Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Golden Yam

I. Temptation


It was the week of my birthday, I must confess
That I came across the golden yam in a moment of weakness

Call me terrified about going to the grocery store
What with the new variant spreading inexorably next door

The Wife had long since banned me from the Ghana shop
Lest I bring back to the marital home a viral dollop

Our town's covidious alert level was now up to the fifth stage
Leaving me home as usual, trapped in my pandemic cage

I noted, with interest, the increasing bareness of my pantry
Having run out of supplies and other necessaries

Hmmm, these growing children actually needed to be fed
Who knew? I somehow felt that I was being misled

With a craving for comfort food, this exiled soul knew what was best
I promptly launched a browser and brought up Carry Go Market

Mechanically, I added the usual suspects to my cart
I stuck to the tried and trusted, power shopping is an art

Ga kenkey, of course, some gari and sardines, I kept it wholesome
The weekly special on palm oil and suya spice was quite welcome

I passed on the fufu powder, it pays to keep your eyes on the prize
But what's this? A temptation appeared right next to the mix for jollof rice

That's the moment I first saw the golden yam
Believe me, I was quite simply unmanned

I call it golden because, well, it cost an arm and a leg
The price was simply outrageous, it had to be said

But I hadn't eaten any yam for nigh eight months, lockdown you see
This taste of Africa, culinary nostalgia, had been denied to me

My attempts at planting yams in the backyard, my own Operation Feed Yourself
Had come to nought, I was left wishing for herd immunity if nothing else

I started to do the math, the conversion rate has almost six cedis to one dollar
Throw in shipping and handling and, well, you can guess the vertiginous number

I daresay it was a temporary madness what was about to unfold
To actually buy this tuber priced above its weight in gold

Some say the most precious material in the world is printer ink
It doesn't bear contemplating, the golden yam was the kitchen sink

But the flesh was weak, I'll freely admit to the sin of gluttony
By this stage of the pandemic, I needed relief from the monotony

In mitigation, give me leave Dear Reader, what you have to understand
Is that potatoes, even the sweet ones, are a poor cousin to puna yam

I rationalized the purchase, it was my birthday, remember
I've sometimes paid hundreds of dollars for unsatisfying dinners

It took a few more clicks to succumb to the madness
And so Dear Wife and Children, please forgive me my debts

I'd practice austerity for a few months, I'd later explain to my bank manager
Thus it was that, a week later, UPS delivered a glorious golden yam tuber

growing puna yam in my covidious backyard

II. Redemption


It was on the fourth night of the Texas Freeze
That my eyes came to rest on the golden yam
The inside temperature had dipped to forty seven degrees
Fahrenheit, frostbite terrain, I had goosebumps on my arm
It's an understatement to say that my entire household was displeased
The February blizzard conditions had brought the entire state to its knees

Lockdown and now the storm, talk about social distancing
One thing after another, this life in Austin was proving daunting
I pride myself on a knack for surmounting challenges but this was confounding
Almost instinctively, I came to the realization that no one was coming

A frozen hellscape was the universal description
While unbearable angst was the prevailing emotion
Buyer's remorse underlay the fraught situation
And regret would tinge the sense of privation

We were truly stuck with the power restrictions
The outage would likely take days for resolution
The crisis management team had led with poor communication
Destroying, perhaps irreparably, the state's reputation

Rotating outages were the initial, hopeful prediction
The chastening reality was that permanence was our condition
Adding insult to injury is that this was eminently predictable
This was the very opposite of what was known as good trouble

"It stopped being fun real quick", the wages of deregulation were slim pickings
Such is the fate of the curious prevailing ideology: wishful thinking
When you have to be melting crushed snow to flush down your bathroom privy
The vaunted exceptionalism is now subject to worldwide concern, if not pity

"You welcome the U.S. to the fun of the Third World" was your mantra long ago
Don't call it prescience but, well, you reap what you sow

My spare battery charger had long since given up the crop
So I'd had to charge the phone using one of the kids' laptops
There would be time enough, if we survived, to reevaluate our emergency procedures
It is only in its absence that you recognize what is called infrastructure

The last bit I'd read was that Flying Ted had absconded on the daily news
Packed his bags and headed to Cancun Mexico, I see you Senator Cruz
I voted against the man but, stuck in a freezer, I still felt rather abused
But what of the clear majority that put him in power, were they now confused?

