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My rekindled love for sugar cane  – Peter Obidike

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“Go and wash your hand.” “Daddy, I should go and wash my hand?” (as if she did not hear what I said initially). “Yes, go and wash your hand, you have had enough.” That was how I discharged my little girl to make way for some uninterrupted flow of my new found enjoyment! Like I told my family (even though they trivialised it) it takes discipline, courage and self control to feed a baby sugar cane or any other food for that matter, which requires your cutting it and then transferring it to the little recipient. In this case, think of the mechanics involved, where you have to use your teeth to first remove the hard outer covering, then cut the softer part of the sugar cane with the “great” temptation to go on chewing the sweet flesh but then the spirit of “self control” in you helps restrain you and you rather sacrifice that momentary enjoyment to feed your little kid.

I recalled a cousin of mine who did not like feeding their first daughter then or rather did not like the little girl joining him when he dipped his hands into that “Ofe onugbu” (bitter leaf soup) housing all kinds of animals swimming in it to the jealousy of any traditional food loving individual around. His argument was the same and very simple. The little girl interrupted the flow of things! So you can imagine the extent of maturity I exhibited in letting my little one join me to demolish at least four sticks of the cold sugar cane (yes! Refrigerate it and you are in another world) before advising her to do the needful.

Sugar cane has recently made its way back into my list of “snackable” fruits and vegetables thereby displacing processed, expensive foods like biscuits and nuts. When refrigerated, the beauty of this fruit can even be more appreciated. And the traditional way of eating the damn cane reminds one of how beautiful our own can be but also challenges one of the need to invent innovative ways of doing it better lest other people come take our culture and repackage it and resell to us at higher cost, as they have done with many of our agricultural produce. For one, I’m thinking of a machine that can help the vendor to remove the back rather than the current mechanical way they do it. And another machine that will help us chop it into sizeable cubes we can just throw into the mouth and enjoy. But that one should be modified to manage the delicate balance between chopping and losing the fluid as well as the hygiene required to see that it remains clean.

My reconnection with sugar cane was no surprise as I grew up seeing sugar cane just by our water tap outside the kitchen door. In an irrigation kind of setting, the sugar cane took advantage of the runoff water from the outdoor water tap that served as source of water for watering our flowers, washing cars and other outdoor purposes. The breed was the same as the ones I see them carry around today, purple in colour and then we did not need to scratch the purple back off like they do now to make it presentable to the buying public. We did our chewing with the “purple dress” on and it was a delight to have to replenish the suckers or harvest the matured ones. The goats were also happy when we harvested them because they were sure to get the grass like heads and possibly the chaffs from our demolition of the canes. There were other varieties we took note of like the yellow ones and sometimes made comparisons on which was sweeter but it always boiled down to the same thing, only a dress colour difference, that did not matter, so no much energy was put into growing those species.

And then we went to Yola in Adamawa state during one of those federal ministry transfers and saw sugar cane in another light. The brown sugar we were served was said to have come from the sugar cane plantations and we were made to understand that the brown sugar was an intermediary product of the sugar cane in its journey to the white “St Louis” cubes we all admired and used in our tea cups. In Adamawa, it was combined with the tea from the Mambilla plateau, which I never visited but understood is a rich heritage of green land and lovely weather in the likes of Obudu in Calabar which we all should be proud of and desire to visit (at least if not for the Boko Haram security issues).

It is not just sugar cane we should be snacking on; there are so many other fresh local fruits, vegetables and nuts we should take advantage of rather than doing “Oyibo” and putting pressure on dollar through looking for imported fruits that will not help our economy. I tried to list them as I write to include, paw paw, carrot, anara (garden egg), date palm, “aki awussa” walnut, orange, mango, cashew, kola nut, and so many others too numerous to mention.

The point is that God has blessed this country so much that we should look within us to cherish what we have, and “Okpete” (sugar cane) is one of them!

Obidike peter wrote from www.peterobidike.com 

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