My Mum; A Three Pots of Soup Story.

She would have been 62 years today; my Mum and today, I choose to reflect on her memories with joy rather than sadness.

Today also being Easter, I remember clearly my Mum’s kitchen activities, not just during the festive period but when she has to do major food preparations. Like most women in her generation, my Mum had a large kitchen, not only in size but in operations, sometimes catering to about 15 people or more on a daily basis.

“A luo m ofu uzo olu”, she would usually exclaim after a hard days work in the kitchen or maybe when she’s done some major clean up in the house.

My Mum paid great attention to the ingredients that went into her food, making sure they were sourced from the best, she paid even greater attention to the cooking process. When she’s in the kitchen, her theatrics could be major, especially on those days she would be cooking three different pots of soup at once; “Uzo ofe ito”. A pot of Egusi soup on one gas burner, a pot of Bitter leaf soup on the other burner and then we would be lined up somewhere slicing Okro for the upcoming Okro soup, my Mum was an “uchu!”; a term referring to someone working really hard at something.

Vegetables were hallowed things in my Mum’s kitchen. We were made to wash the Ugu or Spinach countless times just to make sure that there was not a tiny bit of the tiniest grain logged in somewhere.

“Gbanye mmili, gbanye mmili” she would say with every sense of seriousness instructing you to add enough water to the veggies. “tinye e nnu”; would follow, a reminder that you should add salt. And if she perceived you weren’t washing them hard enough, she would intervene, saying “chee ka m bia”, and take over the washing, shaking the leaves with her two hands in the water with the instructions to observe her “na ene m anya”.

It was clear to us that having sand in the soup was a taboo. I grew up imagining what it would be like to have the dreaded “sand in the soup” experience. Any movement in the kitchen at key points when my Mum cooked her numerous delicacies would probably be met with hushed exclamations of “Aja!”, Sand! as though mentioning it loudly might actually introduce the sand into the soup. If someone was pounding in the mortar and another person walked past; she would caution against sand “Aja! Aja!”

Mum displaying food at a catering practical

If cut vegetables or other prepared foodstuff queued up for addition to the soup, were placed on the work surface and you probably opened an overhead cupboard; my Mum would go like; “Hey! Aja oooo!!!” Till date, I inwardly duck when I open my overhead kitchen cupboard if there’s cut foodstuff on my work surface with thoughts of “Aja!” on my mind.

Then the process of washing dried fish; you had to first soak them in brine to extract the first layer of dirt/sand, then wash them delicately with a soft sponge to extract the remaining and then rinse them as many times as it would take to get all the sand out.

What do we now say to the washing of offals? The cow intestine also known as afo anu or roundabout, the rough part of the meat which we called “towel anu” but known as shaki in Lagos. Truth is, I rarely eat roundabout meat outside home and I can’t remember the last time I cooked with it either. You see, my Mum would sit down and strip that meat of every interior fat and dirt irrespective of the quantity she cooked, leaving it very clean and that’s the taste I’m used to, sometimes in ordering outside food, that care is not taken because it’s a time consuming process.

It is said that repetition is the law of deep and lasting impression and that’s how my Mum taught us to make some complicated Igbo soups in addition to the observation process. She would chant the steps over and over again so that it would sink in your mind and if you were at a loss on the next step to take, just repeat the chant. For Bitter leaf soup, she would go;

“I tinye ede, ede ghee, i tinye mmanu, mmanu suo, i tinye ogili, ogili ghee, i kwako nyi e ife nni”.

“Put the cocoyam, when it’s done, add the palm oil, when it boils, add the locust bean, when it’s done, then add the spices.”

While we loved to cook with Mum in the kitchen (did i really?) It was always great when my Aunties visited because they simply hung out in the kitchen with her and took over whatever it was we were doing in a very casual but firm manner and who are we to say no to such marvelous help?

The passing on of a Mum is something you never really get used to, some of my friends lost their Mother’s recently and I can just imagine the many memories flooding there hearts on a daily. We are grateful for the hope of the resurrection that Easter brings and we look forward to the rapture morning when the dead in Christ will rise up first and we’ll all ascend to meet the Lord.

Keep resting Fashion Mazi o, till we meet again.

The Storytela

In Ever Loving Memory of Lady Benedette Ugwunwa Ezeanya (4th April 1959-29th June 2019)

My Mum- Her Mannerisms

Mummy o!

“Go and rub some cream”

I told him in Igbo language, “jee tee ude” while pointing with my left hand towards the direction of his room.

At that moment, I saw her, in my mind’s eye.

She was pointing with her left hand too, dressed in a simple dark green patterned Ankara blouse and wrapper, (iro and buba style) holding the curtain with her right hand and also indicating the direction I should go with her head while looking sternly at a younger me.

Mummy a da achi at all…

My Mum and her mannerisms; she was stern enough to discipline and command respect but soft enough to give me my space to vent when I disagreed with her decisions as a young adult. Though her decisions stood anyway.

I can’t ever remember her calling us names. The most I can remember was she complaining that I was slow while doing house chores (rolls my eyes).

She had her expressions though and we would later turn them to jokes. She would usually ask;

‘a ga akpo gi onye isi di nma ka o onye isi n’adiro nma?

Which meant; based on your actions, would they call you someone who is sane or insane?

And if the person was feeling bold, they would say; someone who is sane, “onye isi di nma” even though you obviously qualify to be called the latter.

She also doesn’t expect you standing around when work is being done especially in the kitchen, she would usually ask;

“i kwu akwu?” Are you standing?

Spoken without looking at you, nooo, she was too busy preparing three different pots of soup; uzo ofe ito but she would say it with enough subtle threat in her voice to make you find something doing or explain why you were idling away at that moment.

I remember her standard instructions while going out, it changed over the years.

While we were much younger she would say:

“Zachakosisia, fichakosisia, kpochakosisia ebe nine”

That’s telling us to clean the entire house and make it tidy.

She said this with her eyes wide open for emphasis, her head turning round and her right hand holding her white hanky; just taken down from the cloth hanger, gesticulating to indicate the entire flat we shared with her then. Four large bedrooms, a huge dining room and a sitting room, let’s not include the corridors that qualify as rooms in modern day Lagos buildings. Thankfully, my Dad’s adjoining flat was cleaned by his umu boyi; the boys learning trade with him.

Later on, when we were much older, it would be her announcement as she locked her room door;

“I am going o!”

Said in English and then she would take measured steps which you could count by the sound of her fancy slippers; carefully selected to match her outfit, as they hit the floor. She would then stop by the room door of whoever was home at that time and ask;

“O nwee ife di mkpa?”

Is there anything needed at home that I should buy or sort out…

Fashion Mazi o!

As I walked away from telling my older son to put some cream on his body this morning, it dawned on me how often these flashbacks have been occurring since she passed on. I’m certain my siblings experience them too.

Memories of her reactions, her mannerisms, her gesticulations, triggered by even the slightest, seemingly unrelated things.

#InEverLovingMemory

#LadyBenedetteLivesOn

The Storytela