Where I grew up, the kitchen was a “no-go” area for males. But my love of food has helped teach me how to live a successful life as an African man.
Koose (Wikimedia Commons/Linason Blessing)
Old faded curtains lazily draped over the windows on either side of the room. During the afternoons, as the breeze pushes away the curtains, a minuscule amount of sunlight creeps into the room, illuminating silver utensils. Sweet aromas coupled with the methodical arrangement of food and equipment give this room a fervor of creativity.
This is the kitchen in which I take pleasure in preparing my favorite meals.
For instance, in preparing koose (a spicy bean dumpling), I usually start by getting all of the ingredients and utensils ready and accessible. Then I soak bean flour with a bit of water and beat it for it to rise. That is necessary to give it its spongy nature. The sounds of clanging silver utensils and the elegantly rigorous and brutal beating of the bean flour blend into a soothing symphony. I then proceed to add blended red pepper and garlic, some salt to taste and carefully sliced onions to give it a delicious and conquering aroma. Dropping blob after blob of the beaten bean flour into the frying pan with heated oil. The sizzling sound always carries me on the wings of ecstasy. Patiently, I observe every white blob transform into a yellow dumpling and sweet scented koose.
The kitchen was a no-go area for an African man.
I spent my formative years in Kintampo-Ghana, a misogynistic community where the kitchen was a no-go area for males. It was considered a cultural faux pas for a man to enter the kitchen and cook. As a boy, all I had to do was patiently wait in the dining room to be served by my mother and sisters. My curious self made me restless about why this should be. I appreciated the science behind culinary art. A million times, I wondered how it was done. I’d usually ask my mom several questions about the food I had been served until my dad silenced me; it was the same phrase, repeated: “Stop behaving like a girl! Cooking is none of your concern.”
To satiate my curiosity (and, of course, get more food), I maneuvered my way to the kitchen. I started spending time in the kitchen helping my mom with chores. Eyebrows were raised, fingers were pointed and mockery was made of me by my friends and even family members because what I was doing defied the community’s norms.
I remember quite well one time I was at the football pitch with my friends. We were supposed to group ourselves into teams. With the blink of an eye, the grouping was done. Everyone had a team except me. I was left standing alone. In a solemn and confused voice I asked, “Why have you all left me to stand by myself? Can I please join one of the teams?” A unanimously intense and mocking laughter was the response I got for my humble request. The next thing I heard was, “Nobody wants a loser in their team. Besides, football is not for girlish boys like you. Run to the kitchen!” There I stood, eyes darting sharply from left to right and heart beating like a stereo. I could not take it any longer, so I did as they wanted — I ran to the kitchen. After a bit of food, I felt better and calmer. I found comfort in the kitchen.
Within the shortest time, they changed my name from Abdul to “Obaaberima,” meaning “the girlish boy,” a term meant to humiliate me. But I was resilient in my pursuit of food and the knowledge of how it is made. So the reactions from people could not deter me. In the kitchen, I not only gained limitless access to food and achieved my mission of learning how to cook, but I also learned, compiled and developed a set of traits that have served as the compass I use to navigate through life. I discovered a way of life.
Cooking has taught me so much about food — and about life.
Cooking as an activity has taught and continues to teach me so much as a young male African.
One requires some basic knowledge about what is about to be cooked, which translates into me learning new things anytime I have the opportunity. It requires accuracy and carefulness so that the right quantities are added to the food. One needs the patience to allow the food to transform before it is edible. Sometimes I do not have all of the exact ingredients required and have to improvise. I derive pleasure combining ingredients that are not in the recipe books and crafting something that is a fusion of popular dishes and experimentation. Whether it is cooking beans together with corn or creating my own version of koose, combining it with toasted bread crumbs to give a whole new texture and taste experience, I have learned to be innovative and critical in my thinking. A collection of these traits in the proper environment produces a very sumptuous delicacy.
Cooking has taught me knowledge in diverse fields, the relevance of carefulness in all my endeavors, the eminence of curiosity and the need to pursue it, the power that lies in being innovative and thinking critically, the lesson never to lose hope or give up because of limited resources, but to improvise and to be patient. These traits combine to ensure success in my life — as they combine to produce delicious food.
Questions to consider:
- Compare and contrast what a kitchen and a football pitch signify in the author’s story.
- What are the traits that the author has learned in the kitchen that he says serve him well in life?
- In your community, are there “no-go” zones for girls or for boys?
Abdul-Kudus Alhassan is from Ghana and in his second year of study at the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. His favourite subjects are Mathematics and Physics. He dreams of becoming an aerospace engineer because he believes “it has the potential to solve most of the problems facing humanity in and outside of Earth.”