Arit Okpo: A Pot of Afang Does Not a Calabar Woman Make

dreamstime_l_60016479Writer, Yemisi Ogbe recently penned a piece on Calabar women, and her story took me down memory lane to the place settings of my childhood. {Click here to read it}

The ceremony involved in preparing a meal for my father. Three place mats, one above the other; one to the right side, a water coaster in the upper right hand corner. A bowl with water, handwash and a hand towel placed on the placemat to the right. ‘Swallow’ and soup placed in serving dishes on the upper mat, serving spoons placed neatly alongside empty flat and soup plates placed on the lower mat. It was a ceremony carried out with military precision for the King of our castle.

I watched my mother carry out the ceremony of serving her man; the attention to his every detail, every quirk accounted for. If my father woke up and decided that he only wanted seafood in all his soups, then seafood was all he ate. In soups cooked specially for him, it was measured so that he only ate them twice.

Nobody ever really sat down to give me a lesson, but in the conversations and processes and rituals of my mother and the other women I grew up around, I learned that there were rights and rites to the serving of a husband; to the serving of a king.

I grew up trying to replicate these processes. With each lover, I found favourites and replicated them carefully, adding the attendant neuroses and worries when a meal was not perfect…not equal to specifications.
I cried on the road the day the Mallam, who sold ram suya, decided not to come. The noodle dish that the lover of those days loved was made with carrots and ginger and day old ram suya. With no suya it would be nonsense. I would be nonsense.

Then I met the one who simply didn’t care. I planned meals – elaborate, flavour filled meals, and put them aside to the refrain of – no, I don’t eat that, I don’t like that. I found myself stifled by a diet that cared not a whit for my creativity or the ways in which I expressed my love.
Presentation was irrelevant, there were no compliments on flavour or texture; there was no attention. Soups laden with meats and fish of all kinds received the smiling complaint that there was no space for the soup. Who on earth didn’t know that soup is never about the soup? It is about the things in the soup. Did my lover not recognise that I crowned him with every tender morsel that obstructed each piece of Eba?  And if he did not accept his crown, created in pots and soups and plates, then how could I be a Queen? If he didn’t make me a Queen, then I was nobody.

These were the things I grew up knowing. This was how we “Calabar women” got and kept our men. How could it not work? It didn’t click. Not even after I heard the Chinese whispers from the other woman. All I was good for was English and talking and grammar; she knew what it was to keep a man. What did she mean? Were we not doing the same things? How could she win? She wasn’t even Calabar for goodness sake!

When that relationship ended I closed my pots. I was no longer interested in expressing my love in pots of food lovingly slaved and sweated over. Whoever wanted to love me would cook for me, slave for me. I would not allow myself to be that vulnerable ever again.

Then I came back to Calabar…back home…and in my little kitchen, with no one to please but myself. I fell in love again. I discovered the flavours and textures that I liked. I dreamed up meals and created them. I identified tastes and patterns and modified them till they said exactly what I wanted to hear. And when I was done cooking, I plated my food exquisitely, each meal a celebration, sometimes with candles and music, a ceremony fit for a King…or a Queen.

I cooked for me, and fell in love with me. Each flavour, each hint of spice, each morsel was a gift from me to myself, an acknowledgement of my worth, a celebration of my value.

One day, after tasting something on the stove, I looked up to a friend’s bemused glance. He asked “Why are you listening to the food?” Suddenly I saw myself as I looked to him; eyes closed, tongue separating flavours, ears open over the pot on the stove. He was right; my food talked to me…and the happier and more balanced I was, the better I could hear. I heard what flavours it needed, how much longer it needed to cook, what it needed to be paired with. My food was magic…for me.

Then there were the other lessons that I learned: life lessons discovered in pots and pans. I learned that for me, simple is always better.

I learned about flavours that shouldn’t work, but did. I learned that sometimes even the surest meal can go amiss. I learned that a failed meal doesn’t make me a failure.

I learned that sometimes there is a lesson that leads to a better effort, and other times there is a shrug and a meal in the dustbin.

I learned that there is as much place for the former as the latter. I learned that there is always something new to learn, to taste, to explore, to discover.

I learned to make mistakes; to laugh at meals gone wrong, to laugh at meals gone right…to laugh. I learned that it is important to me that the ones who love me cook for me; because for me, food is a love language all on its own. I learned that my meals must be recognised, celebrated, appreciated, but that it must start from me.

I learned that lessons from food can be applied perfectly to life.

