Excerpt from “A Tribute to Hunger” (essay) by Tolu Ogunlesi
Asaba: The Madam
– from Dictionary.com:
1) The woman in charge of a household.
2) The woman in charge of a house of prostitution.
I spent almost year in Asaba (October 2005 to August 2006), in the oil-rich delta region of Nigeria (six hours away from home and from the “tyranny of the familiar”), serving Nigeria on the mandatory National Youth Service Corps scheme.
For much of that year, my fingers engaged in endless conversation with the plates and bowls of strange women, because my own plates and bowls remained behind at home. I had taken a vow of culinary chastity; I would not soil my hands with the soot of cooking pots in a strange land.
I call them (the “strange” women) the queens of the stomach, wielding supreme power from behind thrones of steam, soot and smoke. They all go by the generic name of “Madam”, and in turn inflict revenge-anonymity on their patrons by tagging them all “Customer”. But the generic-ness in my opinion suits the Madams better. If you have seen one Madam you have seen all Madams:
Buxom, with fat buttocks that you, in one absurd flight of the imagination, decide are layered in the way that critics say a well-written short story should be layered; soup-stained blouses and wrappers (fresher stains dissociating themselves visibly from the older, much-scrubbed ones), bare-feet (long, painted nails pouting from them) sewed onto charcoaled soles, forearms powerfully built from the endless motions of scooping out plate upon plate of Akpu and garri and rice from blackened pots over the course of a kitchen-based lifetime; upper-arms shaped as fluidly flabby counterpoints to their heavily muscled forearms.
Whatever the truth of the matter is, these women approach their vocation with a skill and a work ethic that would make the young, rat-racing, upwardly mobile clan look like a bunch of truants.