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 had 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

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