Setting the table for Dad’s meals was one of my earliest responsibilities. The fork, the knife and the spoon had to be polished with Brasso. If that wasn’t available then good old ash from the charcoal burner did a great job too. It was a laborious task, but when finished off with a good wash and a dry cloth, the fork and the rest of the cutlery glimmered in the sunlight. The great satisfaction of a job well done brought a smile to my face.
Everything had to be done properly and set onto the writing cum dining table. So the books and papers were moved into a neat pile at the top of the table. A place cloth covered the space to be used and I set the cutlery as Mum taught me. The food was usually covered and wrapped up in a food cosy or a couple of special large tea towels or tray cloths, this was to keep it warm until Dad came home. My Mum, my siblings, other family members and I usually ate before he came but he always asked if everyone had eaten before he sat down to his meal. Us children couldn’t understand why he wanted cutlery for every meal. Neither the cutlery or the table was exclusive to him, any of us could use them. However, by culture each person had their own stool to seat on, which was usually ordered from the carpenter as soon as a child could safely sit without support. There was also a set of mini tables available to be used singly for age groups or used together in a row like a long table for the family to sit and eat together.
As children, we felt certain foods tasted nicer using our fingers, which was the traditional way to eat anyway. In order to pass the hand inspection we made sure our hands were cleaned very well, so that we would be allowed to eat. It’s a child thing to like using their fingers, as I have come to notice. We still couldn’t eat in any messy way, there was and still is an etiquette to eating with your fingers, whether you ate by yourself or in a group. Wooden cutlery was available but mostly for soups and porridge. We especially liked Apkle and Fetri Dechi, a corn and cassava dough cooked to a soft texture and set in a ball shape. This was served with okro/okra soup accompanied by fried or grilled chicken or beef or lamb or seafood. It is quite delicious as a vegetarian meal too, without the meat or fish, with spinach, mushroom or garden eggs/aubergine. Am I making anyone hungry yet? You’re all welcome to dinner.
I also soon came to understand, that just because a practice has been so for many years or even centuries, does not mean it should be or should not be changed. Traditions still continue, sometimes going hand in hand with new ways of doing things. Without good reason or evidence people often resent change and rebel thereby retarding progress. I am glad I have the choice to use cutlery or fingers just as I have the choice to make changes in my life for the better. As I grew older I found the food tasted just as good when using a fork or other cutlery. And through this household chore and many other similar experiences, my character and disciplines have been formed to help me through the mastering of life events.