Perhaps you’ve seen me waddling around my Lagos neighbourhood stuffed into exercise clothes that last fit before the world had heard of Covid-19? I used to be an active and motivated lady, but that changed when the pandemic occurred.
I have embraced my decline and shout to the rafters that my fleshy figure is not just acceptable but inevitable. This is what menopausal women are supposed to look like, I tell my family. That I have not begun menopause is something I don’t dwell on. Embracing aging, for me, is like dressing for the job I aspire to, not the one I currently hold. I am dishevelled today, in anticipation of what is to come.
Pre-pandemic, my husband and I would power walk around in the mornings, and return home with me drenched in sweat and panting. Then Coronavirus came, and we succumbed to our son’s pleas to get a puppy. Then, as I’ve mentioned in a previous column, we adopted another puppy to keep the first one company. Perhaps that’s where my descent into sloth was cemented. Instead of a power walk and the strength bearing exercises of a woman with no pets, now my husband and I stroll around with two daft dogs at a pace approximating a pack of turtles.
We learned a lot of hard lessons around our mental and physical health during lockdown, and we kept learning lessons when Lagos began opening up again. One hard truth was that there were certain places where we should not venture.
There is one Nigerian restaurant in V.I. that my kids and I treat with great caution. The portions are large, but we are not, and that’s where we run into trouble. My son, daughter and I like ordering to excess, knowing that any leftovers will be devoured at home. Here, at our favourite restaurant, there are never any leftovers. Food is placed in front of us, and we all attack it, like sharks thrashing at chum. There is a frenzy.
I always order the combo platter, which is prawns, plantains and an omelette. I ask for a side order of stew to dip the prawns into. After two bites, I am stuffed, but I don’t let that stop me. My son shovels jollof rice down his gullet, while my daughter pounds beef and stew, and when we are finished, we clutch our bellies, moaning, as the staff rolls us outside. If we have planned to do errands after our meal, they are abandoned. Who can shop for groceries when they are this full? We race home, agonised, then ask each other why we allowed this to happen again.
Yes, as I grew fat, I blamed Nigeria for ruining my body. If the cuisine wasn’t such an intoxicating blend of spicy, flavourful and hearty, I would be a much slimmer individual. But everything I encounter in Lagos is too yummy to resist, which is not my fault.
We travelled this summer to see my eldest daughter, who lives abroad. I knew that once I left Lagos, the excess weight would fall off of me. No more stew and moin moin. No more suya devoured with my husband in random parking lots. No more banga soup or ewa agoyin. In the west, I told myself, food is bland. It would not appeal to me. I knew summer was the perfect time to slim down enough to fit back into my clothes.
Unfortunately, to my dismay, I have remembered that food is delicious wherever you go. It started innocently enough. On the first day in our summer rental, my son handed me a cracker and said, “Taste how crunchy this is.” Then a few hours later, my daughter fed me a spoon of ice cream, saying, “This is really creamy.” And with a whisper of encouragement, I was off to the races. ‘Okay’ to strawberries and grapes. ‘Why not?’ to fresh, cold milk. ‘Yes’, in fact, to anything and everything.
So, as I sit here, spreading locally churned butter onto a toasted bagel, I take back my accusations against Nigeria for making me chubby. The problem isn’t Naija, that poor, blameless country that’s been my beloved home for a decade. It can’t help having irresistible cuisine. The problem lies with gluttonous, little, old me.
Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.
Read more at www.monazutshiopubor.com
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