The dietary question that has held Nigerian relationships together: “Have you eaten?”


It’s been your vintage Monday; long, hard, and being nagged to near-insanity by your tormentor-in-chief (aka your superior at the office). Unfortunately, you cannot recreate that scene in the movies where the disgruntled employee overturns the monitor, thrashes the table and throws the middle finger in the air, before walking out in slow motion…..because Nigeria, because Buhari economy, because ten thousand people ready to take your spot in seconds, because bills, because family back in that small town will berate your ‘stupidity’ until judgement day.

Depression is un-African, and we in these parts develop some sort of Stockholm syndrome towards shitty living conditions. Not like the pastors in our local churches help matters, eloquently dishing out sermons of hope while empty stomachs twist in agony.

City gridlock won’t let you get home in reasonable time and get a few hours of sleep at least, so, stuck in a crawling sweaty bus, you try to deflect the misery by sliding into some female acquaintance’s Facebook inbox.

The conversation plays along the borders between being smooth and outright flirting, and you revel in the distraction. There is something you are waiting for, however. Something applicable to all inter-gender relationships that have gained any reasonable grounds, and like a lecturer searching for those key words that separate ‘A’ from ‘C’, you wait for it.

It doesn’t come, and for a moment you praise her in your head for being non-cliche, but you suddenly begin to reason along the lines of “It’s not that deep, she probably doesn’t think of me too much, ” and you climb back up the slippery slopes of her inbox, unsure of when you’ll return.

Ok, let’s look at it this way; I once knew a girl named Ruth. She would check up on me every single day, asking that one question: “Have you eaten?” Fast-forward to two and a half years later, and Ruth is totally past tense now, a thin memory, for no fault of hers (hey, don’t give me that “he’s a Yoruba Demon” look). Maybe I wanted something more than conversations centred on my nutrition, but somewhere deep within, I miss that now.

We know, the question “Have you eaten?” can get our eyes rolling, something in the tone of “Hay God, this girl don come again!” But was it not Robert Mugabe, who from his reservoir of wisdom, defined love as “a situation where one person asks the other whether they have eaten, until either of them dies”? There is a depth in those three words that the human mind can never get a full grip of and if you think I’m kidding, respond to that question negatively; she will go into a flurry of “Ahn, please eat now,” citing how you looked horribly thin in the last photo you uploaded. And if you do a 9-5 (actually 8-6) like me, she’ll put you through a Food and Nutrition lecture, at the same time mapping out a dieting regime on your behalf.

Your response and her suggestions may not immediately change the situation in your small intestine, but it goes to show the extent to which she thinks of your well-being. “You don chop?” is a serious inquiry, the Edible Catering saga taught us that if nothing else.

This question about dietary choices is socio-cultural, it’s religious, it’s a communication benchmark, it’s a subtle sign that you are slowly gaining occupation rights in that heart.

It’s “Buenos Dias”, it’s “Guten Tag”, it’s that “I really care about you” which she can’t say because she doesnt want to give away too much of her fondness for you, it’s Life! Okay, we are going too deep now, but you get the gist.

So, ladies, never mind how much we love making fun of your conversational skills, we don’t want you to stop asking that question. We know you care, we enjoy the attention, and like Mugabe’s rule, long may it continue!!!

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