The wedding procession will arrive shortly before three in the afternoon, by which time the women and girls that have been hired to prepare food for the day – mostly widows, orphans, and refugees (those who live on the fringes of this community, in short) – will have been on their feet for close to ten hours.

Yes, ten hours.

Since the point of cooking on days like this isn’t to preserve nutrients – surely no one comes to wedding receptions expecting to get the recommended daily dose of water-and-fat-soluble vitamins!


The point of cooking on days like this is to present a feast so exotic and tasty that common people will have no choice but to remember and discuss it for years.

Today’s tasks have been assigned according to a well-established hierarchy. The refugees and orphans are ferrying firewood, water, fruit, honey, herbs, and fresh spices from the nearby forest. They will light and tend to the fires throughout the day – their main responsibility being to ensure that the stoves and ovens are constantly fed with charcoal and hot rocks.

The widows will manage all the baking, boiling, frying, grilling, roasting, simmering, and stewing of food (not just for the soul, but for the tissues as well). But only those who bore children for their dead husbands will be allowed to access the main kitchen and serve food – something about fruit rewarding fruit. Therefore, only they will have the privilege of watching the well-timed approach of the showy, angled cars in the wedding procession. They will crowd around the large bay windows, which overlook the large entrance and larger compound, jostling for space in the nooks until they are squeezed in – trapped like wingless grasshoppers in a bottle.

Until then, all the widows – childfree and otherwise – are putting up a united front. Or, at least, pretending to. As per Bellden’s instructions (Bellden, a small woman that’s rumoured to be related to the bride, is in charge of the cooks today), the widows are preparing two categories of food – one (mostly plant-based) for the bride’s entourage and another (mostly animal-based) for the bridegroom’s entourage. Per the common saying: women will be docile, and men will be virile.

Thus, the bride and her entourage will nibble daintily on sweet potato fries, sun-dried beetroots, glazed carrots, cucumber and yoghurt salad, roasted red cabbage, goat cheese-stuffed grilled peppers, honeyed lettuce wraps, aubèrgines and mushroom soup, black bean sauce, sweet and sour fried rice, green peas masala, and ash-baked cassava bread.

While the bridegroom and his entourage devour the following:

Guinea fowl baked in garlicky, ghee sauce

Creamy bacon pasta served with sweetcorn

Roast goose with soursop wine gravy

Grilled chicken kebabs

Barbecue-style beef ribs with gooseberry jelly

Smoked lungfish with spinach pancakes

Lamb chops with raisins, lemongrass, and parsley

Side dishes of chilled avocado soup (drizzled with sunflower seeds and hot pepper sauce)

For dessert, duck egg pie with caramelized onions, pan-fried cherry tomatoes, and stir-fried noodles

And then, for the invited guests, the usual:

Stewed plantain, spicy yam cakes, bitter tomatoes in sour milk, and groundnut sauce (with a side dish of stir-fried pumpkin leaves) for the women. And for the men, Irish potatoes, plantain and gizzard sauce, and cow feet soup (with a side dish of silverfish in groundnut sauce).

The cooks are without the advantages of modern cooking equipment and facilities. For the most part, they have to rely on clay pots, cast iron saucepans, rusty handheld grills, plastic sieves, wooden mortars and pestles, and short bamboo skewers. Nonetheless, Bellden is pleased with the progress they’ve made. Although you wouldn’t know this from the brusque way she moves about while she’s inspecting saucepans for leaks, punching through dough, dipping her fingers into bowls filled with purée, and inhaling flavoured steam from the meat dishes.

Because her face is set in a permanent scowl, and her upper lip seems in danger of disappearing into her nostrils, one’s initial impression of Bellden will likely be that she’s unimpressed. In truth, her stomach is churning with all kinds of digestive juices: the wonderful, pungent smell of seasonings – of spices she’d never smelt until today – is making her desperately hungry. Yet she can’t, under or above any circumstances, show that she’s moved. She can’t ask one of the cooks to save a few pieces of guinea fowl or beef for her, either. Imagine how it’ll look!

And so Bellden carries on dutifully, walking stiffly around the outdoor cooking areas, with her hands clasped behind her back, as if she were an invigilator overseeing an end-of-year exam. Because you can never be too careful with people from the fringes. God knows what they get up to when you’re not watching. If you’ll believe it, they’ve been known to put drops of their menstrual blood and urine, locks of their pubic and anal hair, and dashes of their faecal matter, into food!

Whenever, by some miracle, Bellden allows herself to be called away or distracted by other duties, she leaves someone else (usually one of the armed askaris) in charge. The cooks use the opportunities presented by Bellden’s absence to bribe the askaris with large pieces of meat. That way, they are able to take intermittent breaks – not so they can flavour the meat sauces with their blood or hair, but to creep along the sides until they find a good vantage point from which to stare lustfully at the furniture and lighting that’s spread out on the lawn in front of the main house.

Considering that this occasion marks the first time many of the cooks have seen salad plates and wine glasses, there’s very little that won’t impress them. Wherever they turn their eyes to, there’s yet another thing or couple of things to fill them with strange and surprising feelings.

To begin with, there are the tents, which are covered by transparent canopies and topped with flags. Forget salad plates. Who’d ever have thought that a tent could be transparent?

And what about those luxurious floral arrangements that run the length of each table? —or the tall pillars of star-shaped flowers? —or the chairs draped in garlands of handmade lace and silk ribbons? —or the boutonnières to match the day’s orange, gold, and blue colour palette? —which all look too perfect, too pretty, to be true?  

Most importantly, by what magic do round candles float in square, glass jars?

And all those children, dressed in their Sunday best, holding gold bowls, throwing fresh petals all over the snake-like driveway! —what bright futures they must have!

Yet all those things, magnificent as they are, are not what a wedding is about. As far as the cooks are concerned, wedding receptions are about the brides. So, although they are open-mouthed now, they are reserving their most amazed, most stupefied looks for when their eyes fall on the bride, who they’ve been reliably informed will arrive in the longest, shiniest car.

Soon after the bride steps onto the grass, which was carefully cut and watered this morning, she’ll raise a heavily jewelled hand to shade her eyes from the sun. Only after someone runs up to her with an umbrella will she fully emerge from the car. It’s all been carefully choreographed, beforehand, you see, for that is the way of rich people.


When the cooks finally catch a glimpse of the bride, well over three hours after the arrival of the wedding procession, they are so hungry and thirsty that they have to hold onto each other in order not to faint. Those that aren’t complaining of dizziness and nausea are making headachy sounds.

The oldest and frailest widows are practically shaking.

It doesn’t matter that these women have been up since five in the morning, or that their hands prepared the feast that will be unleashed on guests in a few minutes. The rules of well-established hierarchies exist for a reason: the cooks will eat last, if at all.

Be that as it may, the cooks are not without hope. If anything, looking at the bride is, in a way, very much like ingesting food.

The bride is seated quite far away, on the highest table, in a chair labelled “Wife.” Yet not even distance can dull the magnificence of her outfit, which is a cross between a mushanana and a sari. (The fabric of the mushanasari is hand-woven, a substantial brocade with gold and orange geometric designs.) Or the luxuriousness of her expensive jewellery – the thick, gold ferronnière encircling her forehead; the emerald jewels sewn into her hair; the snake charm bracelets clutching her wrists like frightened children.

The bridegroom, on the other hand, has failed to excite the cooks. The colour of his skin is much lighter than they expected. But what is even more surprising is his size. They’d assumed that, like most foreigners, he’d be slender. But, no, the man is so large that he looks like a small city.

His saving grace is his pleasant-looking face. That and how he keeps turning to look at the bride with what looks like love and longing.

After a few minutes of watching the bridegroom’s face, the cooks decide that his size isn’t such a bad thing, after all; that, perhaps, it is a representation of generosity, sympathy, and tolerance. His tight, ill-fitting suit, and the slanting M in the “Man” label affixed to his chair, start to seem like good-natured jokes.


What a happy coincidence that Bellden is so wise! If it wasn’t for her insistence that food is served before the speeches, there would probably be only a handful of guests left seated under the tents right now.

As things stand, even those who didn’t get official invitations are sated. Hence the general willingness to be patient with the bridegroom. For twenty minutes, guests have watched his slow and clumsy movement from the elevated platform on which the high table stands, down to the ground level, and then across the grass to where the microphone stand is mounted.

After another twenty minutes, when the bridegroom is finally as close to the microphone as he needs to be, there’s a collective sigh of relief.

“Invited guests, ladies and gentlemen, good night,” the bridegroom’s high-pitched voice echoes out of the microphone.   

Although “good night” is the appropriate greeting, since night fell a few hours ago, there’s some restrained laughter from the guests.

“With all protocol observed, I’d like to recognize the following people, who are very special to me,” the bridegroom continues, restrained laughter regardless. “Please stand up and wave when I mention you.”

The bride’s name isn’t the first, second, or third one that the bridegroom mentions.

Those who are present, those watching with their own eyes what’s happening, will say that long before the bridegroom mentioned the bride’s name, she’d started wheezing. But that it didn’t matter to him that she was having trouble breathing; that he insisted that she stand, wave, and walk toward him so that everyone could see what a lovely bride he chose.

“I have full confidence in her,” the bridegroom announces in a pinched voice, when he finally gets round to calling his bride by her given name. “She gets up while it’s still dark, and provides food for…”

The bride stands and waves, alright, but doesn’t get very far. She waddles to the edge of the platform and then stops as vomit erupts out of her in violent streams.

Since a first aid kid is the last thing people think anyone will need at a wedding, there isn’t one in the main house or nearby houses.

The bride collapses before a medic is found to check her pulse.

A few of those who are present, those watching with their own eyes what’s happening, will say the bride collapsed because of three reasons: one, she was heartbroken by the bridegroom’s failure to name her first. Two, the stress of wedding preparations got the best of her. Three, her marriage to the city-sized man was arranged by her parents; so, she swallowed rat poison to spite them.

But most guests will claim that everything, including the wheezing and collapsing, was carefully choreographed beforehand. For such is the way of rich people.


Let the record state that this is neither the first nor last time. The bride, Azza, has [almost] died many times before, and will [almost] die many times after. She has an undiscovered allergy to aubèrgines, you see, which is what triggers the wheezing, vomiting, and fainting spells. Like most allergies, it can be easily managed through vigilance and the proper medications.

But, in places like this, it is much easier to believe that Azza has been bewitched – perhaps by a stepmother or a malevolent, childless widow; witchcraft narratives are infinitely more interesting than tales of medical complications. Further, discussions about witchcraft tend to be democratic: you don’t have to have or be a PhD in witchcraft to speak boldly about its motivations or effects.

So, over the next few days, weeks, and months, community members will happily debate and weigh a variety of beliefs and judgments about who bewitched the bride, and why.

Meanwhile, Azza will slowly but surely recover in the ICU of the region’s only referral hospital. Lying in bed, she’ll think about the quiet, orthodox life she’s lived – a life which has culminated in a marriage to her father’s business partner, a man twice her age.


Although Azza has had many near-death experiences, there’s something about this one that promises to change her life. This is the first time she’s actually been afraid – the first time she’s ever allowed herself to consider the possibility of a different path.

All her life, she has done exactly what’s expected of her. But what if she doesn’t have to anymore? What if the most recent episode of her body’s hypersensitivity is the universe’s way of telling her to try a different track, beat her own path?


It’s unclear if the bridegroom believes in witchcraft. What’s clear, though, is that he intends to demand an investigation into “possible irregularities.”

The bridegroom will, of course, receive a detailed police report confirming that, yes, indeed, X number of “questionable activities” happened in the kitchen because of Bellden’s failure to perform the supervisory duties assigned to her.

Naturally, Bellden will be arrested (although she won’t spend more than a few days in the women’s wing of Murchison Bay Prison), and the widows will be heavily fined (as restitution to the bridegroom for “unplanned loss of honeymoon time”).

For that, interestingly, is the way of rich people.

