By Oriyomi Adebare
‘Ehn? You can’t make Amala or what did you say?’ my Aunt asked me. ‘Yes’ I
replied. She then stared at me, open mouthed, and at the same time shaking her head as if I had just confessed to being a witch. I am not surprised by this reaction; in fact I expect it every time I tell people about my limited culinary skills.
Some may ignorantly attribute this fact to the way I was brought up. Probably thinking I’m a spoilt brat who grew up in a house full of servants and has never had to wash my own plates. But if I then proceed to tell them that we never had a visiting relation talk less of a house help in my home while growing up, and that my elder sister who is only eighteen months older than me is quite the chef then they will have to re-evaluate that opinion.
I am an unmarried Yoruba lady in her mid-twenties. I grew up in a strict home with my mother bearing the mantle of enforcing discipline. Though she did everything in her power to make me enthusiastic about cooking, I was never able to go past preparing the basics. My sister on the other hand is different. She was ever learning and ever producing the recipes she has learnt. Whenever she’s at home I’m sure to enjoy a variety of dishes which I would otherwise have done without.
The African society has a general notion about women like me. We are the ones whose husbands are likely to be snatched by our house helps or some other woman; we are the ones who think being educated excuses our lack of culinary skills; we are the ones who shouldn’t even boast of being an African woman but rather should feel incomplete by this supposed aberration on our part.
But I ask: ‘does the fact that I can’t peel beans for moin-moin or akara mean I’m a dimwit? Should I feel inadequate because I’ve never cooked okro, efo elegusi, or even peppersoup? Am I supposed to suffer infidelity from my husband because I can’t differentiate one variety of yam, rice or vegetable from another? Must I be quiet in the company of other women because I can’t make any type of pastries?
Take the other day for instance while I was discussing with a lady I met during my NYSC orientation exercise. After we had been talking for some time and I told her of those meals I find difficult to make, the next thing she said was ‘your husband will have to be humble o’! ‘What has humility got to do with that? I thought to myself’.
Another time my Aunt (mentioned earlier) asked if I could peel beans for moin-moin? I told her no. Then in a bid to understand this, she asked if it was that My Mum (her sister) does not make it? I told her no, that on the contrary she does and that my sister can too. Then she became quiet. I can imagine the thoughts that was going through her mind. I had no reason to feel bad. For crying out loud food is only needed to survive. So as long as I eat something – doesn’t matter if it’s the same thing over and over again -, I think that’s enough!
One may argue that though if not completely, being a good cook is essential to being a good wife or mother as the case may be. I do not dispute that. But the point remains that there has always been and there will always be women who are not crazy about cooking; women whose fulfilment does not come from turning out various dishes; women who would choose Introductory Technology over Home Economics as a subject. And I seriously believe that we should not be judged by our culinary ability or lack thereof.
Let’s take a look at other societies aside Africa. Inasmuch as the task of cooking most times still falls to the woman, she is not judged as being worthless if she can’t. What happens instead is that a professional cook is employed, or the husband helps out if he has the skills.
So am I in essence saying that only women who enjoy cooking should do it and those who do not should be complacent, and just tell themselves ‘that’s the way I am’? Absolutely not. Rather my argument is that not all women would know how to prepare all meals. And that the society should not view them as being handicapped if they cannot. Also for women who find themselves in this category, what I would counsel is a constant, ever eager approach. If opportunities arise to learn any new recipe or a meal you otherwise cannot make, by all means take it. It’s a different case if you can’t reproduce this later on (talking from experience) but at least you’ve made an effort to better your cooking experience.
Does this then negate all I have been talking about? Far from it. Inasmuch as doing this would benefit your husband/children for the married, I believe that it brings some amount of personal fulfilment especially if you took it as a challenge.
So in summary. One, there will always be women who will not conform to the norm of being exceptional cooks. Two, the African society should not judge this women on the basis of this. Finally, the advice to these women is to take it one step at a time and never give up on themselves and not allow the society bully them either.
This write up is not about making a case where there is none, it’s actually the outcry of a woman seeking to be understood.
Writer: I am a graduate of Microbiology with a voracious appetite for books, mainly fiction. I review books for Africa Book Club and The Emerge Review. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.