Two years later and I understand what it is I didn’t quite get; what it was I missed in the ceremony and the rituals. I understand that a King cannot be crowned by exquisite flavours and richly made meals. I realise that a King is recognised…by a Queen. That she must love herself; that she must be home for herself. She does not remove her crown to crown him, she does not need to. I realise that a relationship is not a dethroning of one to enthrone the other, but a recognition of royalty, by royalty. I realise that you cannot cook a crown unto a commoner’s head.

The mystique of the Calabar woman is in the way that she creates a world around the one she loves. The attention to every detail that concerns him, the feeling she creates that he is the most important being in the world. I realise now what I did not before, that she does not need to lose herself to do this. That she does not give up completeness for him.

I realise that my heart will always speak through my food. When I am content and secure, my food has a synergy that has little to do with spices and everything to do with the heart preparing the meals. I think of the meals I made for the last ones that didn’t work out, how simple meals struggled to find balance in flavours, I realise that my food knew before my heart did.

I realise that I will always be the kind of who speaks through her meals. That each meal is me saying without words “You are important to me, I value you, I appreciate you, I love you”. I now also realise, that I am just as magical when I am not in the mood to cook, and all I have to offer is a bottle of wine and cheerful, lazy conversation.

I realise that I am grateful that I failed before, that my ceremonies and rituals went unrecognised, that my flavours were not enough. They helped me to understand that there was more to me than the smoothness of my eba and the obstacles in my soup; that there was more to loving and living than a meal prepared on time; that there is as much magic in laughter and conversation as there is in the deep green goodness of afang paired with smoothly pounded yam.

I realise that I have found my magic. That I had to recognise it in myself, fall in love with myself, crown myself, be magic for myself.

I realise that I could not give what I did not have.

I realise that I have it now.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

61 Comments on Arit Okpo: A Pot of Afang Does Not a Calabar Woman Make
  • Alias February 23, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    Awesome and well written. I am bookmarking this article. I always tell my brothers that there is more to a woman than being a great cook. Cooking can always be learnt or improved upon. The essence of a woman is where her true beauty and strength lies. If she knows her essence and worth, she can conquer anything including the best soup in the world if she so desires.

    • Menoword February 23, 2016 at 9:45 pm

      Thank you Alias, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • Le coco February 23, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    Arit.. I don’t knw if you will ever read my comment.. but you r one amazing woman.. your intelligence oozes through your work.. The effort you put in is so obvious.. God bless your beautiful soul..

    • Menoword February 23, 2016 at 9:45 pm

      I’m reading it now Le Coco and I am honoured. Thank you so much. God bless

  • Nika February 23, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    Does anyone know a person who sells home cooked meals in Houston, Tx?

    • Tee February 23, 2016 at 7:03 pm

      Yeah there’s this lady called jimba. We used to but half a cooler of hollow rice for like $20 or so. If you can send your email I’ll send you her info. She makes meat pies , asaro, designer stew.
      There’s also musa, on bissonet! He’s hollow rice is bomb as well.

      • Nika February 23, 2016 at 8:16 pm

        Can you post “Jimba’s contact”

    • A Real Nigerian February 23, 2016 at 7:07 pm

      Congratulations! Yaay!! We now know BN user Nika lives abroad and now, we will respect her for that sole reason, suck up to her and assume she is a better, wiser, smarter human being than everyone who is home based.
      Woooo!

      • Nika February 23, 2016 at 8:14 pm

        Go get a life….. #ByeFelicia “A Real Nigerian”

      • Teju TJ February 23, 2016 at 8:16 pm

        Omg. You have issues.

      • Swish February 23, 2016 at 8:33 pm

        You are a sad person

      • Babycakes February 23, 2016 at 8:38 pm

        Shuo. Who be this? this is what we call offside and okpata yarns. Kolo

    • Sabifok February 23, 2016 at 8:36 pm

      There is a new Nigerian spot on Westheimer, just in front of West Oaks Mall. It is called Nigeria Kitchen. They also do home deliveries on any over $75 orders. I had driven past there a couple of times, and decided to stop by last Friday. Copped the goat meat peppersoup. It is off the chain. It is that strip mall just in front of the West Oaks Mall complex – close to where the huge tents are set up. You cant miss it.

      • Yi February 23, 2016 at 9:32 pm

        Do you mean Abuja Cafe?

      • Sabifok February 23, 2016 at 10:40 pm

        Yes I meant Abuja cafe. Sorry, dont know where I got the name Nigerian Kitchen from.