Davina Kawuma is a Ugandan natural scientist, educator, administrator, editor, and storyteller. Her poetry has been published by platforms such as Brittle Paper, African Writers Trust, and FEMRITE. Her short stories have been shortlisted for the Afritondo, Gerald Kraak, and Short Story Day Africa Prizes. Her creative non-fiction, whose subject is racial justice trainer, community organizer, and systems change strategist April Michelle Jean, was published last year in a cross-cultural anthology by Ugandan and American women titled This Bridge Called Woman. Her flash fiction is forthcoming in the eco-literature and eco-art edition of the Global South Journal.

Kelechi had never seen so many white walls in one house. In fact, she wondered how these people kept the place stainless. Kelechi was not someone to leave her questions unanswered, and that was why she came. The woman of the house, Madam Ibeneme, motioned one of the servant girls to bring Kelechi a drink. When the servant girl came, she asked, “Mummy, is it zobo or Ribena?”

Madam Ibeneme sized up Kelechi, and her eyes landed on her burgeoning stomach. “Bring her some zobo.”

Kelechi struggled to hide her displeasure. The zobo arrived – thank God it was cold because the air conditioning was barely touching her skin – and Kelechi found her answer. Since Madam Ibeneme’s boys were sent off to boarding houses since JSS 1, she must have repainted the walls white and never let the servant girls lean on them. Even when their five boys returned for holidays, they must have visited the sitting room for a few hours, and retired to their rooms to study. Kelechi had heard the rumours — how Madam Ibeneme and her husband never spared their boys. During the holidays when Kelechi and her sisters with their neighbours cooked in clay pots on the sand and caught lice in their hair, Madam Ibeneme’s boys were shut up in their rooms and forced to read for hours. No wonder they all secured fully funded scholarships abroad and became the only topic their Nigerian parents talked about. If her own parents had been that strict, Kelechi wouldn’t be sitting in this woman’s parlour, drinking her gingered zobo with caution.

“We will be going now, nne.” Mummy announced. “Sorry for the wait. My suppliers in the market must be waiting for me.”

“No problem ma.”

“Pauline, bring those market bags.” Mummy called out. “Tell Dairu to start the car.”

When the woman rose, Kelechi jerked up also. It was reflex, something she would regret doing later, because she never wanted this woman to feel she was doing her a favour. But inside this white house, Kelechi felt powerless, and that was a feeling she was desperate to shed. Inside the chauffeured car, Mummy held her phone out, punching the touch screen with her first finger, one step at a time.

“Do you know how to cook utazi soup?” Mummy eyed Kelechi.

“That is white soup, is it not?”

“The leaves are bitter. White soup doesn’t have leaves in it.”

“Oh.” Kelechi smiled sheepishly. Was she failing the test, already? If only she had paid attention while her own mother cooked. But they didn’t cook too many soups. All Kelechi knew was egusi, okro, ogbono, and ofe onugbu.

“White soup is the one we call ofe nsala.” Mummy continued, not lifting her eyes from the phone. “My husband loves it with catfish, but the boys prefer chicken.”

“Okay ma.” Kelechi nodded like this information was critical to passing the bar exam she had in a few weeks. The woman just hinted that her son, the one Kelechi would be getting married to, loved ofe nsala with chicken.

“I will teach you how to make the utazi, and I will watch you make ofe nsala. So, we will get fresh catfish and some kilos of chicken at the market. Let me see whether your barrister brain can still cook a pot of soup.” Mummy was laughing, but Kelechi looked away.

Kelechi dreaded markets. It reminded her so much of hardship because she never understood why people loved to make the trip to Sabo when they could go to the local street stalls to buy foodstuff. Sabo Market was hell, brimming with all kinds of people – Hausa load-pushers with their smelly bodies, little children shoving their wares in your faces, beggars clamouring for the money in your pockets, and even thieves trying to sell you spoilt foodstuff. She struggled to keep up with Mummy who was many steps ahead, despite her average height, and who seemed to know everyone in the market. They stopped in front of people’s stalls too many times because Mummy needed to greet and remind the market women to attend fellowship sometime. This was the Christian fellowship Mummy pioneered some fifteen years ago, the one Kelechi’s mother said she used to bring women in the neighbourhood to under subjection. Nobody who attended fellowship could defy Madam Ibeneme, and Kelechi noted when her own mother started avoiding the fellowship. Now that she would be marrying their son, her mother had no choice. She might not like the Ibeneme family, but she couldn’t deny that they were one of the most influential families in their neighbourhood. Kelechi would be joined to a dynasty – and her mother ought to be proud.

“Pack these ones for me. I don’t need anymore.” Mummy haggled with the sellers. The price of catfish was outrageous. Kelechi wondered why the woman bothered.

Soon, all the market bags were loaded on wheelbarrows owned by muscled Hausa boys. Mummy looked at her list and back at the market. She squinted at Kelechi. “I think we got everything.”

Kelechi smiled. She had no idea what was on the list.

“Oh, One more thing. Thank you, Jesus,” Mummy piped.

“What is it?” Kelechi’s legs were on fire. She wanted so badly to return home and return to her own house quick.

“Dog food. We need to get some dog food.”

Fortunately, Mummy haggled quickly this time. It was past two in the afternoon, and the sun was having a good time dealing with their skins. They bought two large bags of dog food and loaded them onto the carriers.

“Madam, your money na seven hundred oh.” One of the two Hausa boys spoke.

“Which kain seven hundred?” Mummy retorted. “Come on, carry this thing for me. Let’s go. See your black head like seven hundred.”

And that settled it. Mummy had this silencer effect on people. It was the reason she was so powerful. On the ride back home, Kelechi worried if this was going to be a problem in her marriage. She had not given this much thought. Yes, her fiancé, Mummy’s son, was the only son who moved back to Nigeria to reside, and that meant they would be closer to the family. Not that Mummy would make the trip to their home every week, but didn’t she control her son as well? So far, Mummy was the one who introduced both of them, who insisted that Kelechi was a perfectly good-natured fit for her son. Kelechi was not sure that her son cared for her, as much as he cared for his mother’s words, but after some months, he asked her to marry him.

“How does your mother make oha soup?” Mummy slashed through her thoughts. “Does she use uziza or what leaves?”

“She uses uziza and oha leaves. Both of them together.” Kelechi was happy the woman was smiling. So, she added, “Oha soup is my favourite soup.”

“Eh hehn! I thought all you children of nowadays only like egusi.”

“I am not an egusi person oh.” Kelechi chuckled. “It’s my sisters that will finish egusi soup in one sitting. Me, I like to eat it slowly. I think it’s too sweet.”

Mummy laughed. “It’s good. Not all these shawarma generation. The boys, when they were younger, they only wanted egusi and rice and bread. I had to force them to eat all kinds of soups.”

Madam Ibeneme only understood force. Kelechi noted this somewhere in her head. She must be prepared for moments when Mummy would attempt to force her son against her wishes. Right now, she was forcing him towards her, Kelechi knew it – she wasn’t stupid.

“Ezenduka will be coming this evening. Did he tell you?”

“Oh.” Kelechi went pink. She had not gotten comfortable with talking about one of Madam Ibeneme’s boys as her husband-to-be with anyone. Not even with his mother.


“Have you guys finalized the wedding date?” He asked.

That piece of information was the reason Kelechi wanted some time alone with Ezenduka. It wasn’t supposed to be a discussion between his parents and hers. But theirs. So, she asked him to come pick her up at the market – she was going to cook him dinner. She wanted him to look her in the eye and tell her he was as excited to get married to her, the same way she was. He was an accomplished and good-looking man, and she was lucky to have him. But Kelechi wasn’t roadside food herself – she was a full spec. She needed him to see this.

“We’re supposed to pick our wedding date. Both of us.” She looked at him, as he started to reverse out of Sabo market.

“Kele, I told you that I am fine with any date you choose.” He pushed up his glasses – one habit Kelechi found very charming. Was there anything she hated about him?

“Where do you want to spend the honeymoon?”

“Paris.” She said without thinking.

He chuckled. “Stereotypical. But I thought you’d have chosen Florence.”

“It’s Florence that’s more cliché. Why do we need to go to the city of love if we’ve already found love?”

“Fair point. So, you said you wanted to cook for me?”

“Yes. Let me be sure I know what I am doing.”

Ezenduka laughed some more. “I really don’t mind. I do all my cooking. But the gesture is nice. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Kelechi smiled. She looked out the window. Hawkers were brandishing kilishi, suya, drinks, and bread at her.

“You want to buy anything?”

He was being polite, too polite. Kelechi knew he was trying to be nice to her – but she was willing to be patient. She also planned to sleep over at his place today, something she didn’t discuss with Mummy.

“Not really. But this bread looks fresh. And maybe some kilishi too.”

Ezenduka tossed her his wallet and kept his eyes on the road. “I don’t trust Lagos kilishi but buy if you must.”

She had already wound down the windows and started selecting food. Impatient drivers honked from behind, forcing Ezenduka to move the car, and the hawkers started chasing their car. Kelechi threw some money at them, only after they’d given her the correct change.

“I can’t wait to see where you live. I’ve been curious,” she said when they were many miles on the highway.

“Really. It’s nothing special. If the space is not enough for us, we’ll move to a bigger place.”

“How many rooms?” Kelechi asked.


“Sounds okay to me.”

Ezenduka’s apartment smelled of lavender. The walls were stained white, and it was clean. Ezenduka moved all her market bags to the kitchen. She wanted to empty her bladder, so she found the restroom. She washed her face, ears, and hands before returning to the kitchen. She noticed how it was devoid of foodstuff, and she smiled at the opportunity. She wanted to make plantain porridge and some ofe nsala. If she had time in the morning, she would make some egusi.

“Your kitchen is naked.” Kelechi remarked.

He shrugged. The space in the kitchen suddenly felt small. “I cook all my meals; I told you that.”

“Oh. I imagined you ate mostly takeouts in school.”

His phone buzzed. He looked at it and ignored it.

“My brother was my flat mate, and he insisted we cook on weekends. It was our way of keeping up with African food. Courtesy of my mum who loaded us with supplies.”

Kelechi laughed. “I can imagine her transporting produce from Sabo to Europe.”

“Yes, she went to those lengths. At first, it was annoying, But I soon started to appreciate it. Because we ate Nigerian food, well, it was easy for me to come back here. I really missed the culture here.”

“Won’t you take the call?” Kelechi was already poised like a proper wife, peeling the plantains and arranging spices for the porridge.

“Oh, it’s work stuff. How can I help?”

Kelechi smiled. “As if you can.”

“Yes oh. Look at this woman, I can cook.”

“Okay. Peel some onions. Later you’ll pound fresh peppers.”

“Tough job for the tough man, right? Give me a minute. We need some music here.”

He left the kitchen, and soon, The Cavemen boomed from the speakers in the living room.

When he came inside the kitchen, he was swinging to the Afrocentric highlife fusion. Kelechi watched him move this way and that – he had some moves. She started laughing, cheering him as he moved. He stretched his hands to her, and Kelechi dropped the plantain, and planted her hands in his. They moved in rhythm, their bodies syncing into the highlife beats, as if The Cavemen were a private band playing in Ezenduka’s kitchen.

“Wow. You are a dancer,” Ezenduka commented, with sweat soaking his face and shirt.

“If the mood is right, yes.” Kelechi was ecstatic – she never wanted the moment to end.

But it did end, because someone appeared in the hallway and screamed. The strange woman was taller than Kelechi, with fuller breasts. She must have had a house key, because Kelechi was sure that Ezenduka locked the house when they came in. The intruder kept screaming, “this is why you didn’t take my calls?” And she had a heavy British accent.

Kelechi felt the walls closing in on her, the plantains, and her foodstuff bags, so she left the kitchen and disappeared into the bathroom. The Cavemen was still playing, yet it was easy for Kelechi to hear their brawling. He was asking her to leave, pleading that he would call her tomorrow, but the woman wouldn’t budge.

