By Ozoz Sokoh
My rainbow streets – these Nigerian streets are. Vibrant, full of colourful produce in season which most foreigners consider exotic and ‘tropical’, and which we, Nigerians consider common. Normal. These streets are to me what supermarket aisles are to my friends ‘abroad’, even choc-full as they are with people, automobiles and buildings. They are my seasonal catalogue of fruits and vegetables, south of the Sahara.
I see enamel trays; wheelbarrows full of carrots, yams and oranges; and low, wooden tables laden with white garden eggs and tubs of spicy Nigerian peanut butter paste. These visual cues of fruits and vegetables are great in a climate where few leaves on trees turn to signal the passing of seasons. Here, at home in Nigeria, fresh corn and African pear are mid-rainy season fruits, at their best in July and August, in contrast with berries and stone fruit which herald the dawn of a British or North American summer.
I love that my streets speak to me – that they commune and communicate with me, as I sit in the car on the ‘short distance’ but often long drive back home at the end of my work day. Stuck in traffic most times, I sit and stare while my driver navigates the twists and turns of Port Harcourt’s roads.
Sometimes I read, sometimes I sleep. Most times, my head is full of food thoughts. I look and marvel at how little I know this route even though I’ve travelled it long and well. And so each day, I determine to look harder and better. Bit by delicious bit.
If I look with eyes wide open, I’ll see when the first mangoes arrive, perfect for out-of-hand eating. And ripe for me to give up ‘decorum’. Yes, ‘behaviour in keeping with good taste and propriety’ can not feature where Mangoes and I are concerned. Mangoes too that are perfect for a spicy, non-traditional slaw – cut into strips then tossed in a rich green paste of mint, cilantro (coriander leaf), ginger, garlic, a touch of sugar and salt. At once herby, tangy, sweet and salty. Total palate love and balance.
Lately, I’ve taken to stopping. To buy my favourite fruits. And to talk to the young ladies and women behind the tables. The tasty mangos whose pits and stones I’ve gnawed are from Enugu, in the east of the country. The site of Nigeria’s earliest coal mines.
Sometimes, I stop the gentlemen from the North as they push wheeled trucks and gaily-painted wheelbarrows. They ‘really’ take the season to the streets, from pillar to post they sell the best of the season with art. From how they arrange carrots by ‘grade’ on wood-planked wheelbarrows, to how they showcase wedges of watermelons which remind me of flower petals, nestled as they are in one half of ‘standing fan’ bowls. Weird but innovative.
It is incredibly fascinating to see and learn about our climes and agriculture, obvious as it is on roads and street corners. The value of this education is a powerful thing. Powerful because it forces me to understand our produce and thus cuisine in Nigeria. It pushes me to think more about where my food comes from.
Like the many places we get tomatoes from in Nigeria, all year round. Places, up north with names that might be a challenge for some to pronounce. Gboko, for instance. A word with a consonant set, ‘gb’, not present in all languages.
Truly doubly articulated labial–velars occur as stops and nasals in the majority of languages in West and Central Africa (for example in the surname of Laurent Laurent Gbagbo former president of Ivory Coast…
To pronounce these, one must attempt to say the velar consonants, but then close their lips for the bilabial component, and then release the lips. Note that, while 90% of the occlusion overlaps, the onset of the velar occurs slightly before that of the labial, and the release of the labial occurs slightly after that of the velar, so that the preceding vowel sounds as if followed by a velar, while the following vowel sounds as if preceded by a labial.
Thus the order of the letters in ⟨k͡p⟩ and ⟨ɡ͡b⟩ is not arbitrary, but is motivated by the phonetic details of these sounds. Somewhere in all this is a lesson nutrition and sustainability because when produce is in season locally, it is available, abundant and generally cheaper. It means that the transportation time and costs in getting produce to the market are lower. Which means fruit is in better condition, and tastier too. Generally.
Peak of flavour.
Best for the planet.
In Nigeria, we have two distinct seasons – Rainy and Dry, tempered by shorter bursts of ‘change’ in December where dry and dusty winds from the Sahara desert herald the Harmattan season and in ‘August’ when dryness and sunshine return as ‘August Break’ in the heart of the rainy season.
The Rainy season starts in Late February – early March, gently working its way inland from the coastal regions and ends sometime in September. Or lately, in October, November or even December. Hmmm.
In August, when the rains pound down hard on rooftops, mother nature raises her hand and we get an August break, where no rain falls and the sun shines its hardest in protest, typically for seven days.
In the northern regions, the dry season is between October and April, while southern areas tend to have respite from the sky’s waters from December to February when Harmattan comes to town, with tan grass, cold winds and dust.
Seeing the fruits and vegetables has reminded me of things I know and have always known – that some fruits and vegetables are constants. Available all year round. Like Bananas and Pawpaw and Garden Eggs. Seeing the fruits and vegetables has taught me of things I perhaps knew but never ‘recorded’ – that fruits and vegetables in Nigeria have distinct seasons. That some plants have multiple growing seasons. Like Figs abroad and Soursop in Nigeria. There is a lot to enjoy and appreciate, when we look on our rainbow streets.