February 13, 2020 Asari Ndem
My dad barged into my room on a Tuesday afternoon, clearly looking for me. He found me cowered over my desk struggling to finish a holiday assignment, I don’t remember which one now, maybe Technical Drawing?
“Sarinma!” my dad bellowed, “I want to eat Afang soup for lunch today and you must be the one to make it, you are not allowed to have any help from this house.”
I struggled to remove my headphones which invariably became more entangled in my braids and I only managed to stutter “wh-what?” as he hurriedly left my room.
Of course he left in a rush, he knew what he had just done.
This is me, who has never made a Nigerian soup before in her life, not to mention one as deeply revered as Afang. How did he expect me to start without help from anyone in the house?
As I stood up from the chair and shuffled around in confusion half looking for my slippers and half wondering what the key ingredients in Afang soup are, a thought occurred to me: ‘The Internet!’ I have used the internet to solve more complex problems in my life, mostly school-work-related, so why not this little conundrum?
In 2007, internet penetration in Nigeria stood at 6.8% of the total population at the time. Today, that number is as high as 111.6 million, (43%) according to the National Communications Commission.
I immediately abandoned my hunt for slippers, scooped up my laptop and headed to the kitchen.
As soon as I got into the kitchen, I placed my laptop on the island and did a quick search on Google for Afang soup recipes. After scouring through a few results, I found one that seemed the most legitimate to me. Despite never having made the soup before, I was sure I knew what the ingredients list and recipe should look like. This confidence came from never actually cooking but being in close proximity to the kitchen (and the pot) while my mum made food.
While I looked through my preferred recipe, my mum sauntered into the kitchen and appeared visibly shocked when she saw my laptop on the counter.
“You mean you cannot stop using the internet even for a few seconds while you boil water?” she asked.
“Boil water? Mummy, I am about to make afang soup for daddy and the recipe is on the internet,” I said. “Daddy said I am not allowed to ask anyone for help so I’m looking for cooking videos on Youtube.” If you cannot tell, I was really proud of myself and this loophole I had uncovered.
My pride was short-lived as my mother doubled over in laughter that was, shockingly, directed at me.
“My daughter is cooking from the internet!” she exclaimed.
She whipped out her phone as she walked out of the kitchen and I heard her talking to someone, faintly describing the culinary ‘wonders’ her daughter was attempting to perform.
Water leaves, Afang leaves, palm oil, meat…meat stock…what else?
As I scanned through the recipe and directions for preparation, I realised two things. One, that I am not built for meal prep because I had already started asking the girls in the house to do things like dice meat and slice the afang leaves. Two, I could easily do this. Thank you, technology, for thwarting my father’s plans to disgrace me!
The video started playing and I quickly became transfixed by the ease with which the lady on the screen went about preparing my second favourite Efik soup.
In about an hour, I felt like I could confidently say I was done. The soup in my pot looked similar to what was on my screen so I thought if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me.
I called my dad first, to let him know of my culinary victory. I hoped I sounded nonchalant as I told him his food was ready over the phone and prayed that my voice did not betray my excitement.
He seemed wary of my news and made some non-committal sounds at my attempt to seem cool.
Then I called my mum and let out all the excitement I hoped I had hidden from my dad.
“Hello? Mummy, the Afang is ready o!” I shouted.
Cue, more laughter.
“Bring some for me with garri then,” she said.
So I dished some in a plate and marched to where she was sitting with a few of her friends.
Before she started eating she made sure to tell everyone: “My daughter made this soup from the internet o!”
In between her laughter she took her first bite and I saw her playful gaze turn into mild shock and then it morphed into something akin to pride.
“Sarinma? You mean you made this from the internet?” she asked.
“From YouTube, mummy,” I responded as I playfully rolled my eyes at her.
The laughter returned to her eyes as she turned to tell her friends, again, about how I had just made soup from an online recipe but, this time, she was telling her friends delightfully, urging them to try it.
Convinced that my work was done, I ran back home to wait for my dad who swore he would be home in time for lunch.
My dad did not try my soup until two days later when I was finally able to pin him down, and after one bite he asked: “Who helped you make this soup, Sarinma?”
“No one, daddy, I learnt from Youtube,” I said as I turned to leave.
That was all the confirmation I needed, I had definitely done pretty well for someone ‘cooking from the internet.’