Kelechi tried to forgive herself for being stupid. Of course, she didn’t expect him to be single. That was too high an expectation for a successful man living in Lagos. But she expected him to be cutting off his side girlfriends since he was soon to be married. She paced in the bathroom and was tempted to call Mummy. But she thought against it – and then she remembered her cooking. She would go out there and enter her husband-to-be’s kitchen and cook him dinner. If the bloody woman decided to stay, she was welcome. But Kelechi would not exchange words with a prostitute. At the end of the day, Ezenduka would be indebted to her. Perhaps, Kelechi could finally have some of that power that Mummy had acquired for herself.

Favour Iruoma Chukwuemeka is a creative writer from Eastern Nigeria. Her writing has appeared in Afritondo, Conscio, Cypress Journal, Lolwe, The Shallow Tales Review, Kalahari Review, and African Writer. She is an alumnus of the 2021 Creative Writing Cohort with Chigozie Obioma. She can be found on twitter at @heeruomah.

General Kamiti could smell a nice aroma coming from a distance. Before joining the liberation movement in the forest, he was a chef to the colonial settler. Immediately he smelt the nice aroma, he flashed back to how he used to cook nice food for the colonial settler. So tasty was his food that the settler decided to increase his salary. He used to cook delicious food for his bosses like fish and chips, Sunday roast, cottage pie, steak, kidney pie, English breakfast, and more. Since he never learned to prepare British cuisine from school, he taught himself how to cook them. When he served his boss in the dining room, his boss was very happy and asked for more. Kamiti could not disappoint, and he made sure that his boss ate to his satisfaction. This made the White settler very happy, and he decided to increase his salary. One day, Kamiti had prepared very delicious food such that Peterson, his boss, had ordered a second and third helping.

Once Kamiti smelt the aroma, he decided to follow it to see what made his saliva come out uncontrollably. He decided to follow a footpath hidden in a deep forest to conceal his footsteps from British soldiers who were hunting the Mau Mau fighters like wild goats. Kamiti had been sent as a spy by his seniors back in the forest to go and look for food supplies back in the village. The freedom fighters had gone without food for several days and had to rely on wild fruits to survive. After the imperialist government learned that the fighters were getting food supplies from villages, they forced the villagers to dig deep trenches to surround the villages and cut off the food supply from reaching the forest. So, after this trench boundary, Kamiti and his seniors knew that if things went on like this, the freedom fighters would starve to death.

He tried to hurry up while following the food scent for he knew he had to return to his deep forest hideout before dusk. Therefore, he followed the sweet smell carefully without losing it; he knew he was on the right track. The experience he had in food production could not let him err in something important like this. Apart from preparing European foods, he was an expert in preparing his community’s traditional foods. Most of the time, when there was an occasion in the village, he was the one who was assigned the duty of guiding the cooks on how to prepare important foods like meat. As he hurried towards the village, he felt bitter about the colonial rulers in the country.

He could remember very carefully that this was not the first time they were using food as a weapon to suppress the Africans. When they were coming to colonize the country, they brought in soldiers from Europe to come and fight the Africans. The Africans fought the battle tooth and nail, and when the imperialists realized that they were not easily defeated, they decided to use a tactic called the scorched earth policy. This was where they burned down crops and killed animals that might be used by the Africans as a source of food. This policy affected Africans so much that finally, they succumbed to brutal colonial rule. When this happened, Kamiti was in his early teens. He had experienced the brutality of colonial rule, and so he had vowed to use all powers at his disposal to see that they succeeded in the fight for African liberation and freedom.

It was approaching around five o’clock in the evening, and Kamiti took bigger steps towards where the aroma was coming from. He reached a large, cleared area with no bushes or trees. He stopped abruptly and peered while hiding in a bush. From where he was looking, it was very clear that the colonial administration might have told the village to clear a large section of trees so that they could spot any freedom fighter coming out of the forest for food. At a distance, he heard a crowd of people talking and laughing loudly. At this level, he knew that any wrong move would see him dead or rotting in detention camps. When he listened carefully, he heard that the people were talking in English. Immediately he heard this, he knew that those were colonial settlers or police officers. He decided to go no further but look for another plan. In his pocket, there was a binocular he had been given by one of the visitors who used to come to Peterson’s home. This binocular was awarded as the visitors were happy with his cooking. Without wasting any other minute, he climbed a big tree that was nearby, and when he was at the topmost part, he took out his binocular and looked through it. The binocular was single-lens, and he could see the whole village. He remembered the book he had read about Egyptian history where a certain Egyptian god called Horus had an all-seeing eye where he saw the whole of Egypt kingdom.

 Looking carefully, he noticed that a group of White police officers stood guard over scores of African trench diggers. Standing on their side was an African chef roasting meat for them, the police officers were laughing at an African worker who lay on the ground and looked very exhausted. One of the police officers kicked the guy hard on the stomach and exclaimed, “This stupid African thinks we are fools. How can he claim that he can no longer dig the trench because he is very exhausted?”

Kamiti felt sorry for the young man, but he could do nothing. He knew that despite his carrying his gun with him, he could not manage to fight the ten officers who were mistreating his tribesmen. All the same, his mind turned back to the roasted meat that was being barbecued near the trench. He had not eaten for two days, only surviving on wild fruits and water. The best he could do was to go back to the forest and inform the other liberation fighters what he had seen. They would then lay a plan on how to find food because they knew that they could not fight or survive without it. Without the food supply, the fight for freedom would not succeed. Once he surveyed the area skillfully, he climbed down the tree and sat on the ground holding his chin. From what he had seen, it was almost impossible for any human to cross the other side of the trench to get food for the fighters. The trench was so wide and deep that anyone who would try to reach the other end would find himself or herself breaking their limbs.

Kamiti regretted the colonialists coming to his country. He remembered his family he had left alone back in the village and felt sad. At that time of the year, he could have been planting cassava and arrowroots on his farm. His farm was big, and many people came to buy foodstuffs from there. Right now, he had been demoted from being a farmer and chef to a gunslinger, but he never regretted it because he had to fight for the freedom of his motherland.

The sizzling sound of the roasting meat continued to meet his ear as he left the scene. He hurried towards the hideout where he had left the other freedom fighters. It took him about an hour and a half to get there. When General Wachuka and the other fighters saw him, they all stood and looked at him anxiously. General Wachuka was the head of the battalion. They respected him for his leadership and combat fighting.  They were very anxious to know what message he had brought to them. At this time, the hunger pangs were biting them seriously. Many of them had no energy left to fight the enemy. Immediately Kamiti arrived at the scene, he ordered everyone to gather at one point so that he could tell them what he saw.

“I had the honor of being sent to look at what we could do to get food supplies for our soldiers,” he began. “The works of emissaries belong to younger scouts, but the nature of the work required a more experienced person. Therefore, I was the one who was chosen to take this noble task,” he continued as others listened.

“I went to where the trench is being dug, and to say the truth, the trenches are very deep and wide for any human being to cross. Even our best cliffhangers I guess cannot cross the other side of these trenches. Hence, I think we have to know what to do to get food supply from the village other than crossing this dangerous trench,” he concluded. And at this point, the fighters became astonished.

 Everyone looked disappointed and hopeless; it was only General Wachuka who shot up and suggested that anyone who had got an idea of what they could do should stand up and say it before it was too late. There was one young man in his early twenties who stood up and said he had a suggestion. He was given a chance to speak.

“When I was attending a Sunday school with missionaries, we were told about how a young boy called David in the Bible used a sling to kill an enemy soldier by the name of Goliath. I would suggest we write a letter and tie it on a stone. One emissary will go to where we take our letter and fling the letter to the village using a sling. The letter would advise the villages to also bundle food in small packages. They would then fling the food using the same slings to the place where we used to collect it before,” he said.

After he finished his statement, everybody clapped, and they looked excited. They almost forgot that they were in a hideout in the forest. As the young man suggested, the letter was written and given to an emissary. As the letter described, the freedom fighters would be waiting for the food the next day very early in the morning at the designated scene. As the young emissary disappeared at a distance, the fighters wished the hours could fly off so that they could go and look whether there was any food to eat.

It was almost two hours since the fighters arrived at the suggested scene. They wondered whether they were the ones who had arrived earlier, or if the people designated to bring the foodstuffs might have forgotten. General Kamiti kept on moving from one place to another looking at his scratched wristwatch. When he looked at the watch again, it was four o’clock in the morning; he started to get worried but never told anyone about it. Another twenty minutes elapsed, and he was about to open his mouth to order his troops back in their hideout when a big lump of something soft hit him hard on his forehead.  At first, he thought it was British soldiers who had ambushed them. But when he came back to his senses, he thought he had smelt the sweet aroma of fried meat and potatoes.

After the first lump landed, others followed and within a duration of fifteen minutes, the whole place was awash with foodstuffs. A few minutes later, the food bundles stopped coming and everything was silent. General Wachuka and Kamiti ordered his troops to gather the food quickly and head back to their hideouts before the dawn light came out. Some of the fighters were very hungry, and they secretly went back into the hideout while eating what they were carrying. Soon the fighters reached their destination, and Wachuka told them to keep what they had gathered at the front.

“Today we are very lucky. We have managed to get food supply, but there is one issue that I would like to raise. We have seen how we have struggled to get food again after the enemy ordered the trenches to be dug. We need discipline when using our foodstuffs. Please eat only what is enough and keep the rest safe for next time,” Wachuka said.

The fighters did as they were told, and the rest of the food was kept safe in a cool dry place. That night, both General Wachuka and Kamiti told the fighters that they had to resume back fighting the enemy. So, when night came, they prepared their guns and other weapons. Before they could embark on the mission that night, Kamiti said he wanted to talk to them.

“Gallant soldiers, there is one thing I would like to request of you when carrying your guns, remember to carry slings and stones. This weapon has helped us a lot, and it may help us again. We can dismiss now,” he said as the fighters cocked their guns with much strength showing that they had regained the energy to fight the colonialist until they got their freedom.

Mungai Mwangi is a prolific writer. After high school, he attended college for an information technology course. He studied creative writing through correspondence. He has written articles for newspapers and blogging sites as well as a novel titled The Godly Merchant. He has received awards such as The Reading Ambassador from the the Start A Library Trust Organization and Story Moja Publishers. Currently he is working on novels and short stories. He can be found on Facebook at Mungai Mwangi.

I never need to open my refrigerator to know what produce it houses; I keep a mental file of what I have purchased. For instance, I know that right now nestled next to the long-lived carrots and celery are a single red pepper and a package of cremini mushrooms.

These vegetables nag at my memory because they must be used soon, or they will spoil.  Fruit is easier to track; it mounds in changing patterns, visibly, in a bowl on the counter.  I bought a bowl from a Signals and Wireless catalog warehouse sale nearly twenty years ago, and since then it has been a focal point of my kitchen.  Today I removed a large cantaloupe from it and cut it up; I peeled an orange yesterday, and as I bit each section in half, its sweet, sticky juice ran down my fingers.   I will keep eyeing the lemons this week, pondering—muffins? lemon-sauced chicken?

Somehow, I have become a person who plans meals around produce—around a deep-seated fear of wasting.  It should not be surprising to anyone that fear leads to oversight—to order. For me, this particular fear manifests as a steady anxiety as I move through each week—even before that, as I shop, agonizing over the amount of fresh goods to buy. Often, I place three apples in a bag, then return one to the display, calculating: how many days will I cut one up for lunch? I weigh a bag of hearts of Romaine in one hand and a bundle of Brussels sprouts in the other—too much for a single week? 

I used to plan meals enthusiastically for my three boys and myself, the years we were alone, especially as they reached high school, and I had to maintain a budget.  They could eat enormous amounts of food. It was my job to make sure there was enough, that it was affordable, and that it was relatively healthy. I always went to the store with a list of dinner ideas for that week—hearty meals, often pasta-based, that would feed these young men who ate like a crowd — chicken lasagna, spaghetti pie, brown rice hotdish. Buying extra ingredients, especially fresh ones, was a burden I avoided.  I could succeed only if I avoided waste.

