Food and Cooking

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Wednesday, 18 September 1963
Last night the principal, Mr. Ikoku, invited us to dinner. The dinner was quite good: a mixture of Nigerian ‘chop’ and European food.

My steward shopped, but he is from the city and couldn't find the things he is used to looking for. He says this is a 'country' place and the yams are different. Also he cannot find the green vegetables he is used to preparing. He will have to learn. He can market with the steward of the other PCV to learn what to buy and how much.

So our larder is still not full and I hope even more that the Jeep will come so I can go to Umuahia tomorrow. Mr. Ikoku was going to repfiace my stove with the one from next door until he found he had already swiped it for some other broken one. So he replaced the broken parts. I must find time for Benson to clean it so he can cook some bread. If he can't buy food at least I can fill up on bread. I plan to buy a sink and install it in the kitchen with a linoleum drainboard and a small water tank. I hope I can find the necessary items.

Wednesday, 25 September 1963
The kitchen has a kerosene fridge which is very temperamental: if the flame is not just right, it warms instead of cools. I went without meat for a week from this thing. I hijacked another book case to put in this room for food and pots. There is a nice long table here, but my steward insists on preparing food in the cook room out back. Behind the house is a row of rooms with wood stove, bathroom, and outhouse, fortunately with a can which the ‘night-soil‘ man, removes almost daily. These are about 8x5 feet. I want to rig up some kind of a sink so we don't always have to go round the house to dump water. I imagine that a porcelain sink is frightfully expensive in this place, so I may have to settle for a large funnel with a rag stopper. Market day is every four days, so one must plan with some degree of thought.

My steward is not a genius at anything, especially meals. Monday he bought three yams (they are white here, about two feet long, six inches thru) which would last a family a week. He bought ten eggs, three of which he had thrown out before I found that they were bad only because the rooster got there first. I have had lunch at 4pm and one day I had lunch a 3 and dinner at 5 because Benson fixed it then. One egg is enough for breakfast. We will straighten him out.

In the evening women sell fruit on the compound, but Benson is usually in such a stew about bath or dinner so he can go home before dark—that he forgets to buy fruit. The one thing I could live off of here is fruit, and he forgets to buy it. [A large bowl of fruit--my typical breakfast--cost 3 cents, unless it contains pineapple, which adds another penny.] The water supply is not just suspicious—it is the school bath. At least for the boys, who go swimming before they fill the buckets so they can wade upstream a little.

Yesterday I made a stew; I put the yams in, and when they were done, my steward promptly took them out! He thought it very funny that we should cook them together. I also carried water buckets when I went with him to see the water source. It is about a half-mile away and I figured it was no use walking back empty-handed, especially when Benson hates to make the trip. He thought it very funny that I should carry water. Also he would not chop wood yesterday, so I went out to do it and he laughed at my funny way of swinging an axe in a circle.

I caught my steward not boiling water the other day so I showed him how it bubbles when it boils. He sort of resents my being in the kitchen and not taking a bath when he wants it, etc, but this is my house now and he will have to abide by my rules. Especially if I have to eat his cooking. I guess the British are more submissive, as the stewards generally like to work for them best. Some of Benson’s specialties are good, some require special ingredients from the city. I still have difficulty telling him I want to eat Nigerian food, but I guess his training only taught him to cook a certain few dishes which Europeans will eat. He came back from the market and told me he had to go back to get the things he needed for ‘his own‘ food. So I asked him what he would buy and he told me. Then I asked him to buy some of the same for me and he said I couldn't eat it! Stubborn cuss.

Let me describe my supper: yam cake (very much like mashed potatoes), fried bananas, toast, and fresh bread, and jello with fresh fruit in it. Not bad, considering that we are out of meat, since market fell on Independence day and very few women came to sell. My steward was only able to get three eggs, so we are rationing my protein. Is there an accepted minimum intake for protein?

11 October 1963
My steward has been slipping in Nigerian dishes recently—not bad if you cut down on the [chili] pepper. They have a jelly made of corn flour and water which is filtered and pressed between paper. It is pretty good for starch. Most of the native food is carbohydrate. No wonder the kids have kwashiorkor. The health science course here teaches them that many people in the states who eat corn have pellagra. And beri-beri is cured by drinking lime juice. But they don't learn about deficiency diseases.

1 November 1963
Hello, all. I've sacked my steward. [His parting words were that I could not survive without a steward. I managed one month without.] For the present I have no steward, and am cooking and washing for myself. Boniface, who is Joan’s steward, will be out of a job when Joan goes back to the States next month, so I decided to hire him when she leaves. He is pretty good. He is helping me with marketing and ironing and house-craning for the duration.

Also I am eating lunch with Mick every day. Between the two of them [stewards], I could get along fine. I have spent about four hours a day for four days working on the model of the boat which Amundsen used to discover the Northwest Passage. I have the hull shaped pretty well now.

