I have long been captivated by the power of a good story, told well. As a child visiting a remote farm in Zimbabwe where my cousins lived, their family did not believe in television. At best, the BBC Eight o’clock news would play on the radio, adults huddled around the thin scratchy airwaves, us children shushed into silence. Conversation, good conversation which had its roots in colourful or exciting accounts of life’s events, would surge and wane as candles flickered ghostly shadows across the walls. As they eventually spluttered to a smokey death - a signaling of bedtime - exhaustion would grip one and all. Likewise, mornings would be spent in the huge farm kitchen, its red plastered floors and rough-plastered walls typical of a turn-of-the-century farmhouse in Africa. A huge cast-iron wood stove streamed the odd tendril of wood-smoke, setting it free to rise lazily on the slanting morning sun. Home baked bread would be thickly sliced, and arranged in neat lines on the searing stove-top, often nestled between the all-important kettle and popping soot-coated porridge pot. When slightly blackened (rather than toasted) it was scooped off and ladled with thick smears of farm-butter to turn a glistening gold as it melted.
This was a lively time of day, with many conversations and stories mingling as breakfast was served. It was not so much about the breakfast, but rather the act of communing. As a city-kid used to the trappings of modern life, it captivated me and was probably the seed which brought me to where I am today.
Africa of old was built in this way. Settlers and pioneers of the eighteen and nineteen hundreds would go months at a time with little or no outside contact. The advent of visitors was an occasion filled with great anticipation, hearty food and satiating conversation. It was a tradition, a lifestyle which happened in countless such farm kitchens, or around open-air camp fires under the vast canopy of an African night. Sadly, today we have forgotten the art of sitting and enjoying the simple yet powerful interaction which comes from story telling. To me, good company and a good yarn are the very essence of soul food.
© 2017-18 ANT WILLIAMS
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