I made up rules in those days, too, allowing myself permission to buy certain items that were stocked in abundance—say, cereal—only when they were both on sale and I had a coupon.  It was never onerous to remember the parameters I set for myself; I was proud of my frugality and practicality.

Now, things have shifted; I have shifted. I go to the store with a list and some vague ideas, but I prefer to plan as I cook. This week, I will make a pinto-bean and vegetable casserole on Monday that will use peppers, zucchini, loads of onions; chicken drumsticks and a potato kugel on Thursday that will incorporate one package of mushrooms hiding in the crisper drawer and the remnants of a carton of sour cream. As the week progresses, I will worry more and more, scour through cookbooks to find the recipe that will allow me to use what I have before it goes bad.

When I wake in the middle of the night, I wonder: What will I do with that red pepper? An egg bake? I experience a strange mixture of triumph and relief as I figure it out, plot to avoid my shame — letting food spoil.

*                *                      *                      *                      *

The kitchen of my childhood was not always a happy place. My mother stayed at home with my two sisters, my brother, and me for many years, filling our table with hearty meals she had grown up with on the farm — fried chicken, pot roast, meat loaf. She served what my father wanted, always—never scrambled eggs because he preferred them fried; bacon that was limp rather than crisp.  We begged her to make our Sunday frozen orange juice in the blender; we craved the light froth at the top of our glass and, as we kept sipping, the cold tart taste of orange that followed. Though she made it that way sometimes, she seemed annoyed that we would constantly ask.

She did some canning in those days, too. I remember standing next to her, my nose just above the cupboard’s edge, watching her pour hot paraffin onto jars of chokecherry jelly. I sensed she did not like this work; she spoke sharply to me when I asked to have a jelly sandwich for lunch.  I knew even then she was trying to be frugal, having watched her peel a sink full of the tiny apples that grew on the tree right outside the kitchen window for a measly pie or two. The thin spirals of peel mounded in the sink, as she turned each fruit in her hand, boring out the bruises, their sweet, cidery odor filling the kitchen. She did the work because she knew she ought to and because she had helped my grandmother on their farm do it as she grew up, but it didn’t seem to give her much joy.

Then, my parents divorced (my father was an alcoholic and a philanderer), and my only brother died — twin tragedies that would change the whole trajectory of our childhoods and family life. My mother had to take multiple jobs to support us, since at the time she had no marketable skills. She’d gotten married at 19, having given up a decent secretarial job and independence, as did many women in the early 1960’s. She had four children in quick succession and had to use her energy to clean and cook and keep us out of her hair. What spare energy she had was spent to defend my father against bosses made angry when he missed work or came in hung over. She had little energy left over to hold my father accountable for his dalliances; the lipstick collars (the worst clichés) slid by with little fuss, until he confessed to my mother that he had carried on an affair with the next-door neighbor couple. That was enough for her, and the Catholic faith she treasured, to permit divorce.

After the divorce, my father rarely paid child support (which we discovered only years later), and so my mother shouldered the entire burden of feeding us on a very strict budget.  I wonder if she was as proud of her efforts as I am of mine now.

The divorce changed the way we ate, of course. Dinner was whatever could be made quickly — Kraft macaroni and cheese, Dinty Moore beef stew, spaghetti with Ragu sauce, fried Spam sandwiches.  I assumed some of the responsibility for cooking—really, heating—those simple meals because I was interested and because I knew it would help my mother.  The mood in our kitchen, not surprisingly, was often lighter without my father and the tension his drinking had brought to the family. But there was still a hint of tension underneath.

We were not destitute, but we were poor.  We had enough. Mostly. Sitting around the kitchen table on Sunday mornings, we scoured the newspaper—together, all of us, my mother, my two sisters, and I—for grocery coupons and sale items. Eventually, I shouldered this task of meal planning for the entire family. Trips to the grocery store would be as purposeful and efficient as I could design them—there was no extra money for frivolous food we didn’t explicitly need for meals.  I relished the task, took pride in making sure we ate well on our skimpy budget.

Toward the end of the month, inevitably, money dwindled. No more shopping could be done.  We ate generic canned chicken noodle soup (with its salty, slightly rancid broth) or oatmeal, sometimes bread and gravy — a dish I despised. I understood that using up leftovers was our only choice, but I swallowed my mouthfuls grudgingly.

Once the beginning of the month came, my mother got paid, and the welfare check came, we’d have a full cupboard — beginning again a cycle of abundance and want that became a familiar element of the landscape of my childhood.

We were not unhappy.  Dinners were full of conversation; we cleared the kitchen table and did homework there.  A single box of Chef Boyardee pizza mix, embellished with a bit of hamburger, fostered a celebratory mood. We picked up slices speckled with small mounds of meat, bit off greasy mouthfuls, tangy with the flavor of the sauce.  A simple bowl of Dinty Moore beef stew over a toasted English muffin satisfied; its gravy scent was overlaid with the sweet, earthy smell of carrots. The glory was not that the food tasted good; it was that we were together, fighting—though we wouldn’t have said it at the time—for our place in the world, in spite of setbacks.

The older I got, the easier it got; my mother gained job experience. She moved into accounts payable and then into credit — work that was both higher paying and more satisfying.  It took less effort to make ends meet.  She eventually began cooking again, as she transitioned from multiple jobs to just one.  She cooked for pleasure now: rich manicotti, affordable sirloin steak — seasoned and broiled –, mashed potatoes, baby peas.

When we three girls were in high school, she bought a dishwasher and had my uncle install it, though that did mean no more nights when my two sisters and I stood at our separate stations—washing, rinsing, drying and putting away the dishes—with music and good-natured bickering our soundtrack for this simple work.

*                *                      *                      *                      *

The kitchen of my present is a perfect room. It is large and square, painted recently a pale gray green with one wall—the one above the windows that face the front yard (with its bird feeders, hosting cardinals and chickadees)—painted a rich lavender-blue for contrast. Cupboards line three walls, including a tall pantry cupboard.

This is the room that sold the house to me. I spend most of my time here—it’s where the music is, where guests gather.  It’s where I scan cookbooks and magazines, looking for creative ways to use the vegetables in my crisper drawer.

This morning, as I diced that red pepper I was so worried about for scrambled eggs, I smelled its sweet acidity and felt a deep satisfaction with my life; I did not know I would end up here, in such abundance. I lead a life of privilege, one that still takes me by surprise. As a child, we rarely had fresh vegetables, except for potatoes and carrots from our garden. As I chop, I feel enduringly grateful for what I have.

Out of abundance comes vigilance.  I must not waste what I am lucky to have. To have enough also enables me to give, to extend my good fortune to others.

My son Nate stopped by yesterday because he was sick and needed to borrow a thermometer.  He took his temperature in my kitchen, then pocketed the thermometer because he needs to make sure he’s fever-free for work. Before he left, I also managed to place in his hands a few bottles of non-alcoholic beer I bought for him for a recent family gathering. I offered packets of tea for his cold, and a lemon — too good in the tea — for the vitamin C.

On rare occasions, a stalk of celery browns and wilts, or a bowl of leftover gravy or spaghetti sauce (always homemade) molds in its dark corner of the refrigerator.  I throw the celery into the compost bucket—a good save since most food that goes bad in my house can be saved in some way.  If I had a dog, I’d save even more:  I’d feed him whatever I couldn’t eat, as my grandmother did on the farm. 

I have wrestled my demons and won, warded off the certain shame that comes with failure. The reward is the wrestling.  I keep my convictions in a world of ease and waste, with muscular effort.

Tracy Youngblom earned her MFA in Poetry from the Warren Wilson College Program for Writers. She has published two chapbooks of poems and two full-length collections, including her most recent, Boy, set to release in February 2023. Her work has appeared in journals such as Shenandoah, Big Muddy, Cortland Review, New York Quarterly, Potomac Review, North Dakota Quarterly, and many other places. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in Poetry, most recently in 2017.

We pronounce them “luckies,” which always made sense growing up because we felt so lucky to eat them. It was their salty richness, their fluffy potato innards, their cascade of oil soaking the paper towels ensconcing them on the dinner table.

There were other delights at Hanukah every year, from sweet gelt munched far too early in the day, to strips of corned beef I adorably termed “Hanukah bacon,” to the classic gefilte fish only the adults looked forward to. But latkes, for our ever-secularizing family, were the reason for the season.

It was my aunt, Sherri, who guarded the latke recipe. As a teenager and young adult, Sherri had been a wayward rebel, eschewing her parents’ warnings as she threw herself from one reckless adventure to the next. But in her mellow middle age, she had come to adopt a respect for tradition that even Tevya from Fiddler on the Roof would have been proud to see.

Sherri diligently grated potatoes every winter, carefully sprinkled matzo meal into the gloopy mess, and unfailingly watched for the telltale browning on the little pancakes. Her partner, Ron, stood by her side at the stove, piling the sizzling latkes on the paper-towel-laden plates. Early on, I learned that if I helped dish out the spoonfuls of batter into the boiling oil, I might be able to snag a latke or two fresh off the stove.

And as the years went by, I also gradually learned the family recipe for latkes. I learned the delicate but entirely unscientific proportions—one to two potatoes per person, two onions per ten potatoes. I learned how to identify just the right consistency of the mush—it should be gloppy, but not runny. And I learned how to navigate the all-important oil that brought the whole ceremony together, turning spoonfuls of lifeless goop into morsels no one could put down—it had to be sizzling, but not popping. That was the key.

While my three younger siblings washed their hands as soon as potato-peeling duty was over, I, like my aunt before me and who knows how many eldest daughters before us, hovered in the kitchen learning the family lessons.

But would it be enough to make latkes on my own?

I wouldn’t have a choice, moving from Pittsburgh and its rich multicultural heritage, to a Montana town with just over 20,000 people and no synagogue.

I wrung my hands as I drove from outlying town to outlying town, scouring each small grocery store for the crucial Manischewitz ingredient. I eventually thought to google matzo meal, and my kind Jewish forebears directed me to the exact aisle where a tub of the essential item could be found.

I carted my treasure back to my studio apartment, along with my eggs, onions, potatoes, salt and, of course, oil. I bought a cheese grater and sat down to work, pulling the trash can beneath me like we had always done at home. I sawed with a small knife and missed my aunt’s Rotato device.

My fingers bled, potato chunks flew, and I found myself missing the camaraderie of peeling — the familiar arguments over music and the competitions over potatoes peeled. I glanced at my new menorah, still gleaming and free of wax. It had been a gift from my mom when I moved to Montana.

I wrung my fingers out after the unending chore of grating. I mixed in all of the ingredients and, with more than a little trepidation, began to pour the oil.

My first spoonful sizzled sharply, and I winced. Hot oil splashed out of the pan at me. I reached for another dollop, and then the fire alarm started blaring.

I panicked and grabbed the entire pan, yanking it off the burner and running with it out onto the apartment lawn. I threw the hot pan into the snow and fanned at the smoky air with the door. Eventually, the alarm stopped sounding, and I gingerly picked up the pan.

With a fan blaring and the door propped open to the cold December air, I carefully ladled out the rest of my batter. I let the latkes cool in the soaked paper towels and seasoned them generously with salt before I dared try one.

They looked like my aunt’s, they smelled like my aunt’s, but after six hours of nonstop work in the kitchen, I couldn’t bear it if they didn’t taste like my aunt’s. I selected a cooling latke from the top of my pile. And there it was. The salty flavor. The flaky texture. As good as I had tasted in my grandmother’s small apartment in Pittsburgh.

Glowing, I eagerly wrapped up the rest and piled Tupperware upon Tupperware into my green VW Beetle. I careened into my office, my arms laden with latkes, ecstatic to share my triumph with my coworkers.

“Latkes,” I called out breathlessly. “I made latkes, everybody.”

The newsroom stared at me. No one made a move to get out of a chair. I remembered how my family always pronounced Yiddish and Hebrew words differently, from latke, to kebosh, to l’chaim.

“Lat-kuhs,” I deliberately enunciated. “There are lat-kuhs here.”