    • aniekan February 23, 2016 at 10:51 pm

      You can try sandy’s golden kitchen; she is based in houston and she is a she also delivers. you can also check out her IG page:sandysgoldenkitchen (832-779-7902)

  • Bee February 23, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    Lovely piece. Guess this is the same Arit of Ebony Life TV. I must say that you are one of the few young Nigerians that i admire for their creativity and brilliance. You were quite incredible on the Debaters show and i remembered saying to my self that this lady will go places. I was so joyful to see you on EL TV. You actually inspire me to read more and also work on myself. I wish you all the best in all your endervours.

    • Menoword February 23, 2016 at 9:46 pm

      Thank you Bee. It’s always a good feeling to see people who have kept an eye on me over the years. Will do my best to continue making you proud and I wish you all the best

  • vin February 23, 2016 at 7:32 pm

    Best article ever… . Good to know we haven’t lost all the creativity… she spoke about self love in a way I love…

  • Cindy February 23, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    I can’t cook every meal, but the ones I can, I am confident that I can cook them well. The reason being that I didn’t start learning to cook early deliberately because it was always “learn to cook for your husband”. As small as I was, I rebelled. After a while, my mum gave up. It was when I started growing up that I realized that I enjoyed being creative with meals. I started learning on my own, no pressure. I was learning for me. Even now, when I cook at home, you can tell it’s from me because others’ meals taste the same since they all learnt from mom. I also didn’t like that my mum was a slow in cooking, it made being in the kitchen tiring for me. So me, I’m a pro o. I can cook at least 3 meals simultaneously without breaking a sweat. Now, I’m open to learning this and that from mom because I’m doing it for me. On campus, it used to irritate me when a guy aSKS me to cook. I’m always like, I’m a student, you are a student, what sort of stupid request is this? Are we running on different timetables? The first and last time I cooked for a guy, scrap that. My friend and I made pepper soup and I asked him if he wanted some, I didn’t tell him I was cooking sef. I didn’t feel pressured and I felt happy sharing with him. I have said it, the day le boo proposes he better not mention that he’s marrying me because I’m a good cook. I so hate that complement. I don’t believe my worth or value should be measured based on how much I can cook. And yes, he better be able to cook too. Because there are days I just won’t be in the mood. Me, I have never had problem with food. I can mix Milo and nido together and go to bed, and I’ll be fine. So if he cannot cook, na him go suffer am. If he can’t well, I can teach him if he wants, no problem. There are days I would travel and the kids would need to eat. There are days I might fall sick. Pregnancy hormones are there too. I might have a job that requires me to close later than he does. And like I mentioned earlier, there are days that I just wouldn’t be in the mood. I just feel cooking is a basic survival instinct. Everyone should know how to and be actually willing to cook. A man that cannot cook or is not willing to cook is in danger of ‘efo riro’. I rest my case.

    • Kelechi February 23, 2016 at 10:56 pm

      Must you bring your feminist agenda to every discussion. It is our tradition that women cook for their husband, stop trying to sugar coat it.

      • Androgyny February 24, 2016 at 1:07 am

        214 men liked this comment

      • Cindy February 24, 2016 at 5:17 am

        Honestly @kelechi what is your problem? You don’t have to like my comment but I stand by my opinion. When you meet your wife, she can cook for you all she wants. I don’t care. But as for me, I know what not being able to cook can do to a woman and how it can affect the entire family in general e.g. I know a relative who stopped having kids even when she wanted more because she had the last one through surgery and she starved in the hospital cos hubby could not cook. She kept crying in the hospital and had to rely on family friends to bring her food everyday. Hubby still had the nerve to say she was embarrassing him. Some things in life are not black or white okay. It is common sense to know how to cook. Nowhere in my comment did I say I needed a man to cook for me. I don’t care as I can take care of myself. That to me is true independence. But there are unforseen factors in life that can require a man to cook e.g. him losing his wife. Can’t you just see that it is a necessity? If it was in the past when people lived in community compounds, I’d say a man can still survive without being able to cook. But that is not the reality because this is 2016. Just wakeup and realize that there is a generational shift for goodness sake. Not everyone is trying to emasculate you for suggesting you learn how to cook. And whether you like it or not, no woman was born to serve you. Help? Yes, in my cacapacity but that’s it. So please stop with this irritating sense of entitlement and stay the hell away from my comments. And the world does not revolve around you. What I find funny is that some of you men are the actual independent beings. You just can’t survive without women in your lives, can you? So don’t come here and shout about women being financially independent. You want us to stick to tradition right? Fine, no problem. I so hope the woman who marries you drains you of your wealth just as you are trying to drain her of her strength. And just in case you didn’t notice, the author in her writeup was trying to encourage women in building their confidence. Oh, I forgot, it is the other way round with feminism. Please think before you type.

