Thursday, August, 2 – 8, 2007
Your Coat of Arms
Some call it “kawuro”, some call it “wele”. I choose to call it “coat of arms”. “Wele” is basically made from smoked cow hide.
A common delicacy of Ghanaians, irrespective of social status, it is a very present item which never loses its way in pots of okro, groundnut, or palm soup, as well as stews with beef base.
Relatively cheap on the market, some are soft, some are tough. And mmmmm… don’t I love “wele?” It has a way of giving flavor and texture to my cuisine. What even freaks me about the “coat of arms” is their ability to hoard in their curly roll, scoops of the stew or soup in which they fin themselves.
My affection for “wele’ can be traced as far back as my milk teeth ages. I guess I have an addiction for it. But in the past few days, I have tried hard not to chew any ‘wele’. The withdrawal symptoms I am suffering as a result of this abstinence are tough. But who knows, perhaps, this is for my own good. Thanks to my friend Alice who succeeded in preaching me out of consuming this wonder hide.
I had to accompany Alice to the abode of an estate agent who resides at Ogbojo, Madina. Time was approximately 7:30 in the morning. The sun was out in full glare, and going to stand by the roadside in search of a trotro was not something i really wanted to do at that time of day, but Alice was desperately in need of accommodation, and I had already scheduled an appointment with Mr. Sackey, the agent. So I didn’t really have a choice.
By 8:15am, we had both at arrived at the junction to our destination. Mr Sackey’s house was a few meters away from where the trotro driver had ‘off-loaded’ us. That meant, we had to walk for about five more minutes before reaching the home of the 67 year old man.
About two minutes into our walk, we spotted a long queue of about nine persons, emerging from a wooden yellow kiosk on which could be seen a huge drawing of Mama Onga with a ladle in her hand. By the way, Onga is a taste enhancer. And what was it that was being sold in this kiosk? Steaming hot “waakye”. A few nice cars, about three of them were parked nearby the huge gutter by which the stood. “Some influential persons also patronized the meal of rice and beans” I thought.
Alice confessed she had already drank a cup of tea before coming to my house that morning. But for me I was as hungry as a lion. See, l had gone to bed on an empty stomach the night before. And not that I had really had anything tangible to eat during the previous day, except for a mug of juice and some biscuits which I had for lunch at the office.
Hmm… I could not resist the sight of the heap ‘waakye’ which had been skillfully parked into a large transparent bag which sat in a huge silver pan. From the glass cage of the kiosk could be seen well designed and arranged thighs of fried chicken, fish, “gari fortor” (gari jollof), a well-chopped hue of cabbage, lettuce and carrots.
A glass bowl in which a heap of spaghetti (‘taalia’) was situated by the bowls which held the stews and aromatic shito whose whiff had filled the entire locality. My taste buds began to question my resistance towards street food. I joined the queue too, much against Alice’s will.
So it came to pass that my turn came to be served. I had heard my predecessors referring to the vendor as “Hajia”. So with a smile, “Hajia”, said I to matronly vendor, “please give me “waakye’… four thousand, gari… thousand, ‘taalia’… thousand, fish… four thousand, beef… five thousand, and plenty ‘shito’.
Just when Hajia began to stir the stew in search of my ordered beef, out of the river of stew emerged a soft-looking huge “wele” which seemed to have absorbed in its fold, quite an amount of stew. It looked irresistible! “Hajia, how much is a chunk of “wele”, I quickly asked. To this question, Alice, who stood by my side, nudged my right arm and asked undertone, “who chews ‘wele’ in this day and age, Ablah”?
Ignoring her question and the look on her face, I concentrated on my purchase. Then Hajia, selecting a few of the “wele” with her slim ladle declared, “four thousand” each. Pleased with her prices, I pointed at two juicy ones and said, “Please give me those”. So for a cool 23,000cedis (two Ghana Cedis and three pesewas). I was home and dry with my balanced diet in a ‘take-away’ pack.
As soon as we left the “waakye” stall, “Ablah” said Alice angrily, ‘I’m disappointed in you. You don’t mean to say you still eat “wele”.
“And what’s wrong with eating “wele?” I asked, almost infuriated. “Before I answer your question, tell me, what is the nutritional value of “wele?” And by the way, do you know the health implication of chewing those things you’ve bought”?
“Stop it, Alice”, I roared, “if you keep judging me like this because I have bought something everyone eats, then I, despite the fact that we are a few meters away from Mr Sackey’s house, will go back home”. ‘Go home? You want to go back home, simply because I am putting you on the right nutritional path, you want to abandon our mission this morning?” I kept mute.
After about seven seconds of saying nothing, Alice held my right wrist and said gently, “Ablah, haven’t you heard that “wele” can be cancerous due to the process by which it is prepared?” “And how is it prepared?” I asked. “The hide is burnt with car tyres which contaminate the “wele” with some compounds and chemicals. This is dangerous to our health and can consequently lead to cancer in the long round. Or don’t you know its petrol they use in burning hide”?
Being ignorant of how “wele” was prepared made we go absolutely silent. Then as if her admonition was not enough, Alice mopped her face with the handkerchief in her right palm and said, “oh Ghanaians! I can’t imagine how wonderful Ghana’s leather industry would have been if everybody boycotted the eating of “wele’ just to reserve the hide for the production o leather goods"?
I was stunned to hear all that Alice was saying. Ei, I knew about this delicacy originating from cow hide, but as to its preparation, I was completely ignorant of. I had more questions to ask my educator on the issue. But all too soon we had arrived at the home of Mr. Sackey, and the right thing was not to announce our presence with much talking so we both kept silent.
The estate agent’s wife, who was cooking, was the first person we saw on the compound upon entering. Bent over a medium sized silver pan which bore water, she had a knife in her hand, and was seriously cleaning what looked like meat with which to cook. A pot of boiled okro stood on a table beside her. Hahaaa… the woman of the home was preparing okro stew.
Nonverbally deducing from the plate in which her protein for the cooking was, she was preparing okro stew with a little chunk of smoked fish, and about four long rolls of “wele”, one of which was that she was cleaning when we entered the compound.
When she entered their apartment to call her husband for us, both of us looked at each other’s face simultaneously and smiled. Hahaaaa… Mr. Sackey and his family were going to have for lunch, a feast of “wele”. Hmm… indeed, most of us love ‘wele’. Can we ever stop eating the “coat of arms”?
Graphic showbiz - Thursday, August 2 - 8, 2007 Page: 14