Still, no commotion.

I wasn’t deterred. I picked up one of the Tupperware containers and carried it to my nearest coworker. He just looked at me blankly. Then the next just stared, and the next, until I found that not a single Montanan in my forty-person newsroom had ever heard of a latke.

Bewildered, I tried to explain their potato-filled flavor without dumbing them down to simple potato pancakes. I couldn’t help but start to panic as I saw the steam on the sides of the Tupperware begin to vanish, signifying the beloved latkes were cooling at an alarming rate.

“Try one!” I insisted.

My friend Jake, a blonde-haired Idaho transplant, lumbered his way over to me and my sprawling latke collection. I babbled about applesauce and sour cream as he took his first bite.

“A little oily,” he noted as he chewed.

I grinned and grabbed one for myself. “I know.”

Bret Anne Serbin is a journalist in Montana. Her nonfiction has been featured in Deep Wild Journal and is forthcoming in Archer Magazine. She graduated from Swarthmore College with a degree in English. She’s originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

We have crossed the Big Island of Hawaii to the western Kohala shore in search of a sandy beach and surf. It is raining hard on the eastern shore, in Hilo, where we are staying for two weeks. We haven’t come this way – over seventy miles of two-lane roads – because of the rain. No, the rain is agreeable to us: the rain is warm, the air is warm, the rain comes and goes like a Top Ten Hit every twenty minutes on the AM dial. Our condo on the eastern shore is on the third floor of an old concrete building, and our generous lanai is perched over Carlsmith Park, where the flowering jungle is kept back by the pool wall. Beyond the wall, tiny, clear, blue inlets weave in among the palms and acacias, and turtles break all the state’s laws about staying ten feet away from tourists. This is what I imagine when someone says “paradise.”

We have come this way, west over the saddle road, because paradise and all its rocky cliffs, all its turquoise and white water, waves humping unyielding lava flows, are not the best place to take a dip, to boogie board, or to stroll along the sand. Hapuna Beach is one of the island’s few sandy beaches, over on the western, older shores of the island where time and water have tamed the lava. And so, we have driven over in an old, faded, dirty Honda Civic rented from a local boy named Tony who surely knows his wrecks. We are standing under a shade tree with round, shiny, dark green leaves the size of lunch plates. Stu is holding a boogie board and scanning the sea.

But there are no waves on Hapuna Beach today. Stu shrugs and tosses the boogie board on the picnic table under the tree, and we walk out across the beach. For the afternoon, we read and walk and read and swim. Stu sits at the picnic table after a swim, sees something in the sand, and wiggles loose a piece of flotsam with his toe. It’s a teaspoon, dropped by some recent picnicker. He sets it on the bench and wanders back to the sea.

The sandy teaspoon is upside down on the bench. Something about its shape is familiar to me, and as I reach to turn it over, I know what I will see: a few curlicues and a small flower stamped into the cheap stainless. The very same pattern on the flatware my parents bought with Green Stamps in California and that I used every day of my childhood. A few pieces even came with me when I left home and are still somewhere in our camping equipment in Oregon, sixty-three years after my parents handed those Green Stamps over to the gas station attendant and took home the service for eight, serving spoon and butter knife included. 

The spoon, like so much else in Hawaii, is not from around these parts. The spoon is an example of what’s thwarting me in my Don Quixote-like search for the local and the real – the people, the food – on this big, fecund island. Which, oddly enough, I’ve been thinking about a lot on this particular afternoon, sitting under the tree with the lunch plate leaves, reading MFK Fisher’s Serve it Forth. When I travel, I come full of expectations. Not that I will shop in boutiques or put on a tan. I come looking for local food and local people I can talk to about the food they eat. Just as Fisher in her book is traveling the centuries, looking to make sense of how and why we eat what we do, I want to understand the food of Hawaii, and why and how Hawaiians eat it. I want to experience it from the inside out.

When we arrived at the condo in Hilo, I opened a cupboard to find two boxes of Jell-O left by the previous renters. Not an abomination exactly, but a curious purchase in the land of papaya, passion fruit, and macadamia nuts. Why did they buy Jell-O? And why didn’t they eat it? Maybe they visited the big Hilo Farmer’s Market one morning and brought home a papaya, which made them forget entirely about the strawberry banana Jell-O in the cupboard. 

It is hard to override our baser tastes, driven by convenience and habit. Our condo Jell-O eaters, the spoon in the sand, they’re why I am tilting unsuccessfully at this windmill, searching for local food, and the old ways of eating it. All 1.5 million Hawaiians and the eight-to nine-million tourists who visit here each year are consuming mostly imported food. Only about twenty percent of what Hawaiians eat is actually produced in the islands. In 2013, food imports here were almost $7 billion of Jell-O and other pantry staples, $8 million in bread, pastry, and cakes, $16 million in beer, $19 million in frozen beef, and $23 million in tuna. The number-one fruit import? Oranges. Yet nearly every neatly trimmed yard we pass is home to a tree that groans under a canopy of oranges. So many oranges that paper bags full of oranges are often left at park entrances for our pleasure. 

 As I sit thinking about the power of local food for local people, I watch the Hapuna Beach gardeners raking up the fallen leaves and the larger-than-life, almond-like seeds that have fallen from the trees with the big green leaves. Could these be the Malabar chestnuts I’ve read about? After we return to Hilo, I read up on Hawaiian trees and discover I have spent the afternoon under a Sea Almond, and that its seeds are a prized nut in India. Here in Hawaii, where they import eighty percent of their food across thousands of miles of ocean, they are swept up and tossed away.

There are farmers’ markets here on the Big Island every day of the week. This is a positive sign, no? Farmers, coming together, selling local food. But I had been warned before we ever arrived that most of the food sold there was bought wholesale by the vendors from large produce suppliers, much of which is not even grown on this island or any of its brothers here on this chain of lonely isles, the farthest from other land masses of any islands in the world. Some vendors offer a backyard papaya or long beans from their garden, but the rest of the items on their tables come right out of Dole boxes, sitting in plain sight, and are parceled up into convenient tourist-size bags, meant to go back into that tiny fridge in the resort hotel.

Yes, there were passion fruit, lychee and rambutan. And I was happy for them, and even for the common, familiar things like eggplant and peppers. A banana grown here, or a fresh pineapple is full of the flavor we never taste on the continent, 2,500 miles away, after a long ocean voyage en route to mainland cold storage.

But I wanted more, things I had read about and longed to taste: tree tomatoes, egg fruit, ice cream beans, Malabar chestnuts, ohelo berries from atop the volcanoes. I asked about them, or about particular things I did not know or understand, and a veil came down over the seller’s eyes. They pointed out that papaya was five for $3. What else did I need to know? A busy market is not the time or place for history and cooking lessons. I left, a few somewhat familiar items in my bag, but an ache in my heart to know more, taste more, to be for a moment not a haole, a cracker, a gringo, a honky. But for just a few days, a part of the āina.

Āina. It’s what Hawaiians call the land, but it is more than that.  It is more than the Italian notion of terroir, which is merely all the physical things — land, earth, soil, sun — that impart flavor to a particular wine. To Hawaiians, the land is alive in a very human sort of way: “… it can do things, want things, and know things. [Hawaiians] are the offspring of a union between the earth and sky, making the āina a direct relative,” writes Judy Rohrer in her book, Haoles in Hawaii.

All Hawaiians needed, the āina provided, and then Captain Cook showed up in 1778. Suddenly, āina was not enough. In less than one-hundred years, ninety-five percent of native Hawaiians had disappeared, ravaged by diseases and our ways. “This powerfully demonstrates” writes Rohrer, “how colonialism can be seen as a form of genocide in Hawaii.”

Now the islands are dependent on the mainland and foreign markets (mainly Indonesia and Thailand) for mattresses, cars, the oil to fire their electric generating plants. And yes, stainless steel flatware, oranges and Jell-O.

Maybe I want what is inappropriate for a haole to desire. Or for a honky to want in New Orleans, a gringo to crave in Oaxaca. My own whiteness means I am forever shackled to the only food culture most of my kind can experience and most of it does not interest me: processed fast food and the diminution of the world’s cuisine. Think French cassoulet recreated as franks ‘n beans in a can. I can never make rabbit as a Frenchman, or gumbo as a Cajun, or poke as a Hawaiian. And yet, I want to go deep, make it part of my marrow. I, who am a symbol of another kind to Hawaiians. I am the spoon, I am the Jell-O. I am the descendant of Captain Cook.

So, I bash along against the tide. I arrive. I observe, I ask questions, and I teach myself. I paw through Hawaiian cookbooks in the Hilo bookstore, and set aside in a stack on the floor, unwanted, the books by celebrity Hawaiian chefs and the recipe collections by haoles much like myself. Where is the good stuff, the original ways? There is nothing else left on the shelf.            

I come home to the condo from the Maku’u Farmer’s Market on Sunday with taro and pumpkin blossoms. I dice the unfamiliar pale purple taro and boil it until tender. Is this the way? I don’t know, but I know tubers, and this seems right. When the taro is fork-tender, I drain it, let it cool, mix it with local goat cheese, and stuff the mixture inside the pumpkin blossoms. I dredge them in flour and egg and flour again, and fry them, and serve them up on a salsa of peppers, avocado, papaya, shallots, and cilantro. They are not Hawaiian, but they are very good, out on the lanai, near the turtles.

Kathy Watson is a chef and writer. She is the lead chef of the Chefs Collective at Ruby June Inn in Husum, WA. and was the owner and chef of Nora’s Table in Hood River, OR. She recently completed her first novel, Orphans of the Living, and is searching for an agent. Her earlier journalism career included six years as editor-in-chief of Oregon Business magazine. She lives with her husband, writer Stu Watson, and wonder dog, Satchel, in Hood River. When she is not cooking or writing, she runs the hills. She can be found on her website, Hunger Chronicles, and on twitter at @KathyisHungry1 .

Decolonial Passage is honored to announce the nominations for next year’s Pushcart Prize Anthology.  This list includes writing published from February to October 2022.  Congratulations to the nominees!


“The Trenchcoats” by Ngumi Kibera

“Don’t Come Looking for Me, Father” by Joao Melo


“Certify this Land” by Abdulmueed Balogun

“Climbing Walls” by Eaton Jackson

“Southern Report from Amy Jacques Garvey” by Geoffrey Philp

“song for mashombela” by Zama Madinana

The train slowed down at the northern end of Uthiru village, its monstrous engine stopping finally opposite a borehole. A big hose pipe was rolled out and fixed to add water for the steam boilers.

Chege got up, careful not to disturb the man next to him sleeping a fitful sleep. Like him, he was another soldier returning home after eight years.

He wrapped his few belongings in a worn military trenchcoat and jumped out, walking past the clouds of the engine’s steam hissing out from under the carriages. At the top of the hill, he set down the roll and surveyed the land below grimly. There were sprawling coffee farms where most of the homes he had left once stood.

He picked the roll and walked on down a new wide dirt road cutting through big farms, his anxiety mounting. Then he came to his parents’ one-acre homestead and stood frozen. There was a new stone bungalow standing where their old house once stood, and the old banana trees and sticks of cassava were the only familiar things left.

A new driveway to the bungalow was lined by young cedar trees, and by their height, he could tell the colonialists, or the chief had seized the farm not long after they had forcibly recruited him into war. Then his jaws trembled as he remembered the look on the chief’s face those many years gone. It had not been normal hatred but one of a deeply personal kind.

He heaved the roll back onto his shoulder and walked on just as a jeep came racing. He moved away to avoid the dust, but it swerved towards him deliberately, forcing him to jump over a ditch.

Eight White British soldiers jumped out like a pack of wolves, surrounding him and staring at him menacingly. Then they turned to one another grinning.

“My, my. What do we have here? A nigger in the wrong part of town,” said the oldest, stepping forward, his tattooed upper arms showing out of rolled khaki sleeves. Then before Chege could answer, a blow caught him in the stomach, but he rode much of it by bending slightly, tensing his muscles at the moment of the impact.

