The Proper Way to Cook Oha by Adaora Raji

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An old recipe brings back memories in this story from Adaora Raji

A thin slice of the August morning sun slants through the curtain as I reach for my phone. It is already 8.20am, but there’s no reason to hurry. Eventually I sit up, put on my blue rubber slippers and attempt to stand. My legs are not what they used to be. Placing my hands firmly beside me, I heave myself upright, put my phone into my pyjama pocket and take slow, steady steps into the back yard.

I pull down my pyjamas and shoot a straight piss into the base of the guava tree. I open the wooden box beside the goat pen and take out the sacks of yam peels and forage. I fill two feeding troughs with the yam peels and two with the forage, unhook the latch and place them inside the pen. As they jostle and push for their breakfast, I count all sixteen goats. Their urgency sparks a craving that has been building in me for several days. It is the middle of August and some days are heavier than others. I toss the sacks back in the wooden box, slam it shut and head to the kitchen.

   *   *   *

I used to buy okporoko from Okechukwu’s mama at Eke Ukwu market, but I never even acknowledged him when we passed on the road. When we turned thirteen, Dei Ezeike initiated us into the Oke Nmawo masquerade. He took twelve of us to a forest grove and sat us in a circle. Okechukwu was the sturdiest of us all, with a wide forehead, bushy brows and skin the colour of an overripe pawpaw.

He was looking at me through his long eyelashes when the lot fell on me to carry the sacred clay pot of the Oke Nmawo on my head at the Iriji festival. On no account should the pot or its contents fall to the ground. Not only would the bearer bring shame and disgrace to his companions, but an irrevocable punishment would surely await him in the future. As one does not know when the spirit of the mask will mount the pot bearer, another person is needed beside him, to assist in holding the pot steady as he walks around the seven kindreds. No lot is cast for this task. It is the pot bearer who must select an assistant.

Dei Ezeike stared long and hard at me.

“Who do you choose to hold the pot beside you?”

I pretended to search round the faces in the circle.

“I want Okechukwu to walk beside me and assist me in holding the pot on my head.”


On the day of the masquerade, I could hardly see the people standing on both sides of the road – my mask was covered with woven raffia leaves that dangled over my face. My chest and back were painted with circles of nzu, a thin strip of akwete hung loose around my waist. I had no sense of place or time, I only knew that Okechukwu was walking beside me, holding the pot on my head, and that the others were chanting songs of valour behind me. Approaching a kindred where the cheers were ringing out, I felt the spirit of the mask possess me. My steps became frenzied as I swerved off course and let go of the pot. But Okechukwu was swift and held it firmly to my head as I danced around, out of control, the roar of the crowd climbing higher and higher.

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