insecurity caused by climate change. Nigeria needs to adopt some adaptation strategies that will enable her
cope with the challenges of climate change to ensure food security in the country. To achieve this, there is urgent need for climate change policy at both National, state and local government levels in Nigeria.

#WorldFoodDay– Mitigating the Impact of Climate change on Food Security in Nigeria

AJEGUNLE: Exploring The Slumside Of Lagos

Lagos is an emerging megacity which is home to all calibre of people from different ethnic group with varying socio-economic status. However it also host to millions of people who are among those at the lowest rung of the ladder and who have taken refuge in the slums. Among the different slums that abound in Lagos, one is believed to stand out in a couple of ways and this is Ajegunle. Wherever slums are talked about, Ajegunle is the word that comes to mind, not many know that there are actually three Ajegunles in Lagos- Apapa Ajegunle, Sango toll gate Ajegunle and Ikorodu Ajegunle. They are miles apart but surprisingly full of people that share quite a number of things in common which include a condition of living that captures poor economic strength but who are determined to make a living by all means in the megacity.

Sango Toll Gate Ajegunle- this is the least developed among the slums and also the least slum like which is situated close to the Toll gate end of the Lagos-Abeokuta express way. This community lies on the borders between Lagos and Ogun state, like many areas in Lagos the most prominent problem faced by the residents of these communities is poor roads. People living in these areas have appealed to the governments of the two states to come to their aid by constructing roads in their communities, including the abandoned roads. They believe that the only time the government remembers them is during campaign period. The residents laments that this having a negative effect on community development as many tenants were moving else where.

Ikorodu Ajegunle- is a water catchment area situated along Ikorodu express way with a population of about 1500 is surrounded by the Lagos lagoon and the Anjuwon river from Ogun state. The residents of this area live in constant fear of relocation by the government because of floods which have continue to ravage the Owode-Ajegunle communities since 2008. Though some of the residents were relocated to Epe in 2011 after the flood which led to loss of life and properties. The housing structure in most parts of this areas is poor because most of the houses are built with light woods and zinc. This area is surrounded by a river, which the residents depend on as their main source of water and use it for washing, bathing and other culinary activities. But portable water still remains a luxurious commodity to this community water because the water from the river is not safe for drinking and they risk exposing themselves to water borne diseases especially the children.

Apapa Ajegunle- this cosmopolitan community is located in Ajeromi/Ifelodun local government area, there is an area called Boundary in Ajegunle because in the past, Ajegunle was the boundary between the western region and Lagos colony. Apapa wharf and Tincan Island also border this community on the west. Ajegunle means ‘Wealth has landed here’ in Yoruba language and its popularly known as AJ City. It is home to almost all the tribes in Nigeria- Yoruba, Urhobo, Efik, Igala, Bini, Ibo, Hausa and Pidgin English is the popular language in this locality and a common denominator which unifies them. This Lagos suburb is notorious for infrastructural decay, criminal tendencies and the rate of unemployment is at its peak.

Many of the youths in this community roam the streets and have taken to gambling. Many Baba Ijebu (gambling points) and other betting vendors have taken over the area, because the patronage is high. Majority of the young men are out of school, jobless and they believe quick money can come from gambling. Also most of the girls take to prostitution in order to provide for their families. But these young ladies see it as ‘Runs’ not prostitution because many of have families and live at home not in brothels. Nightlife is a common phenomenon and this ‘Runs’ business can be said to be quite lucrative because nightclubs, bars and hotels dot virtually every street within Ajegunle. Some of the popular ‘Runs’ areas within Ajegunle are Gorilla which many people refer to as ‘Good evening street’, Mary’s corner by Nasamu street and the Tolu axis of AJ City which boast of no fewer than twenty brothels and houses over a thousand prostitutes.

Football is a family game in this community and everyone has a vast knowledge of the game from the oldest to the youngest. Many notable footballers have emerged from this suburb which includes Emmanuel Amunike, Taribo West, Samson Siasia amongst several others.

Originally published on Ynaija.

AJEGUNLE: Exploring The Slumside Of Lagos