He feigned pain although he hardly felt the blow, aware the rest of them had their pistols drawn out. He could tell they were looking for any excuse to shoot him so they could write more heroic letters to folks back home about how they killed another Mau Mau terrorist in action.

He straightened up studying them. They were locally known as Johnnies since Johnny was the name they usually called one another. The oldest among them was not more than twenty-four, and his attacker was around five foot ten while Chege was six. They locked gazes and the soldier flinched as if disturbed by something he had seen in Chege’s eyes.

“What are you doing here, and why were you staring at the D.O.’s house?” he demanded, but Chege could tell the bark was just to sound commanding.

Chege realised they must have been lying in wait for lawbreakers around the next bend. “I just got back from the war,” he said, and they grinned as if it was the best joke ever.  

“Another bloody Mau Mau from the Aberdares,” one of them spat.

“Couldn’t bear the heat of our bombardment, eh?” said another.

“Shut the hell up!” the leader silenced them, still studying Chege. There was a peculiar air about him uncommon to the locals; an air born of confidence rather than arrogance, and his English was unusually good.

“Which war?” he asked.

“Burma,” Chege said picking up his roll and walking off before they could recover their surprise.

One of them flicked the safety catch of his pistol on and the leader stopped him. “Let him be,” he said jumping back into the jeep, still staring after Chege. That is one bad… he told himself.

Chege went asking about his family once he got into the new village, but the villagers avoided him fearing another convoy of Johnnies swooping down on them for talking to strangers. But finally, someone told him that his wife lived in the farther end of the long rambling reservation.

The kids playing outside her hut shrank away as he passed, their eyes filled with fear until he smiled. She came to the dark doorway as he knocked, and they stood staring at each other, suddenly hurtled back to years gone and shocked to see how much they had changed.

The soft lines on Ciro’s forehead were unfamiliar and the full cheeks Chege remembered so well were no longer as supple, but her beauty was the kind that carried through life.

She had aged well Chege thought again while she studied his powerful build, her gaze returning to his face. There were tiny crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes, and the face was no longer boyish. That only made him even more handsome man, she thought. Then that moment passed as well.

Chege’s attention turned to the two strange kids next to her, his eyes going from one to the other. His chest congealed looking at the girl with an oval face. She must be about six. Too young to be his. But the boy — aged about eight — he had his slightly hooked nose and broad shoulders.

As Ciro stared at his hard face, her mouth thinned into a bitter line.

“The chief…he…he told me you died!” she stuttered pleadingly as Chege picked up his roll and started for the door.

“Chege!” she screamed, running after him reaching for him, tears pouring down her face. “Chege, listen! it’s not what you think!”

He shook off her arm and walked on, leaving her rooted there, her arms at her slim waist, her fingers intertwined.

“Chege, please!” she screamed, “I have been dreaming each night that you would come back…even after the chief cheated me you died,” she sobbed.

Chege slowed his step, then walked faster, his jaws pulsating again. “Is that why you went with him;had his child?” he growled back, seeing heads peeping out of doorways, people wondering what was going on, and who he was.

 “I never went with him!” Ciro whispered fiercely. “I…I just wanted to let you know that after we married, I promised myself I would never let another man touch me; that I would rather die.”

“So far as I can see, you’re alive and well, and you have a bastard kid!” Chege said brutally, choked by the utter futility of it all. Each day he lived in Burma as others died, it was for her. Thinking of her had given him the will, the reason to go on — turning his fears and doubts into a wall of anger so formidable that no enemy could destroy it.

“I did my best to die! I smashed your gourd of wine on his head giving him concussion! “For that I was jailed for six months. My mother had to take care of Gikeria. It’s okay, Chege if you don’t believe me,” she sniffed, wiping off tears and turning back, finally accepting she had lost him forever.

Chege stopped and retraced his steps. “You said the boy is called Gikeria?”

She nodded, still sniffing. “I…I named him after your father.”

“And the girl? “he asked quietly.

“Wamaitha. I didn’t know if you would like it otherwise, so I named her after my mother.”

Then she stared around worriedly. The sun was setting, throwing an orange glow over the baked countryside.

“We shouldn’t go too far, Chege. Especially you — a man. This far beyond the village and the mzungus demand to see your kipande.”

Chege flinched as if slapped. My what?”

“It’s a pass. They declared a state of emergency while you were away and now all males over seventeen must show the pass on demand called kipande.”

Chege’s jaws hardened again. His people forced by colonialists to show IDs just to move freely in their own country.


They sat in her darkening hut, stealing occasional glances at each other, their faces etched out of the darkness by the glow of the fire. Ciro had confirmed what he already knew — that his parents’ farm had been taken, and that it was now where the D.O.’s house stood. They had also built a fort at the other end of the sprawling farm called Fort Smith. A lot had changed in all those years they had not shared.

Chege took a gourd of muratina which Ciro had procured from some neighbour and leaned back and took a sip. Outside the children were playing in the bright moonlight.

“Looks like there is a famine,” he said, and she nodded.

“People are surviving on government rations, but the White man only gives it to those in their good books — the collaborators and those willing to work in their shambas for free.”  

“And others?” Chege asked.

“They are helped by others or left to starve,” Ciro sighed. “I can never bring myself to work for the same people who have enslaved us!” she said fiercely. “I too would be dead if it was not for my father. Much as he hates me, he can’t stand the shame seeing his only daughter dead of starvation.’

“Hates you? You mean he’s still bitter with you for marrying me?”

She nodded. Then, before she could talk, there was a distant gunshot. He cocked his ears, but there was no other one. He turned back to her.

“Is that why he didn’t intervene when that gikuruwe was harassing you?” he asked, using the hated chief’s nickname which meant big pig.

“Gikuruwe protected my father from losing his property, then later helped him also be named a chief. The two are now part of a clique of favoured Africans for whom greed for power and wealth supersede their own dignity,” she said bitterly.

He took another sip of the muratina then paused and again cocked his ear at another gunshot.

“They are still rounding up people?”

She nodded. “Just the other day, they came at night to a neighbour’s.”

Chege hushed her as a series of booming shots came suddenly. Listening, he gauged they were coming from somewhere at the centre of the sprawling village. Then there was screaming, women screaming in high pitched voices repeatedly warning others to get out and run.

 “Things will change, Ciro,” he said quietly, and she glanced at him, his words both chilling and warming her. She had been stealing quiet glances at him as they talked, seeing a change in him she could not define. He looked composed, frighteningly composed for someone just arrived from a war which had claimed countless millions of lives.

Her hand searched his, and she was gratified he did not pull away. Instead, their fingers intertwined and like that, they sat, both of them content to just sit and listen  to the children playing outside. Then the children suddenly went silent, and Chege and Ciro heard rapid footsteps, followed by a slap.

Wamaitha came running back into the hut shrieking, and by then, both Chege and Ciro were by the door. Wamaitha buried her head in her mother’s dress, sobs wracking her as Chege stepped outside.

Gikuruwe and a home guard were glaring down at his son demanding to know what he and his sister were doing outside at that hour. Chege brushed past the boy who was holding his bleeding nose, refusing staunchly to cry or show fear.  

“That is my son you slapped, a mere child. I don’t see any reason why you should have hit him.”

The obese chief staggered back laughing, and his guard raised his rifle ready to bring its butt down on Chege’s head.

“Hold it,” the chief told him pushing him back and facing Chege, his beady eyes glittering with malice. “I heard you’re back,” he said throatily. “We followed the news about the war — the carnage. Terrible!” he said, feigning sadness. Who would have thought you would survive? Not many did, so I guess that makes you feel like a hero, right? Just a word of caution; you don’t play big shot around here, boy. Understand?”

Chege flinched as if slapped. The fat sell-out was calling him boy, aping his White masters.

“Oh, I forgot to mention,” the chief went on, “I did my best to keep her company. After all, you were gone such a long…”

Chege had been steeling himself but now the dam burst. He stole glances at the guard noting the lazy way he was holding his weapons, and why not? He and the others They were now the masters of the land. They had nothing to fear.

He faked a grin which said the chief was the original Casanova, and the guard joined in grinning and winking at the chief knowingly. In turn, the chief smiled sheepishly, basking in their praise. Then it happened.

In the split second the guard was distracted, a devastating hook sent him reeling backwards doubled up, his gun slipping from his hands. Chege had it before it touched the ground and spinning it around in one smooth upward move which laid a haymaker to the jaw of the chief. He collapsed in a heap and Chege turned to the guard. He was just straightening up, holding his stomach, his face creased in pain. A fist slammed into his jaws like wood on wood.

 “I’m back,” he said calmly, “from one war to another.”

He walked into the hut and grabbed his roll of clothes. “I have to go,” he told Ciro starting out. “They will be all over soon searching for me. But I’ll be back. Promise.”

She nodded, anxious to see him leave before the enemy arrived and choked with a sense of loss.

He stepped out, looking at the guard’s rifle, tempted to take it along, but decided that would only tell the enemy he had gone to the other side. Better to let them assume he was fleeing for assaulting the law.

He took out his war medal — the only thing they had given him apart from transport money. “Here. Keep this for whatever it is worth,” he told her, then hurried away into the night.

After high school in Kenya, Ngumi Kibera attended Bradford College in Massachusetts to study business, music, painting and writing. He graduated from both Ramapo College in New Jersey with a BSc in Business and the University of Minnesota with an MBA. An early retirement left him time to write his first book, The Grapevine Stories which won the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature. To date, he has written over twenty-six titles for pre-teens to adults, among them The Devil’s Hill, winner of the Burt Prize for Kenya. Born at the height of the colonial suppression, it is inevitable that memories of its brutality and devastation remain indelible. He can be found at (99+) David Ngumi Kibera | LinkedIn, Ngumi Kibera | Author (@ngumi_kibera) • Instagram photos and videos, and (20+) David Kibera | Facebook

Decolonial Passage is honored to announce the 2022 nominations for the Best of the Net Anthology.  This list includes writing published between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022.  Congratulations to the nominees!


“This is the Drum” by Andrew Geoffrey Kwabena Moss

“At Heaven’s Anteroom” by Akinmayowa Adedoyin Shobo

“Where I Am From” by Christian Emecheta

“Netela” by Lalini Shanela Ranaraja

“Certify This Land” by Abdulmueed Balogun

“Climbing Walls” by Eaton Jackson

no wrinkles can dim

the light

of your smile

it silences

the choirs of confusion

on a stage of fear

your love

devours the towers

of despair


i wish to sit in the lap

of your strength

& enjoy the lullabies

of your compassion

sending my stubborn nightmares to sleep

while my baby-mind


for the breasts of your wisdom

and my back

dances to a freedom song

that lives in the palm of your hand

as you wield your sharp tongue

to wean me from my plate of ignorance

let me grow to be a man who despises arrogance

if winter days of my life come

i want to find warmth in the rooms

of your laughter

not in the dingy taverns

of this township

that turn family men



izibotho ezingcolile*

drowned in toxic dams of booze

but i want to drink

from mphahlele’s

well of knowledge


behind the immortal lamps

of biko & sankara

illing road

the air


the assorted scents

of umuthi*

battle with fruits

& vegetables

on the pavement

and a tavern

coughs out


with wet gullets

but dried pockets


buses swallowing up

black men

& women

from various


of exploitation

tauland blues

young men sink

in a tavern corner

with cold bottles of hansa pilsner

deep in the oceans of vodka

they soak their livers

they walk you through

the torn pages

of their lives

glued on empty beer crates

oozing stories of bitterness

stories of dying dreams

and broken families

with cracked lips


to cheap





it’s a solemn



to chase bhabhalazi*


*omadakwane – drunkards
*izibotho ezingcolile – dirty drunkards
*umuthi – African medicine
*isiphithiphithi – chaos
*skyf – refers to cigarette or smoke in South African slang
*bhabhalazi – hangover

Zama Madinana is a South African poet based in Johannesburg. His work has appeared in The Shallow Tales Review, Stanzas, Africanwriter, Poetry Potion and other literary publications. His poems have been published in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and the USA. Madinana’s work focuses on love, politics and social issues. In 2021, he won the third prize in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award. His poetry chapbook, Water & Lights, was published in June 2021. He has performed his poetry in various locations, including Cape Town, Mozambique, and Botswana.

