One of the true joys that I get on a daily basis is to sit beside Zatu, my host mom, as she cooks the evening meal. When I get home from work around 5:30, I jump off my bike, and great her as I pass. I set my bike in front of my room, and greet the lady who rents the room next to mine as I unlock the door and through my bag inside. I change into some comfortable clothes, put on my challe-wattes (flip flops, otherwise known as “slippers” in Ghana) and walk over to the cooking area.
I sit on a small bench, and can feel the heat of the fire on my toes and up my leg. Zatu’s phone is playing some tunes, either some lively Dagbani music or a sermon/speech by a man who always sounds like he is screaming into the mike. When the music is playing, she is singing and humming along. When the sermon is playing, she is nodding from time to time, with the occasional “ennhh”. Rama is on the bench behind me, playing with my hair. She takes it out of the ponytail and makes the ponytail again, over and over. Sulyene is sitting on the floor, usually getting into some kind of trouble, as his mother converses with him and laughs at the things he replies with a decided voice. She will translate what he says from time to time and we will laugh all over again. I ask Zatu questions about her day, we talk about the weather and the fasting, but mostly I ask her about her cooking techniques. Slowly, I am learning how to cook Zatu’s exquisite meals by observation and questions. The usual meal is TZ and ayoyo soup, but from time to time she will make rice and beans, dawadawa jollof rice, or banku.
-Side note: last week, Zatu let me do the banku stirring. I got the motions down! And I am also very excited to have gained some trust in her kitchen!
Every few minutes, a neighbor or two will come into the compound and greet us with an “Aniwula”. We answer “Naaa, Na guaram, Natuma Bewula, Adbehira?”. After those official greetings, the conversation that ensues will be over my head. The ladies will smile at me and we will gesture at each other, attempting to get some message across. Zatu will enjoy the confusion for a bit, then translate a few words for both sides, clarifying the message. Zara and Candy will come by to say hello, and lately Zara has also been helping out with the cooking. I will help her to wash the dishes as the cooking comes to a close. The cooking will usually be done around 6:45, when Zatu places all the meals into their respective dishes, covers them, and places them near the fire.
At this time, I will usually take a quick walk around the block, and read in my room until 7:30, when the men return from the mosque and the 7:00 prayers are done. Solomon will come knock on my door, with a catchy phrase such as “Let’s fight the hunger!” or “It is time to go to battle with the cassava”, being pretty hilarious every time. I will walk out into a space in the middle of the compound, and help “set the table”, which includes fetching 4 benches, and placing the big bowl of TZ and the smaller bowl or soup and a big mug of water in the middle. Latif, Awal, Solomon and I will sit, and take turns rinsing our right hands as we prepare to eat. We will all dig into the food, usually in a clockwise motion – everyone takes their turn to pick up a piece or TZ, then everyone takes their turn dipping into some soup. We discuss a little, but not much, as they tell me that still half hold onto the belief that talking while eating brings bad luck, but now follow this mostly out of habit. As we finish the bowl, we stay seated, and this is where conversations happen; either a short 5 minute conversation, or a very long one, like that time when I learnt the history of Islam until 10:30.
As we part ways, I look up at the sky. On a cloudless night, the stars are incredible. I may choose to stay up a little later, or go straight to one of the barrels in the compound to collect my water and prepare to go to sleep. I’ll fall asleep to loud sound of crickets and frogs croaking, after setting my alarm for a new day.