It started over 50 years ago. Even before I was conscious of it, we had been inextricably linked. My mother told me that I never liked nor took baby food. From mama’s breast milk, I moved to solid food and that included eba and soup, aka, swallow. As I grew older, my romance with eba grew stronger; I took eba and soup, just any delicious soup, at the slightest sign of hunger. Those who know me personally understand, but for other readers, let me go down memory lane.
In our younger days, none of us (my siblings, cousins and I) accepted a breakfast of akara and akamu, unless it was appetizer to be followed shortly by eba and soup. Also, in my earlier bachelor days, I would eat eba in the morning around 6 am before going to work, I would inevitably take eba in the afternoon at work and if I am too tired to prepare rice or any other meal after work, I would eat eba again before going to bed. That was a regular occurrence until 1994 when I stopped taking eba for breakfast for reasons I cannot recall. But I would take it in the afternoon and/or evening.
About 10 years ago, I was part of a trade delegation to Chicago. Shortly after settling down in our hotel rooms, our first assignment (there were other eba addicts) was to look for a Nigerian restaurant. We spent $50 on a taxi to and fro to eat $5 eba and soup. We did that for two or three days before we found the train route downtown. Shortly after, my wife and I travelled to Germany. We stayed in Dusseldorf for three days, looked around, but found no Nigerian restaurant. We packed our boxes and went back to Frankfurt. We spent another three days looking for a Nigerian restaurant to no avail. The closest we found was a restaurant owned by an Egyptian where we relished fried rice and chicken once a day, but it was no substitute for eba.
By the evening of the third day in Frankfurt, I have had enough. I called my wife, “please let’s go home. If we remain here, I may die of hunger.” I called my travel agent in Nigeria to move our return date forward. “I hope there’s no problem,” she asked, concerned.” “There is,” I responded, “I have not eaten eba for the past six days and I am losing my mind.” She laughed and laughed, but she is an old friend, so she understood. She managed to get us seats for the Lagos-bound flight the next day; the only two available seats were by the toilet at the rear of the plane, but I was cool. The only places I have stayed in for up to a month outside Nigeria are the US and India (not forgetting the UK, the second home of many Nigerians) and that was because I could either prepare or get somewhere to swallow.
The romance was that strong. When at some point in my 40s, my doctor advised me to stop taking eba regularly, I switched to amala, blended wheat, blended oat and finally blended tapioca (cassava flakes), just anything with less starch and carbohydrate that will stick together and be swallowed in lumps. The adjustment was easy; as long as there was tasty soup and I was just fine. That has been my relationship with swallowing until two months ago. Before now, there were two things that made me feel disoriented at the end of every day if I have not done them: swallowing and reading newspapers. The newspaper addiction is an affliction from my late brother, Sen. Akpo Pius Ewherido, and it started in 1979, in the run-up to the return to civilian rule.
But now this stranglehold of swallowing is loosening. In the last five weeks, I have swallowed only six times and I could just have done without swallowing if I wanted to. I cannot explain it. I have been reflecting on it, but I still cannot understand why romance is dying. But something just struck me; this dying romance is a metaphor of what is happening in some hitherto solid marriages. With our better latitude of endurance and tolerance, I thought these things could only happen in the Western World:a 99-year-old Italian man filing for divorce from his 96-year-old wife, in a marriage that had lasted 77 years; former American Vice President Al Gore and his erstwhile wife Tipper divorcing after 40 years of marriage. But these things are here with us. A few rock-solid marriages that have endured for decades are in tatters and I am just lost.
It is not money or some of these other everyday issues that break up marriages. These marriage veterans have crossed all these rivers. These spouses have stuck to each other through thick and thin, they have made enormous sacrifices for each other, they have put themselves in harm’s way and laid down their lives for each other, they have been patient with each, they have been tolerant of each other. There is no financial pressure; they are either rich or fairly comfortable. In some cases, the children are all grown, so no more school fees. There are probably issues outsiders do not understand, but in one particular case, one of the spouses cannot even place her hand on what the problem is. May be one party has been bottling up things up and it just got to a point he/she could not take it anymore. That is why I always counsel my marriage course participants that they should voice out anything they cannot tolerate for the rest of their lives now before going into marriage. There is always a boiling point and the outcome is unpredictable.
I know some couples, who are enjoying their retirements and freedom from school fees the way I would love to later in life. They just travel around the world, savouring the natural and man-made wonders, different cultures and cuisines. They roll back the years to the early days of their marriage when those “intruders,” sorry children, had not arrived, even if there is not much of a sex life anymore. Remember, marriage is primarily for companionship.
For those troubled marriages, is it not too late now to have problems that can lead to divorce? Where do you start from in your 60s, 70s and even 80s? at least I have options in my dying romance with swallow: I eat rice with sauce and plenty of veg, I load my beans with tomatoes and onions; there are other options. But what are your options if this old and once-enduring marriage breaks up? Dem no dey find black goat for night o! Daddies and mummies, please sort out yourself.