At a certain point of every trip appears this particular moment of missing home. Even the simpliest meal of our national cuisine (like a wholemeal roll with butter) seems to be a most sophisticated delicacy. You never know when that peculiar yet irresistible feeling will appear; it depends on the individual and on the duration of the trip. Since I like to eat and cook (in that order), I started to long for homemade food in Istanbul already, two hours after I had left Warsaw. Slowly but consistently that longing was getting stronger and stronger, and reached its apotheosis two weeks before coming back home.
Two weeks before coming back to Poland, while I was lying flat on my back, in my mind’s eyes I saw platters full of fresh salad, homemade pizza, dumplings, soya paté, fresh squeezed carrot juice… I spent a good hour daydreaming like that. Because it was “winter” in Nigeria then, many products weren’t available on the markets, which considerably limited my chances of survival. Winter is a difficult time for vegetarians and vegans in Nigeria. Dairy products aren’t very popular here. Cheese, yoghurt and butter are so rare that their freshness arouses suspicion even in the most exclusive shops in the city. Powdered milk is more common than liquid milk, which resembles the sweet milk which we normally add to coffee. Sold in small tins, it satisfies perfectly the desperate yearning for dairy products. Also porridges and soups for little children are made out of this milk. Boiling water, powdered milk, powdered porridge and you’re done! – you can feed the kid. I must admit that’s what my breakfasts mostly looked like, too. I swiped the powdered milk from my brothers and sisters and ate it mixed with sweet potatoes, in the form of sweet pulp. The adults in Nigeria don’t drink milk and never eat dairy products. That’s why I had to keep my food secret, especially considering that in our neighborhood I was already considered as an interesting phenomenon. The lack of dairy products as the Europeans know it is probably connected to several significant biological and industrial factors. I’ve never seen a dairy farm in Nigeria – all dairy products are imported. Moreover, the adult Nigerians have a genetic difficulty to digest lactose, a sugar of animal origin. I learnt about my own inability to digest lactose when I was a student already. Stubbornly I decided not to cut out all dairy products; I still eat cheese and yoghurt. And every time I eat them, the same happens…

The Nigerians don’t drink milk, but they love meat. They eat it as often as then can in order to show their wealth and prosperity. Goat meat and poultry belong to the most popular kinds of meat. In Nigeria chickens and goats are literally everywhere. They walk freely through the streets, dumps, on cars and roofs. The sight of a small, podgy goat strolling around markets and parks is really charming. I, unfortunately, usually came across a goat in a pot or in the fridge. Horns, hooves and a half of muzzle. The smell of a cooked goat is so peculiar that it’s impossible to forget or mistake it.

Imagine my expression when, one morning, I entered the kitchen and saw there… goats. One of them was alive, the other one carefully smoked and dried in a bowl. The smell of both was omnipresent. When I came back to the kitchen at noon – one has to eat something, after all – I opened the fridge and saw the horns and hooves of the goat which was still alive that morning. My stepmother and some other women were busy in the kitchen the whole morning, so there was no “milk soup” possibility. To make the time pass more pleasantly, they learnt from from my father one Polish sentence: “Nie ma problemu” – “No problem”, and repeated it all the time. Oddly enough, they repeated it while doing that…

My father is right to say: “If you survive in Nigeria, you’ll survive everywhere.”

Ifi Ude

Translated by: Anna Bień