Let me give you some idea of my diet: Breakfast: one or two duck eggs and toast with jam and coffee. I use duck eggs if I can get a dozen because the chicken eggs are extra small and the same price as the larger duck eggs. Each market woman brings the eggs she has been able to find to market and to get 3 dozen at the proper price, 4d each, one must walk through the whole market. Then you have to candle each one by holding it up to the sun to see if it is good. For dinner I have a bit of beef, fried, with yam. (It is white here, and tastes like potato if cooked enough.), or maize fritter (much like corn meal mush which has set). For ‘sweets’ I usually have a dish of fruit which contains one banana, one orange, and a slice of pawpaw (papaya). Cost for desert is about two cents. The maize fritter is one penny a serving and is prepared by the market women—all it needs is cooking. Oh, yes, I usually have a green vegetable a day. The only green vegetable available is pumpkin, the leaves of a gourd. If boiled it is OK, but doesn’t have much flavor by itself.

My refrigerator has a circular cloth wick, which burns down in about five days. It works fine now. Since my steward left, I am using the kerosene stove, which has an asbestos wick, and the fuel lines are due for a cleaning. The kerosene will be cheaper to operate than the wood stove, I think, since I was paying £l.5 for wood, and that will buy 7 gallons of kerosene. We had to start the wood with kerosene, anyway.

A beginning (untrained) steward in Aro gets £4 a month. At the school he must pay 10s [half £] rent, the at most jobs he would be given a house. Here he can live on £2 a month for food. A trained steward like I will get is paid about £6 so he can save a bit. Mick's steward is a very good cook. Boniface, who I will get, is an ok cook, but he is very pleasant and smart enough to learn. He is very good at cleaning. I hope that he can learn from Frances, next door, and become a first-rate cook. I will be tired of my meagre abilities in less than a month.

12 November 1963
About a week ago Mick and I visited the home of the gardener and he served us supper. It was rice and a meat stew-gravy-soup stuff which was well cooked and hot, so we figured it would be safe to eat—and it was. We didn’t drink any water, of course. No repercussions at all. Most of the kids say that at most you have to stay by the latrine the next day, and the Nigerians feel very honored that you have eaten with them. I’m getting along fine, just borrowing stewards. However, it takes a good bit of time, so I will be glad when I get a boy again. Joan will leave earlier than expected, 22 November, so I will be back to normal soon.

7 December I963
The fridge is working more or less well now. One problem is a varying quality of kerosine, from poor to bad. it is the same staff they burn in diesel autos sometimes.

15 December I963
I have moved the eating table into the ‘kitchen’. Now I have much more room in my living room, and a work table for all my projects. That means I will have to get a blanket to hang on the blank wall in front of the table, as that room is strictly functional so far.

20 February 1964
I dug a bit in this poor, hard ground to start a garden for some fresh vegetables. We had been stalling because of the problem of carrying water all during the dry season, but I solved it with a typical stroke of genius—the water from my bath and the laundry runs out a hole in the wall and onto the ground. There is a constant patch of green outside this hole. So I dug there, and the soil is better than at other places, and quite moist. Now if I can only dig a big enough plot to make it all worth while, we'll have some vegetables.

Here the word "hotel" means a place to eat, so one of the rooms has a fire in the corner with a pot or two of stew and some rice, plays another room with a large table and some chairs, a basin to wash your hand, and salt. I think the main income is rent from the girls, who eagerly press every bar customer for additional business.

9 March 1964
I went to Onitsha last Sunday and talked to Will Craven, who attempted the journey [thru Central Africa]. In the former French countries there are no native hotels, and we will have to cook or eat in the very expensive French hotels. Last Sat and Sunday I had lunch in native hotels for 1 shilling and 2 shillings. Good food and cheap. No stomach trouble. Missions have the only flophouses in French colonies, and Peace Corps is becoming less welcome in the more crowded ones.

Yesterday I tilled the land for a couple of hours. Sore today. It was (and is) very hot and the ground required a pick to break it. A student was supposed to work this afternoon (punishment) further, but it really needs little. mostly seed now, and I have that, tho not the best selection.

Chop [dinner] is about ready. I am having a battle with my steward—trying to get him to fix less meet and cut down on expenses. I get two eggs at breakfast plus over half a pound of ‘beef’ a day. It is only about 30 cents a pound, but it is still the most expensive item on my shopping list. Well, next to European vegetables, which I have taken to buying in the town and which I will have to wean from if I expect to save any money.

14 November 1964
Ach, yes, I got a turkey for Thanksgiving. I can’t tell how big he will be in the oven, as I had to buy him with feathers. I put him in my cycle bag and carried him thirty miles to Item. When I let him out he stayed around for about half an hour, then ran into the bush, where some kids scared him away. I hope Carole doesn't spend the next two weeks chasing that bird. It will be painful lip service to the ceremony, as he should be very tough.

New Year’s Eve, Bangui [via postcard] Still having fun eating French food and drinking French wine. The entire organization of the old French colonies is different from the British ones. Between big towns there is no food available, no African hotels or even bread-sellers as there are in Nigeria.

12 January 1965, morning
Since the last letter, things have been a bit rough, but we have smooth sailing now. We got a bug on New Year’s Day and had to sty two extra days in Bangui.

Jim Ludden

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