Egusi soup and jam

exclusive feature
Ruby Amanze

waiting, for this giant wave of ecstasy that never came.
a traveler honorably returning home via the kitchen,
attempting to piece together the remnants of an identity lost,
a culture not quite known.

the recipe was half passed down, half invented and half gleaned from ‘how to’ videos. but three halves is hardly math, and so too the recipe was far from systematic

[first, you get a big pot. (the kind they sell on the top shelf of brown people super markets: heavy, yet made from metal that bangs easily)…

you cannot substitute olive oil for palm, but collards work instead of spinach. it’s the dried seed of a melon. who ever thought of that?
nutty and protein rich. we drank it with our fingers after the garri balls had finished. a favorite even amongst the ‘non-garri & soup’ eating versions of ourselves. pepper to taste, but pepper ample. elijah started from birth but for the rest of us, a preferable tolerance can be nurtured. stockfish optional…]

during the day we would leave nigeria and walk west to school. swallowing cultivated balls of how the british empire once ruled the world, and something about icarus and the romulus twins. every evening we would return home, only to continue conversing in our adopted tongue. sometimes we met ourselves half way and ate nigerian interpreted versions of imperial food. but mostly we walked all the way home. to Egusi. it was our saving grace.

she couldn’t always make my soup for me. just like she couldn’t always thread my hair, or sew my clothes, or protect my heart.

so on tuesday, rather late by most standards, the decision was made to re create this symbol of everything authentically real in a true nigerian woman. i’d never been so decidedly nigerian before, at least not on my own accord.

in no particular order: [i chopped onions, found an adequate pot, cooked an assortment of meats, fried ground egusi in palm oil til it clumped, blended tomato and bell pepper to puree (the more you add the redder it’ll be), don’t forget to save the stock, find pot, boil water for garri, chop onions, chop hot pepper, chop mushrooms, chop whatever, add spinach (or collard substitute), spread the preserves…]

the wave never came. somehow the anticipated feeling of extreme triumph and validation evaded me. sadly, i hadn’t won any war, proven my patriotism, earned my proverbial stripes. in fact, as much as i convinced myself otherwise, i hadn’t done anything particularly impressive at all. instead my kitchen was calm and normal (minus the fragrant aroma of nostalgia and homesickness), with regular dishes in the sink and remnants on the chopping board. no cathartic tears had fallen into the soup. no ancestral holy spirit had come upon me. no great moment of cultural clarity. nothing. nothing at all. i made garri, washed my hands and sat down to eat the soup.

it tasted like peanut butter and jam, not jelly.

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