I'm used to lights out, dumsor comes naturally to a Ghanaian
But this was different, there was no heat, only snow and no trace of sun
Ice everywhere, and not the immigration agency folks on the prowl
God I missed Ghana, I was quite ready to throw in the towel

This was frankly uncomfortable, quiet as it's kept
Even indoors I could see the plumes of my vaporous breath
If I had electricity, I'd no doubt see on the telly
The rolling disaster unfold, the millions left in penury

Be prepared is what the ancients advise
Despite the single digit temperatures outside,
Our house luckily seemed to have reasonable bones
For want of a bolt, a house is not a home

But back to my tale, let's move on from the disabled electrical furnace
Cometh the hour, cometh the yam, I had quite forgotten about this purchase
After all that I'd gone through earlier, this was a stroke of brilliance
It was written, I congratulated myself about my foresight and resilience

It was a swift decision, "I'll make us yam and stew for dinner"
I ignored the complaints of the 7 year old at the food on offer
Every man for himself, "Good luck, young man if you want to be picky"
Survival of the fittest, the palaver sauce needed to be eaten quickly
For everything in the thawing fridge was about to be spoiled
On the large burner, the golden yam would take ten minutes to boil
The cigar matches we'd obtained from the neighbors were pressed into service
One strike was all it took (truth in advertising) to light things up in earnest

oto

I wondered whether I could last through the weekend, or just admit defeat
At this point, I would even forgo food for a few days, in exchange for heat
Throw caution to the wind and expand my support bubble
Brave the treacherous icy roads and assume the risk of covidious trouble
But from what we'd heard, some of our friends that had made earlier offers
Of support were now keeping mum, after their houses too had lost power

The boil water notice had come through when I'd switched off airplane mode
To find out if relief would be forthcoming - the bill of goods we'd been sold
Hotels in town had started charging usurious rates, call it a disaster premium
Cold comfort, that is, if only you could get to them in this inclement weather
The alternative was to throw yourself at the mercy of fate, and head for the gymnasium
The children's elementary school had now been repurposed as, get this, a warming shelter

Forty six degrees is as low a temperature as the young ones could tolerate without panic
The Missus was reaching breaking point, was threatening to become catatonic
I daresay this freezing business, on top of the pandemic was getting rather old
Need I remind you that, by this stage, we were sixty five hours deep in this bitter cold
Those fateful words, the kindness of strangers were just a mirage
I kept wondering if the old man who lives in the park had found a garage

The palaver sauce heated up, the palm oil simply glistened
I daresay there was mist in my eyes, you don't know what you were missing
The water boiled and the slices of the golden yam emerged, what a rush
I quickly made to set the table, there was no need to fuss

The combination of hunger, fright and cold was quite auspicious
The serendipity of having this comfort food was rather fortuitous
All I can say is that the golden yam tasted delicious
At breaking point, I was soul sanctified, it was like magic
Thus fortified, I told myself "I could deal with this for another week"

Narrator: that night's temperature drop put paid to this premature optimism
Thankfully this story has a happy ending, put aside your skepticism

Oh the cheer that went through the neighborhood at 5 am when electricity was restored
The sheer relief at this turn of events - these 75 hours, could not be ignored
Quick, we all got up, charged everything; everyone took a shower
Who knew if this would last, we made sure to boil extra water

...

At the outset of the pandemic, as it were, before the storm
A traveling salesman accosted me as I was mowing my lawn
Rent was due, desperate, he showed me a shiny nugget and made me an offer
I'd laugh later at the memory of this hungry man and my golden encounter

And now, after this bout of winter adversity, I was stuck in my home
Freezing and starving, yet I was pondering a poem
The light was fading, at a loss, yours truly was the desperate man
Thankfully, my hunger was sated by an encounter with a golden yam

oto

...

I might as well go with The Golden Encounter playlist as a soundtrack for this note.

This folktale is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Writing log: Part I January 15 2021, Part II. February 21, 2021

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Reverse Ferret

"We don't want to be forced into any kind of retreat or reverse ferret," the prime minister added.

The Observer, February 2021
The reverse ferret is a tough maneuver to perform
It requires fleetness of foot and delicate balance
While the deft footwork is executed as a whirling dervish dance,
Ideally the audience will not detect your changed public stance

A discreet volte-face is essential for the presentation
The change of plans should remain unadvertised upon completion
The impetus is an imminent reversal of fortune
When legal liability and the threat of punishment looms

Whether defamation or criminal contempt, the prospect is of much damage
Public reaction to exposure and revelation would likely be savage
The knives would be out, votes of confidence, resignation or electoral defeat
Contra the golden rule: a politician's first duty is to preserve his seat

On etymology, the phrase was originally journalistic fodder
A pet remark of Rupert Murdoch's agent, The Sun's editor
Orwell would have known about the tendency when he wrote of Big Brother
After all, "Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia"

And so we heard the unguarded remark of the British Prime Minister
A man so allergic to truth he was badged as a congenital dissembler
He viewed theater as politics and politics as theater
Delivering his slapstick lines with a knowing, churlish patter
As Curtis Mayfield once sang, "they're all political actors"
Everything was transactional for this Magic Johnson
Yet everything he touched was subject to potential legal action

Ferrets, those winsome beasts, are much needed in human ecology
They play a handsome role even in today's concrete modernity
They say that every complex ecosystem has parasites
Caution, however, take heed of their insatiable appetites

