All the steps involve multiple members of the family and sometimes even extended family. The sowing is definitely the easiest part and the weeding is by far the hardest. Long days were broken up by a lunch break in the cool shade of a tree where we ate bean cakes his wives prepared right there on the spot (from scratch!).
This corn harvest is extremely important to the family since it will be their primary food source for the next year. They will grind it to make a flour which will be cooked as sa’abu (or tuo zaafi), the main staple in the region. This bland mash is eaten daily with various soups made of leafy vegetables.
Traditionally, it’s the husband’s job to provide the staple and the wives’ responsibility to provide the ingredients for the soups to accompany it.
After Mamprusi women give birth, they eat a traditional soup made from a paste of roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, red peppers, and gourd seeds. Before she gives birth, she will collect the ingredients, roast and grind them to make a paste (like peanut butter). After she delivers, she will make the soup and eat it with T.Z. (a mash of white corn). The new mother will also have enough on hand to sell, since she will be unable to work during the first few weeks after the baby’s birth.
As my belly got bigger and time grew closer to delivery, I was asked almost daily if I was going to cook zɛlaa* after I delivered (and many people “invited” themselves over to my house it enjoy it with me – turns out, they were all just joking with me).
I asked some of our friends to teach me how to make zɛlaa. First, we went to the market to buy sesame seeds and peanuts and red peppers. I only bought about one-fourth of what my friends suggested. We set up a small wood cooking fire outside my friend’s house. Over the course of two hours, we roasted the peanuts and sesame seeds separately in a large pot. We took turns stirring the pot with a large wooden spoon. After all was roasted, we winnowed the roasted product. Unfortunately, the power was out in town that day, so my friend went to the mill without me to grind everything into a paste.
After KJ was born, it was time to make the zɛlaa. Another friend showed me how to make the soup with tomatoes and onions and the paste. We added in beef and let it simmer quite a while. My friend brought over the corn flour to make the T.Z. and her family all joined us for dinner that night.
Afterwards, every time I was asked by someone in the market if I had eaten zɛlaa, I could answer yes!
The only downside to my endeavor to learn to cook zɛlaa is that the relaxin coursing through my pregnant veins caused my forearm to swell and ache after all the stirring while roasting (hence the ace bandage on my right forearm in hit the pictures of me in labor).
*zɛlaa can also be prounounced as zɛraa
A friend told me he had killed a big monitor lizard in his farm yesterday and they were going to eat it last night. I asked him if they could save some for me and I’d come by to try it.
This morning I rode over to his place and his wife had prepared it in some spicy groundnut stew. If you can get past the disgusting-looking skin & claws it doesn’t taste that bad!
While I was chomping down on the tail, Heidi called me and said she was going into active labor. I hopped on my bike and pedaled home as fast as I could to get Heidi up to the hospital.
*Update 3hrs later: Now we have a new baby girl!
Heidi and I invited some friends over to eat some sulimiindiibu or “whiteman’s food.” My guests were one of the Akarima (talking drum players), a sub-chief nicknamed “Morocco” (Boy2MenArt’s dad), the Naazɔ (King’s steward) and his son. After reviewing my photos and videos of the Damba festival we enjoyed a meal of pasta with tomato sauce and garlic bread.
A few days later Heidi had our friend Candy over for pancakes. Candy has a food stand in town and makes the best sa’akoro (fufu) around. She is also an up-and-coming actress and singer in Mamprugu. She recently starred in a Mampruli film entitled “Duniya Ligri” (Earth Money) that was filmed in Nalerigu and used local talent.
This was a was a great language learning exercise since none of our friends spoke much English but we were still able to communicate enough to have a fun time. We thank God for helping us to make friends and build relationships here in Nalerigu.
Mejida is a young man that has helped us with yard work around the house since we arrived in October. He works off and on at the hospital in the Accounts Dept and when he has time (and needs money) he comes by to do odd jobs. Usually we have grass to mow, hedges to trim, or general clean up that he can help out with.
Last week he came by and instead of asking for work he asked for a favor. Would I be willing to drive my truck to his field after he harvests all his yams and haul them back? I decided to one up him and offered to also help him harvest. He seemed a bit skeptical but I assured him I was up to the task.
The next morning at 6AM we headed out, stopped to pick up two his nephews and to greet the chief that lets him farm the land, and then we began digging up yams. He had already worked all of Friday on his own and had done half the field. Together we finished the rest of the field in about 6 hours. It was a brutal six hours of hard work in full sun with the temperature over 120 degrees (101 in the shade). I was filthy (one of the boys commented that my skin was turning into a black man’s) and my hands were all cut up from the spiky yam roots.
Each yam is planted in a mound of dirt with the vine growing out the top. Using a small hoe you dig around the circumference of the mound and then in towards the center where the yam(s) are. Then you dig out, pull out and shake out the clump off yams by hand. Here’s a video clip of Mejida doing just that:
We ended up filling my truck bed with yams, drove back to Nalerigu and unloaded them at his family’s compound. Mejida was quite pleased with harvest saying it was “more plenty than last year.” He gave me an appreciation gift of sweet potatoes and some of the yams.
In some of the mounds he also planted air potatoes with the yams. This variety of yam grows above ground on a vine and its flesh is colored like American sweet potatoes. Interestingly, the species was brought to the Florida in the early 1900s and became a vicious invasive species.
Another cool thing I saw on this outing was the escarpment. I have visited the cliffs east of Nalerigu at Nakpanduri but I had seen on Google satellite imagery that it extends north of us and wanted to go there. Now I have a better idea of how to get to it from our house. From the edge of the cliff we should be able to look down to the White Volta River. One of my goals is to scale the cliffs down the river – locals have told me it can be done if you go to the right spots.