      • Netizen February 24, 2016 at 5:49 am

        Isn’t this ironical of you? Where in the op’s comment did she mention feminism. From what I gathered from her, she wants men to learn to cook for their own sake “basic survival instinct”. Is that a bad advice? I think you got the memo wrong sir as you are the only one here ranting about feminism. So next time sit still and listen when adults are talking. Your rant is very unnecessary.

      • Kelechi February 24, 2016 at 6:21 am

        Forget this your cock and bull story, so they don’t sell food any more? or are you going to tell me the wife prefers home cooked meals? You must think you are talking to a novice. How I wish u cross my part, and lets see how you will resist rolling up your sleeves, cooking and making me those memorable dishes. I should stop replying your comment abi? You have been trolling my mentions for years. – please

      • Jo! February 24, 2016 at 6:30 am

        Please shut up Kelechi

      • Anonymous February 24, 2016 at 6:37 am

        Oh my gosh guys! Look at the time stamp on Kelechi’s comment below. It is 6:37am and he already has over 200 likes on the comment he sent in at 6:21am. I knew there was something fishy about this guy. You got caught in your own game…. Lmao! All this for upvotes? Do you get an award for it? Omg I can’t??????? Here, you won a cookie.

      • Jo! February 24, 2016 at 6:41 am

        “Sugar coat”? Not quite sure you used it right here.

    • Gbam February 24, 2016 at 7:49 am

      I love u!!!! So right!!! Used to piss me off during service when my guy friends will say I am coming to your house to eat.. are u not a girl. Uncle if u can’t eat cereal I am done…

    • ruthy February 24, 2016 at 4:24 pm

      this is on point, Cindy. Love you already.

  • Destiny February 23, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    Efo riro…….quickest way to hook a man. Nice article…..

  • Ify February 23, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    Such a great read!

  • beauty February 23, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    Airy, brilliant write up, you’re blessed. I like to cook, it gives me joy and satisfaction when the food is eaten with relish. My husband will enjoy*wink*!!!

  • Sophie February 23, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    A truly interesting and awesome read. It came across as honest from the writer. Thanks for this bed time read. ???

  • Funke February 23, 2016 at 11:51 pm

    I am good at most things in life, top career, well mannered etc but my people I can’t cook, only simple things and thats the plain honest truth, my future husband will understand, we will hire a chef

  • Byn February 24, 2016 at 12:21 am

    Wow! What a piece.. I goose bumps all over while reading this.. ‘I realize that a relationship is not about dethroning yourself to enthrone another”… Wow!

  • Byn February 24, 2016 at 12:21 am

    *had

  • nunulicious February 24, 2016 at 12:29 am

    Wow. profound.

    Who could have thought that cooking could evoke such strong revelations?
    Can you be my sister-in-law? i imagine your home would be the go-to place during Christmas and yuletide seasons.

    But seriously, you should cook some afang soup and offer to chude jideonwo. he had some serious yearnings for it a while back and ranted about it. If you’re single and he’s available, the two of you could mingle…

    • Jo! February 24, 2016 at 6:34 am

      Why should she? He might as well head to calabar kitchen to buy the darn Afang if he’s really craving it like that

      • Somtoo February 24, 2016 at 10:36 am

        lmao…this chic right here is hilarious……….hohoohoho

  • vee February 24, 2016 at 4:32 am

    but the topic sha…or is it me that has trouble understanding modern english. I felt it should be ………..does not make a calabar woman. abi?

    • Jo! February 24, 2016 at 6:34 am

      It’s you please

    • Ada February 24, 2016 at 10:27 am

      It is not even modern English. It is correct English learned from the masters of the language. You no go know am!

  • TayJay February 24, 2016 at 6:32 am

    Lovely read. Well done Arit..

  • Jo! February 24, 2016 at 6:33 am

    ” I realise that you cannot cook a crown unto a commoner’s head.” What?!!!! ????????
    Arit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’nnnnn

    You know how you’re in church and the pastor is saying something that’s just ENTERING & you’re going Hmmn hmmmn without even realizing it? That was me reading this article. Gurrrrrrrl *high five*. Well done

  • Dr.N February 24, 2016 at 9:22 am

    The famous kopnomi demystified

  • Coffee, no sugar, no cream February 24, 2016 at 9:31 am

    @anonymous 6:37 Hmmmm interesting, please shed more light on how Kelechi got 241 likes in less 16 minutes please. And what are ‘up votes ‘ please?
    Lollllllll@here here you won a cookie . ???