When my dad delivered me,
The first thing he saw
Was a thicket of black hair,
Sticking out straight and wet,
Like fur on a freshly licked kitten.
It took a few months to curl into itself,
Grow quick as mint after rain,
Until it had to be gathered
Into soft, twisted bunches,
Always a few determined fronds
Trying to escape.

Our ritual after swimming,
Was two whole hours
Of washing and blow-drying
My drenched ringlets
Into a triangular mane;
Sharp comb teeth
Gnashing at my scalp,
Pools of pain
Welling in my eyes.
He always said sorry;
And I tried not to complain.

My hair was never stroked
By white people;
At sleepovers with friends,
In bed with lovers.
They all seemed scared
It would scratch them
If they treated it gently.
Only Black people, later,
Knew how to whisper to it,
See how soft it really was
Beneath its wildness.

I put my curls to sleep,
On our 11th birthday.
Made them relax with chemicals
That broke them down,
Shocked them straight,
Burnt my scalp to blisters.
Told myself it was worth it
To have hair which moved
In the breeze,
Rather than toward the sun;
The passport to acceptance.

They reawakened 10 years later,
From their drugged stupor;
Regained strength slowly
In the nurturing embrace of plaits,
Interwoven to protect,
Guard, replenish.
Emerged shy and uncertain,
Bit by bit,
Until they were sure it was safe,
And they could gently push
The straight all the way out.

It took me 10 years to fall in love,
Marvel at their shape,
Finger every curve tenderly,
Breathe their smell in deep,
Rejoice with each bounce and spring.
This hair was now acceptable
Enough to put on posters
To sell clothes to white people
Who thought they were woke;
To sell music to Black people
Who should know better.

It only took seven hours
To weave magic into my curls
With a crochet hook;
Wrap them around each other,
Locked in love with themselves,
Accepting their own beauty at last—
None left to fall by the wayside.
Thick glossy roots
Growing with age and wisdom;
Their dreaded power
Will build, each and every day.


Grace Louise Wood is a British-Jamaican writer, artist, educator, and curator. An alumnus of Barbican Young Poets, she performed at their poetry showcase in 2013. Her poems have been published in Human Parts on Medium, Drama Queens Ghana COV-19 Zine, Tampered Press (Issues Five and Six), and A Womb with a Heart That Beats All Over the World: African Poetry. She performs her poems at numerous events, including: The Offering at Greenleaf Café, Arts Nkwa’ at The Canvas, Ehalakasa Online – Talk Party, SheSheSlams, and Tampered Press Sixth Issue Launch. She can be found on Medium at Grace – Medium

I have always  known that “Black is beautiful” even before I became aware of the popular phrase that is now a cliché. Black is beautiful because Black skin is the most durable of all human skins on earth. Its pigmentation is  resistant to many skin diseases. It’s a covering that slows and belies the scourge of aging

Have you ever seen a senescent White man? Mr. Joyman is my paramount boss and owner of a flourishing bakery in Port Harcourt. He is sixty-seven, with a frame slightly bent not by sickness, but old age. A sixty-seven-year-old African is still fully erect. A sixty-seven-year-old African is still blessed with a tough, smooth skin. And some, still boyish! The African blood is a beauty that displays its soldiery in the war against virus and bacteria. Have you ever wondered why in the past the colonisers from the West were easily afflicted and sent out of the world by malaria, cholera, and dysentery? Have you ever wondered why the newest afflicter, coronavirus, has killed far more white blood than a black blood? That is the answer.

Africa also had another beauty, a greater one in the past. I am a voracious reader. Sundays free me from my bakery’s assignments. We do bake on Sundays, but as a supervisor, I have the privilege of staying off work. It is a privilege that affords me the time to read books about different facets of life. I am more a fan of literature and history. I have a bulk of these books, more so than any other kind, in my mini library at home. It is from my home library I draw out this past beauty of Africa, written in poetry:

“Rejoice and shout with laughter

Throw all your burdens down,

If God has been so gracious

As to make you Black or Brown.

For you are a great nation,

A people of great birth

For where would spring the flowers

If God took away the earth?

Rejoice and shout with Laughter,

Throw all your burdens down

Yours is a glorious heritage

If you are Black, or Brown.”


Gladys Casely Hayford, an African American woman titled her poem, written in the 1930s, “Rejoice” because she wanted Africans to be proud of a glorious heritage, a great birth, and a great nation. Casely Hayford makes me realize that Africa had an impressive past, unlike what the likes of former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, wants me to believe. The Frenchman gave a speech on July 27, 2007 at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal in the presence of an audience of 1,300. He said: “The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history…They have never really launched themselves into the future. The African peasant, who for thousands of years has lived according to the seasons, whose life ideal was to be in harmony with nature, only knew the eternal renewal of time… In this imaginary world, where everything starts over and over again, there is room neither for human endeavor, nor for the idea of progress.”

Unfortunately, or rather, ironically, Sarkozy said this at a center of learning named after a great Africanist, Cheikh Anta Diop. Diop was an anthropologist and a historian. He was among the first whose works dug out the glorious history of Africa hundreds of years ago. The first Black man to point out through his findings that the ancient Egyptians were Black. Yet his findings are still debatable on the table of scholars and historians.

While some researchers and archaeologists believe the Black race entirely populated ancient Egypt, others see the ancient land as multiracial with  the Black man existing among the Hamitic and Semitic inhabitants; Black pharaohs also sat on the Egyptian throne. Other historians give a flat no to the concept of Black inhabitants in ancient Egypt. But the doubtless truth is Africa has a history of abundance. The Sarkozys of this world attempt to deny that and reduce our ancestors to peasants who were only in tune with their natural surroundings, and dead to ideas and exploits.

The Francoise-Xavier Fauvelles of this world will continue to counter the fallacy with: People like to think of Africans as more rooted in nature than culture. But history teaches a different lesson: of kings, diplomats, merchants.” And the Mutabarukas of this world will continue to educate with his reggae song, “Great Kings of Africa.”

Ironically, Anta Diop’s namesake and fellow Senegalese, poet David Diop, gave a glowing tribute to Africa of old during his short life on earth. I can still remember Diop’s most famous poem titled, “Africa:”

“Africa my Africa

Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannahs

Africa of whom my grandmother sings

On the banks of the distant river

I have never known you

But your blood flows in my veins

Your beautiful Black blood that irrigates the fields … “


My library holds a history book called The Story Called Africa, written by Maina Maikasuwa. Maikasuwa, through extensive research and quoted works from other researchers, Europeans and Africans, unearthed an authentic African story. It is a balanced story of “gory” and glory. I heard the book won a prize a few years ago.

But my former favorite books on Africa were: Toward the Decolonization of African Literature by Chinweizu Ibekwe and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney. Now my favorite is the voluminous work by Amanga Habinomana titled The Unveiling of Timbuktu.

The Rwandan author chronicles the gradual rise of Timbuktu, a sort of city state in the ancient empire of Mali. Initially this African city was a large storage house for salts and other goods. It was a waiting area for traders to choose goods for trading at big markets. Travelers coming from Europa, Arabia and the Americas brought gold to trade for salt. Some of these traders chose to make Timbuktu their permanent residence, and before long the village became a small town and, in turn, a city.

By the early 1300s, Timbuktu had become a hub, a center of attraction, and the pride of the Malian empire. People came from across the continent. Europeans were awash with rumors of Timbuktu’s abundant wealth and resources. It was said that, in 1324, Mali’s sultan-leader, Mansa Moussa, travelled for pilgrimage to Mecca with 60,000 slaves and servants and with an abundance of gold. During his visit to Cairo in Egypt, the price of the precious metal dropped precipitously. Explorer Ibn Battuta from Arabia visited the famed city 30 years later, and his descriptions of the bustling city stoked the flames of European imagination.

During the period, Europa (as Europe was called then) was plagued by the ice age and the bubonic plague. Listening to the constant impressive tidings about a faraway African city spurred a dream they wished to achieve. They dreamt of streets lined with gold in Timbuktu. The city was a sort of African El Dorado.

Can you imagine that? White folks longing to visit an African city? Wow! Timbuktu was at that time, what London, Dubai or New York means to Africans in our present days. Many Western historians will never broadcast this African history of glory.

I also read that the peak of Timbuktu’s greatness occurred in the late 15th century. And guess what the prime commodity in the city was? I know many will shout out gold! But it wasn’t; it was books! Hundreds of scholars studied at the almost 200 maktabs (Quranic schools in Mali).  These scholars worked as scribes, which increased the number of manuscripts in the City-state. Visitors to the city, especially scholars were specially welcomed and entertained in the hope that they would share their knowledge and books.

 I read a Nigerian newspaper that has a column squarely dedicated to African Literature and history. The columnist quoted from the words of an American intellectual at California State University, Brent Singleton. Singleton graciously, or rather, factually corroborated Habinomana’s Unveiling Timbuktu, about the importance of books during the golden day of the land. He said, “The acquisition of books is mentioned more often in Timbuktu than any other display of wealth, including the building and refurbishment of mosques.

Like Timbuktu, the Nok civilization is also a reminder of Africa’s beauty.  The old-time civilization was located in the southern part of Kaduna state, Nigeria. The people of the land had perhaps the finest sets of terracotta in the world. It’s no wonder, bulks of these sculptures, stolen by thieves, are still nowhere to be found.

The Benin civilization, unlike Nok’s, has good news about her stolen artifacts. Not too long ago, French President Emmanuel Macron demanded the return of twenty-six artifacts that were stolen by the French colonial power in 1894 from the kingdom of Benin. The stolen goods have been returned and were received by Oba Ewuare II, the current Benin monarch in the modern day Edo state of Nigeria. In 2014, his predecessor had received two artifacts taken from the Benin kingdom in 1897 during an invasion by British soldiers which resulted in the monarch going into exile. But why steal from a people considered inferior and crude? Well, perhaps, that will be a discussion someday.

Africa had produced great minds in the past and has produced new great minds today. These include Soyinka, the first African man to win the Nobel prize; Wangari, the first African woman to win the Nobel prize; Okri, the first African to win the Booker prize; Evaristo, the first black woman to win the Booker prize; Adichie, for her feministic revolution and impressive mastery of writing stories; Kperogi, for his unusual mastery of the English language – an exceptional wordsmith; and Weah, the first African to be crowned world footballer of the year by FIFA in 1995 and the only African to date.

Africa has produced firsts worldwide. Ethiopian Haile Gabreselasi, was the first human being on earth to run a marathon with a world record time of 2:03:59 in 2008. African American Ben Carson became the first doctor in the world to perform the first successful neurosurgical procedure on a fetus inside the womb, the first to dissever a set of twins conjoined at their heads, and the first to develop new methods to treat brain-stem tumors.

“Africa’s history has been badly distorted,” says a friend of mine whom I visit. Like me, he is passionate about the history of our Africa. Often times, when we converse, our conversations unconsciously revert to history. I visit him on a Sunday with two loaves of bread as a gift. Bassey is a chronic consumer of Joyman Sweet Bread. I use the adjective “chronic” to describe my friend because he eats bread and drinks tea to a state of disgust; at least, that is how I see it. I have never seen anyone else eat bread and drink tea for breakfast, lunch and supper. And when he wants to add something different, it is either bread and beans, or bread and akara, or bread and moi moi, or bread and butter. But the day I met Bassey adding okra soup, I understood he badly needed redemption from his addiction. He had sliced the Joyman Sweet Bread into two halves and smeared it with two spoonfuls of a thick okra soup.

“Bassey, what on heaven and earth are you eating?”

“Okra pie,” he replied gleefully with a mouthful of the odd combination.

“Okra what?” I asked with a repulsive mien mixed with something like a smile.

