Palm-Kernel Delight

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Jennifer Nkem Eneanya is a friend of A2S and the editor of Konnect Africa, an online magazine focused on Africa and the great achievements of Africans in this era. She writes below about palm kernel, the edible seed of the palm tree that is rendered into the high-protein palm kernel cake, and garri, a popular West African food made from cassava tubers.

Crack, crack. The heavy stone collides with a palm kernel shell crumbling its defences and revealing the treasure within. This unveiling process must be done expertly so as not to crush or deface the prize. The gathered pile is decimated quickly and the treasure is safely ensconced on the make-shift plate of plantain leaves for its triumphant but guarded journey to the arena.

The stage is set. Two battered aluminium bowls serve as worthy receptacles for the soaked swelling Ijebu garri. Gallantly rising for over 20 minutes, the desired effect has been achieved and the journey which started out with handfuls of treasured garri has cruised to an altitude thrice its start point. The effect of water – hot, cold, tepid – on dry garri is a miracle; indisputable evidence that there is a God interested in hungry children.

When the garri bowls have been garnished with palm kernel seeds by the Chef-in-Charge, the contestants take their places, forming a tight ring around the bowl, weapons at the ready. The rules are simple – scoop with the fingers and not the entire palm. Observe your boundaries and may the odds ever be in your favour.

Moments of silence ensue afterwards. Not in prayer or sobriety, but because words are useless in the ongoing joust. Quick swallows and speedy maneuvers work much better in this arena. Too soon, far too soon it ends and the empty bowls mock their famished faces even as the stealthier grind down on the palm kernel seeds – testimony to their skills at the garri – front. It is only 2 p.m., and the daily meal is done so quickly it might have been a mirage inspired by empty bellies and sunken eyes.

Some make further plans as they regard those empty bowls. Plans to scrounge, steal, beg-a tuber of yam, plantain or some half-rotten potatoes might be unearthed. A wallet full of cash would be Christmas come early. They gather and plan, apportioning streets, markets, and zones with the skills of Town planning professionals. Their greatest fear, to return with bags and pockets as empty as a politician’s promise.

Others stare. Disillusioned, tired and weakened by illnesses. If tomorrow comes, will it meet them perpetually starving, sliding down the slow but sure path to miserable mortality? They wish for an end – in one way or the other.

What end do you see?

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