There is something about Grandma's pot that makes food cooked in it taste so much better.
Mpo-tom-po-to! Savour it, feel it, the name on your tongue, and know that it is just plain old yam or cocoyam pottage.
Once a year, during vacation, me and my cousins were dumped on our grandma in the village, by our various parents. All ten of us, in her small one-bedroom house. They said the experience was good for us, and that it would help us cousins get to know each other better. The kitchen, the bathroom, everything was outside the house. At night, the two youngest ones slept with her in the bedroom while the rest of us, pushed back sofas, chairs... anything to create space, laid out mats and mattresses and slept on the floor in the sitting room.
Every morning Grandma woke up at five and went outside to the kitchen shed, to cook mpotompoto for breakfast. We liked to pull stools close and sit down, watching it simmer gently in her big iron pot, the lumps of cocoyam mixed with the thick soup, the palm oil floating gently on top and the bubbles breaking open at the surface to release that delicious aroma.
"Be careful," grandma would say, as we all leaned forward as if we wanted to push our faces into the pot, "that is fire." Sometimes too, she would just come and sweep us away with the fan she used for the fire.
It wasn’t as if Grandma’s ingredients were anything special. She didn’t even add chicken or beef, just smoke dried herrings and nothing else, but we always licked our plates clean and asked for more. The secret must have been in that iron pot. Once a week, one of us had to wash the pot and shine it, both inside and out, with lime and ash. We took turns at it, and fought over whose turn it was.
In the evenings after we were done with our chores, we sat outside to get some fresh air before going to bed, then sometimes, Grandma told us stories. Sometimes she told stories about Kwaku Ananse, the spider. Other times it was about her childhood. But the one we liked most was the one about how her father went round the village with a wheelbarrow, knocking on people’s doors for their old iron pots, those filled with holes, the ones they had no use for any more. He took them, melted them all together, and moulded them into one big solid pot. In those days whenever anybody needed a big iron pot they knew where to go to.
There was a man in the village, Black Ninja, knew all the Karate moves from the Jackie Chan movies. Hi-yah! He would kick his legs, hi-yah! hi-yah! Throw his arms. We liked to follow him around, to learn some moves from him that we could show our friends when we went back to our homes in the city. It was just that most of the time he was soaked in drink, lying in a gutter here or under a shed there.
One afternoon, around four, the house was quiet. They were all inside taking an afternoon nap. It was Kofi’s turn to shine the pot. He had taken it out of the box in which it was kept, placed some lime and a bowl of ashes close by so that when he woke up it would be the first thing he would do. There was something about shining the pot, rinsing it and watching it shine in the soft light of the sun. It called to me. I walked towards the shed, then stopped. I hadn’t quite reached there, but I heard a sound, like someone was there.
I walked softly, peeped inside and saw Black Ninja, his fly unzipped, doing his business in Grandma’s pot. He was unsteady on his feet. Held the cupboard to balance himself. He left without zipping his fly, stumbling, here and there, pushing things over.
I always knew Kofi had no sense of smell. He didn’t even wonder at the liquid in the pot. Just sat there, outside the shed, dipped the lime into the ashes and scrubbed the pot like his life depended on it, whistling as he did it. But I must give him this, no one could scrub that pot like Kofi did. When he was done, you could see your face in it. But, no one knew what I knew, and no amount of scrubbing would ever wash away that memory.
I decided not to tell, but from that day, grandma always wondered why I had stopped eating mpotompoto.