“You don’t know what you are missing. This is hyper delicious and nutritious.”

It would have been a great disservice to my pal, going to his house without Joyman Special Bread. Ha ha ha! So, we sit on the only settee in the living room which also doubles as the bedroom. His bed is directly opposite his settee. We are still full-blooded bachelors. The need for living for a two-room apartment for family has not arrived. I confess I rented a room and a parlour a few months ago to free myself from the harassment of my immediate boss who kept chiding me for being a supervisor living in a single room. “Don’t you know you are the only supervisor in the world living in a single room?” He would mock.

The reason I said our history has been badly twisted,” Bassey continues, “is because of two things. First, because of the racist slur unleashed on Bernadine Evaristo last year by the BBC when she became the first Black woman to win the prestigious Booker Prize. Without this age of information technology, her achievement would have been deleted, twisted or buried forever like the achievements of some African greats in the past. No one would have known her as a Black writer of worth. She would have become hearsay, a rumour, a myth.

I listen attentively to my friend’s analysis even though I remember everything with more detail. It was in October 2019 that Evaristo’s historical feat was bruised by the racist utterance of a presenter on the world’s most popular radio station, the BBC. I still remember every word uttered as the presenter said, Now, this is a bit different from the Booker Prize earlier in the year where the judges couldn’t make up their minds, so they gave it to Margaret Atwood and another author, who shared the prize between them.”

The first Black woman to win such a coveted prize as the Booker was contemptuously reduced to a nameless “another author” while her white co-winner was named. The degrading comment instantly sparked a public outcry. Evaristo, herself, understandably provoked, tweeted to her huge fans on twitter. She said disappointedly, “BBC described me yesterday as ‘another author’. How quickly and casually they have removed my name from history – the first Black woman to win it. This is what we’ve always been up against, folks.”

The BBC apologised and stated that their presenter’s words were not intended to belittle Bernadine Evaristo. Whatever. The damage has been done.

“My second point is,” Bassey continues, “how can a race be labelled as inhabitants of the Dark Continent? Do you know what that means?” Of course, I know, but I shake my head to listen.”It means the race is full of shit and negativity. It means the race has never been blessed with exploits and adventures; therefore, it has no history. A fat, smelly lie peddled by white racists.”

Bassey puffs out carbon dioxide from his nostrils; a glum appearance dampening his visage as if the lie and mischief are newly inflicted. As if he is the new Kunta Kinte. Ha ha ha! That is Bassey, always an emotional being. I release a throaty cough to pave the way for me to speak, but Bassey speaks on. He says,”But we must, just like Chinweizu and Habinomana, continue to kill the lie and rise to speak about our truth: Our undiluted African story, a story of worth. We must rise up in spite of the heavy burden of falsehood and hatred on our heads bent to pin us down forever. Maya Angelou told us to rise above our enemies’ lies. Remember her poem, ‘Still I Rise’?” I nod. The first stanzas of the poem captured what I just said now. She says:

“You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”


I leave Bassey that evening with a truth he agrees with. The truth is that we can only rise if we love ourselves and unite, like Bob Marley’s “Africa Unite” encourages. After all, part of the injustice of lies and slavery meted out on us were rooted in the inharmonious postures we assumed  and the lovelessness reeking out among us. We may be playing the second fiddle now, but we must have a hidden plan to become an equal economically with the West. We need a new Sankara, Lumumba, Sisulu, Biko, Che, Brutus, Gani, Bitek, Mitshali, Zik, Rodney, Mandela, Kenyatta, Sawaba, Tosh, Marley, Macaulay, Awolowo, Funmilayo Kuti, Balewa, and more; we can attain this feat.

Langston Hughes, a great African American poet, talked about this equality years ago in his poem, “I, Too”. He said:

“I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.



I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody will dare

Say to me,

‘Eat in the kitchen,’


They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed!

I, too, am American.”


We must be proud of who we are to achieve this equality. We must be proud of Africa to beautify Africa. Stephen Adinoyi’s “My African Pride” echoes that pride when he says:

“Oh Africa, so proud to be yours

Your colour on me, my glory

And I vow not to bleach

Sweet Africa, wish every day I could make merry

For the graceful natures of your abode

Low I bow sometimes to kiss your lovely soil

Which beneath lie my ancestors

Proudly, I cherish my differences from other races

My colour is my crown

No reason to frown

Loving the way I was born

Oh Africa, with you no boredom.”


Finally, it’s necessary to say this: the West is not the eternal enemy of Africa. We have gained some things from the White man. Their advancement in science and technology is one of the sweet pies they have shared with us. If we are fortunate to become strong economically, we mustn’t rustle our feathers on their faces in their presence. But rather, stretch open arms of harmony to them. The world badly needs this.

Again, Stephen Adinoyi says it well in his poem called “Black or White,” about this harmony I desire. He says:


Open your arms

To Black or White

It’s no mistake

For that Hand to make

Black and White

Able to make

All Whites

All Blacks

But He makes Blacks and Whites

His discretion makes the difference

Yet in the difference lies sameness

Inside the White

Lies the replica of the Black

Colour is no crime

Cos the content is one

All fashion so fine

By the greatest Divine

Open your arms

To Black or White




Stephen Adinoyi is a writer of prose and poetry. His poetry and a short story have won multiple prizes. His published novella is titled “Teen of Fifteen.” He is a fellow of the Ebedi Writer Residency. His writing has been published in various newspapers including New Nigeria Newspaper and The Sun. He has been published in numerous journals and literary journals including Ebedi Review, and Ake Review. His writings have been anthologized in several publications including Fireflies, After The Curfew, and Footmark. He is the Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Kaduna Chapter.

After a day of hunting deer,

chestnut mare and ebony stallion

leaping hedges, following streams,

galloping across cornfields,

the men join their women for a feast:

Anadama bread, blueberry muffins,

corn, peas, sweet potatoes, duck, venison,

home-cured Virginia ham, bear, milk,

flagons of beer and the best French wines.

Men discuss politics, philosophy,

whether to plant tobacco or grain,

Ladies in elegant gowns play piano

and sing, discuss what their children

have learned, strut across the lawn.

Then Mr. Jefferson takes out his fiddle,

plays minuets and the Virginia reel.

My feet can hardly resist dancing,

but I, who worked all day butchering,

plucking feathers from ducks, cleaning

vegetables, sweating at caldrons hung

over the hot fireplace must now wash dishes,

clean the dining room and stay out of reach

of that fine gentleman whose hand found my breast.

Monument: Lincoln, Kansas

The monument on the courthouse lawn

lists ten who died.

Blood oozing on the prairie,

Grandmother said.

Her brother was among those

who lost their lives,

his innocent play interrupted,

by the false Pawnee.

Her telling was graphic, intense,

full of sorrow.

It seemed but yesteryear

tomahawks split heads,

broke settler lives.

Years later,

I saw it all in print,

found it happened

before Grandmother’s birth.

Her vivid recollections

were family tales

she’d heard from crib.

Later, too, I pondered

other dead,

protecting home, family,

forests once full of game,

fields where they had wandered free,

tracked the sacred buffalo.

More lives were shattered

than Grandmother knew or told;

more died than had their names carved

for all to see. I claim each one

as brother, sister. I cannot grieve

the named without the unnamed.

Wilda Morris, Workshop Chair of Poets and Patrons of Chicago and past President of the Illinois State Poetry Society, has published numerous poems in anthologies, webzines, and print publications. She has published two books of poetry, Szechwan Shrimp and Fortune Cookies: Poems from a Chinese Restaurant (RWG Press) and Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (Kelsay Books). Current projects include haiku, rengay, and other poems. Wilda’s grandchildren say she lives in a library. Her poetry blog features a monthly poetry contest and can be found at .

He licked it, not like a lollipop, but with intent,

the burden of royal tasters, back in bad old days:

tongue artists whose job was to absorb poison

and ensure it was palatable for noble appetites—

Wolf’s music his way of explaining: I asked you

for water and all you’re giving me is gasoline.

He would lick that mouth organ as if eating

the blues, taking a bite out of this hard life,

as a Black man living always under suspicion

of the same things he sang about: killing floors

& moaning at midnight, white eyes expecting

you to play the fool—or prove your innocence.

He licked the harmonica only because he had to

spend the rest of his time swallowing the gristle

of separate but equal, and all the things awful

about the South—and North; no safe haven then

(& now); either sitting on top of the world or else

you’re going down slow, one spoonful at a time.

Sean Murphy has appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and has been quoted in USA Today, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and AdAge. A long-time columnist for PopMatters, his work has appeared in Salon, The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, The Good Men Project, Memoir Magazine, and others. His chapbook, The Blackened Blues, was published by Finishing Line Press in July, 2021. This Kind of Man, his first collection of short fiction, is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press. He has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize, twice for Best of Net, and his book Please Talk about Me When I’m Gone was the winner of Memoir Magazine’s 2022 Memoir Prize. He served as writer-in-residence of the Noepe Center at Martha’s Vineyard, and is Founding Director of 1455, a non-profit literary organization ( To learn more, and read his published short fiction, poetry, and criticism, please visit and

The train grumbled out of Baton Rouge

as I tapped my heels against the wooden

floor of the platform and waited for my escorts

to ferry me to the sanctuary of their church.

Rubbing my finger against the barrel of the gun

you swore you’d never use, even after Tyler’s

bullet grazed your forehead, “No gun for me.

If I am to be killed, then maybe it is my destiny,”

I was greeted by a host of nervous congregants

who ushered me to the back of the waiting room,

where if you stood long enough you could still hear

rebel yells filtering through windows that trembled

at each burst of the horn, offering to pay my return ticket.

“Sister, for your own protection, you best

get back on the train,” my driver advised

and a wave of chills wracked my body even more

than the story he whispered about a sister

who had been lynched the night before—

how her tongue wagged to the side of her mouth,

her breasts heaved, and then a stream of yellow

trickled down the back of her dress on to the green

below. I am not a “little Joan of Arc,” as George

McGuire likes to tease. I mounted the pulpit

like those venerable pastors from my boarding

school and preached a gospel of freedom:

“Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.”

And when the voices from the Amen

Corner rose in a crescendo that spiraled up

the rafters into the belfry and over leaves of gumbo

limbos dozing in the moonlight beside the murky

waters of the bayou, and the sisters wailed,

“Tell it, sister, tell it,” I knew I wouldn’t have to use

my gun that night. For all they can do is kill me.

Better to live with that knowledge than in the fear

of what is to come, which I know will never

be worse than the battles we have survived.

To My Spanish-Irish Heiress, 1914

Perhaps in another life, we could have

married under a white canopy facing

the ocean, where sharks trailed slavers

laden with misery. There we’d build

a red brick mansion in Andalusia

where we would raise a brood of children

under a sky where the rain blesses

the just and the unjust. But in this life,

we could never be together. The war

between our ancestors could curse our bond.

We would have bred monsters.

Born under flags that would compete

like squabbling school children,

they would, like many “black-white”

elites choose poorly. In this life,

those who are destined to have their names

trampled by the unjust are ruled by leaders

who have never broken a shackle, or blinded

the eyes of those who kill with a stare.

No, my love, better to end what never

should have begun, so now we can look

back after many summers of being apart

at the disaster we avoided.

Photo Credit: Vanessa Diaz @vvvzzzzvvvzzzz

Geoffrey Philp is the author of two novels, Garvey’s Ghost and Benjamin, My Son, three children’s books, including Marcus and the Amazons, and two collections of short stories. He has also published five books of poetry. His forthcoming books include a graphic novel for children, titled My Name is Marcus, and a collection of poems, titled Archipelagos. His forthcoming poetry collection borrows from Kamau Brathwaite’s “Middle Passage” lecture, Aime Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, Sylvia Wynter’s “1492,” and Amitav Ghosh’s thesis in The Nutmeg’s Curse to explore the relationship between Christianity, colonialism, and genocide. He is currently working on a collection of poems, titled “Letter from Marcus Garvey.” He can be found on twitter at and on instagram at