The general public, generally bemused, found it hard to understand
With so much whiplash, it seemed as if everything was written in sand.
For even as the Prime Minister hastened to loot with a smile
Confronted with a pandemic, he could only deal death and denial
He would leave a legacy of so many u-turns in policy, his mark was a demerit
That despite himself, this Prime Minister's self coinage was the reverse ferret

grilled fish

Reverse Ferret, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note to cover our retreat. See previously

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Writing log: February 17, 2021

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Cooking Session

Stomach infrastructure they called it
As they prepared the gravy train
The new procedures thickened a stew of no bid contracts
The compliance regulations were taken with a grain of salt

Everything was on the menu, advance fee appetizers
Intricate patterns of exchange, they favored mob lawyers
And accountants cooking books as their waiters
Private bankers their sommeliers and kitchen managers

All you can eat buffets were their favored configuration
The restaurant served as chef's special an awoof conception
The nubile hostesses made sure to procure golden mangos
Presentation is all, they danced the corruption tango

The Cayman Island cocktail umbrellas were made of Panama Papers
Elaborate Swiss cheese accounts and other stylized confections
Tax sheltering strategies, ever heard of Bahamian thyme leaves?
Divert this way and and that, there is no honor among thieves

Some had bland taste, they didn't care for exotic spices
They simply laid on the pork and summoned greasy bribes
Others went for prime cuts of steak and sometimes jive turkey
They liked their portions wrapped in bacon or beef jerky

Still others in their tribe preferred things medium rare
They hid old wine in new bottles in offshore tax havens
And for desert they loaded on mints and chocolate candy
The back end of any transaction with a confirmed sugar daddy

After dinner they would pass the Courvoisier, Schnapps and brandy
A few had low taste and chose Bucks Fizz and Drambuie
Those at the high table went with choice liquor and aged port
To nosy squares they had the ready retort, "See you in the courts"

They would later steam open the overstuffed cash envelopes
Punch drunk on money, their elixir of life, that champagne bubble
They were secure in the knowledge that they would enjoy the bezzle
At the very least until the first untainted auditor's report

As the cooking session ended they would sing together with soul
That old favorite blues song, I want a little sugar in my bowl
Mouth watering profits the fruits of their shell games
For these grifters had herd immunity to shame

grilled fish

"Pot belly democracy" is the Ghanaian expression. "Stomach infrastructure" is the Kenyan term. African politicians know the deal.

Shell Games
the standard third world formula kodjo crobsen

Further listening and reading:
Timing is everthing
Observers are worried

Henkes' Schnapps ad 1969 - beware of imitations

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Writing log: February 14, 2021

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Disturbing Tranquility

I practiced the coup drill for we already had our lost decades
Marked by tanks in the streets and the military men's arrival
When so many failed to stand up and be counted
And displayed an altogether impressive passivity
I dissent from that brand of disturbing tranquility
That culture of silence, that philosophy of survival
I'm not inclined to continue as the Ghanaian Sphinx

God knows, I'd rather be proved wrong at this stage
Even after living as an exiled soul, on the losing side
I'm part of a loud minority — tribes, vibes and scribes
My chosen soundtrack is that of the urban griots
Firm believers in the necessity of permanent outrage
Unleashing wistful zingers, satire deployed as a weapon
Irony as the key register even in impassioned conversation
Let it not be said that defiant stares are our only aggression
Voices inside, soul singing, we march on the road to freedom

Now they want us to turn back the clock
And return to the autumn of the patriarchs
When conquerors partied until the break of dawn
While the rest of us dealt with curfews, chits and laissez-passers
Subject to daily confrontations at arbitrary roadblocks
The fear of being caught out on the streets after dark
And to think that the foreign press counsels us to "accept reality"
I daresay it's an affront, intolerable this rogue civility
I'm therefore proud to be accused of disturbing tranquility

The coup leaders in Myanmar have released the names of seven opposition activists they want arrested. They were accused of disturbing tranquility, a rarely used charge.

BBC, February 13, 2021
wire maintenance

Disturbing Tranquility, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note. I nominate this pièce de résistance for the Things Fall Apart series under the banner of Social Living. Trapped in my pandemic cage, thousands of miles away from the kind of danger so many are facing in Myanmar, I could only contribute these words and a defiant stare.

An Afterthought a few months later


Obliquely, the above was born of a thought experiment. What if the men in khaki stepped back into the frame in today's Ghana? And the counterfactual: what should/could have been the response when they did step back into the frame almost 40 years ago? If more had been prone to disturbing tranquility rather than the masks of civility that we wore, would we be debating cultures of silence today? Ain't that peculiar? as Marvin would sing.

Anyway, some would say better Myanmar than Ghana (God forbid). But injustice anywhere is an outrage, and we should all stand in solidarity. The heart aches at the damage past and ongoing, and the things that we've lost.

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Writing log: February 13, 2021