It was the Ghangerian spices and soaps merchant, Yao Nsakoro, who first introduced me to the expression ‘the smell of it’. No wonder, the man has been smelling flavours, perfumes, palm oil and tallow half of his life. He said he learnt the term from the scribe Sonallah Ibrahim, who wrote the novel titled ‘That Smell and Notes from Prison’.
That smell. You see, up atop this roof of mine, I smell smells. Oh yes. And, even now, as I espy Judas the Carrot Seller pass by on his way to the meeting with those counters of silver shekels, I know the season of seasoning smells is at hand yet again.
Ah, the sound of the word ‘seasoning’ brings memories up atop this roof. Is there not a popular adage within the corridors of our village that well-seasoned words make for easy eating when, perchance, one is forced to take back his or her words? Words seasoned enough that they do not land the speaker in trouble, jail or an anyido-hole, whichever comes first?
The thing with seasoning is that the seasoning agent doesn’t have to be a large portion of the whole. Or, if you would permit this retired factory hand a little indulgence in pastimes past, I would say that the agent only needs to be a small percentage of the formulation. For all that one needs is a flavour.
And Akwasi Manu knew this well, his mother being a veteran chopbar operator. In the Science class in the LA Middle School ‘A’ near the Roman Catholic church building, Teacher Akwaah asked his class to list the differences between goat and sheep. Akwasi almost laughed out loud. What an easy question, he reasoned. He tilted his oblong head to one side, chewed the top of BIC pen awhile and started listing the differences, including this key insight:
“When you cook with goat, the light soup has wow pumeh-meh perfume; but when you make light soup with sheep, it doesn’t give wow perfume.”
Any connoisseur of pumeh-meh delights knows that all that one needs for the signature perfume in the light soup is for the head of the billy goat to have that distinctive smell at its zenith, just behind the horns. One doesn’t need to have a special equipment to pick up or evaluate that smell. A billy goat worth its salt, or a VIP ticket to join any light soup, exudes that perfume miles away and draws the buyer to itself. Such a good head is enough to power a big pot of light soup.
Akwasi is not the only one who knows the power of representative flavour, the significance of just the smell of it. So the story is told of a Blay Meizaiah who decided to soak his walking stick in a concoction of herbs, some of which were said to be of psychedelic nature. The story continued that Blay then travelled abroad with this stick which was smelling of the herb that is always the subject of songs of praise. At the airport in the foreign land, the immigration officers insisted that the Meizaiah was a carrier but he said he was as clean as an angel. They subjected him to delays and delays and searches and searches, yet found nothing. In the end, they had to apologise to him. Here is where the story ‒ my version ‒ gets interested. Akin to the guy who was arrested by a police man and after begging for hours, was asked by the police man “I accept your apology, but what are you apologising with?” Blay asked for compensation. And the compensation was worth the hustle and the smell of it.
As smells of the Carrot Seller, the spices that are being gathered for the pumeh-meh feasts which will attend this long weekend of the Messianic death and resurrection and the smells of the village’s multifarious effusions reach me up atop his roof so high, I can’t help thinking of the Meizianic adventure and how we love just the smell of things in this village.
We are content with just the flavour of things and not the full substance thereof. Just the tip of the apex of the iceberg.
So we launch an app that is supposed to help give us exact address codes. And then we are content that it only sits on our phones. The organisation whose name is on the app, instead of using it to ensure they can rejuvenate their near-moribund establishment, to take over deliveries to postcodes, installing post boxes in front of houses and using the new system to revolutionise their work, chooses to snore and enjoy the smell of it. I am yet to see a PO Box in any serious country in this present age.
We launch and pay good money for a program to name all our streets and link them up to banking system and identification database. We name a few streets, take a few pictures and go to sleep, patting our backs for being able to start the journey and taking a nap, under the influence of the smell of it. What is the name of your street of residence, and can a taxi driver just come to your house with a mention of only that name?
Where is the link between the GhanaPost GPS, names of our streets and the various institutions like the banks which ask for data? The last time I was in a bank, the official was still insisting that I sketch the way to my house and to indicate a landmark. I insisted that my street name is a landmark! In case you want to know, I had to still sketch!
We should be working on the basis of a development continuum. GhanaGPS and street naming should be linked. Codes are meaningless unless linked with house numbers and street names.
We spend good money on a national identification card program and build a huge edifice with only the smell of it. And then we take a puff of the smoke from the money we just burn, going round in circles and being content only with starting and not necessarily finishing.
A country stoned on only the smells of things.
Ah, I see Judas the Carrot Seller returning, labouring under the burden of a sack. It appears depreciation has affected the value of the shekels and increased the weight. That is the cue I need to get off this roof and go find myself a good billy goat for the weekend.
And, you guessed right, I will follow the smell.