  • Chinel February 24, 2016 at 9:59 am

    It is just sad that when it comes to contributing financially to home needs women will say i cant do 50/50, he has to be responsible for everything but when it comes to cooking we say we want that responsibility shared. Oh puh-leee-zee. it is all crap i tell you and definitely not what feminism is all about. As for me, i cant wait to spoil my future hubby with all the sweet delicacies i have learnt. Yea, i’m learning for me and my future family too. aint nothing wrong with that.

  • Chicanita February 24, 2016 at 10:01 am

    Arit you’re such a good writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.
    Your love for cooking is so infectious. I ‘m beginninig to love the art of cooking too so i get you girl!

  • C.S.I February 24, 2016 at 10:11 am

    This is well written but everyone is entitled to their opinions and can choose to take what is important to them how they see fit. Thank you Ms Arit for sharing with us how your mum used to serve her king. Pls keep cooking those meals and posting on instagram, at least they remind me alot of home, even though i cant taste it, my brain somewhere still remembers its taste.

    Here in switzerland, try cooking afang with spincah or processed meat, or lamb calling it goat meat (hian) or without mfi(periwinkle), okporoko and kpomo, and worse with palm oil that tatstes like soap.

    PS: I decoded you Le coco aka yang. Happy Birthday. am CSI baby.wink wink.

    • Le coco February 24, 2016 at 10:36 am

      At csi.. darling.. its not my birthday.. lol.. Nd you definitely haven’t decoded me.. I’m nt sure who you think I am.. lol… but much love tho

      • C.S.I February 24, 2016 at 11:35 am

        that’s so funny. it did cross my mind what if she isnt the one, but wat the heck. At least my CSI reputation with the other Le coco is still intact and she doesnt have to know.

  • Ada February 24, 2016 at 10:25 am

    I am amazed at how you are able to address salient life issues while seemingly talking about food! Much respect! Your smartness oozes out of this article. I am in love with it. It speaks of reason, of sense and self love more than it speaks of food.

    I am not an awesome cook, actually if I never had to cook anything for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t complain. BUT I cook for my man, I do it because I know he likes food, I do it because I know he can’t cook for himself otherwise. He has never complained at anything I offer him. He east and says thank you. He understood early on in our relationship that I had no desire to be a kitchen goddess. So every time I cooked for his sake, he thanked me by polishing of his meal and saying the words, thank you. I crown my own King because he does not take the crown for granted!

  • Goz February 24, 2016 at 11:55 am

    You write like you cook- with ease, with honestly, with generosity. Here is to more words and even more afang.

  • kristen February 24, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    My hubby is a very busy person but he takes out time to make dinner for me at least 4 times a week to cook for me. He makes soup and stew at home while I take care of other dishes. I think everyone will be happy in the home,when we learn to take responsibility. I’m so grateful to God that he gave me the best husband. Also note that he is the sole provider for the now,still searching for a Job. He goes to the market after work,buys everything in the house, clean after I bath our baby and still treats me like a queen. He has never raised is voice at me, respects my family. In short I can go on and on. I adore and worship him. I’m truly blessed.

  • gurl_wendy February 24, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    Such beautiful writing, I haven’t read something this good in a while, it reminded me of that movie The Chef, the way it made me feel afterwards, that’s how I felt after reading this.

  • Dee February 24, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    “I realise that a relationship is not a dethroning of one to enthrone the other, but a recognition of royalty, by royalty. I realise that you cannot cook a crown unto a commoner’s head”
    This right here is something that should be written on a marble and read to everyone.

    Well done, such a beautiful write up.

  • Her February 24, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    Beautiful piece.
    Cooking for your significant other is never enough.

  • Oochay February 25, 2016 at 7:36 am

    Arrrrriiiiitttttt!!!! ?? I loved reading this and smiling. Beautiful dear! Now I’m hungry for some obstacle-laden soup.

  • Blackbeauty February 26, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    Arit, if you ever read this, girl, you are deep! See me smiling and nodding and almost shouting hallelujah. Fantastic article! Great Job! Keep it coming. May I add, your voice was made for T. V. From one Calabar girl to another, well done!!

  • Gogo March 3, 2016 at 10:18 am

    Lovely article, Arit. Sadly, I don’t know what will make me cook like I used to. Yea, I’m scarred, I know. Maybe, one day soon, I hope, I’ll be happy to cook.

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