My niece has never given up on her quest for answers. She’s inquisitive, has these out-of-this world why’s and how’s and what’s. They come unexpectedly, like a hit and run. They come when I’m either reading and sitting there, listening to my heartbeat, my pulse speaking to me. She doesn’t give me a heads-up. It feels like an ambush. I’m starting to get scared. I’m running out of answers. Her questions intimidate me (lol). I’m almost running away from her.
I’m putting her up for adoption, just for a week, to save me from unanswered questions, and then I’ll get her back. Anyone willing to take an inquisitive niece for a week? I have one on offer. Be sure to have responses to her unending questions. I will not ask for much.
All you need to do is bring me Malakwang and Angara and Onang nang. You should get these from Pakwach (yes, specifically Pakwach) and take them for inspection to my grandma. Sound creepy? Nope. If she’s alright with the quality of what you have selected, then you can bring them to me and I’ll decide whether you can adopt her, not my grandma, my niece, for a week.
Malakwang is a vegetable that comes out best when pasted. Put sweet potatoes in the mix and you’ll lick your fingers until the end of the week. If you get a cook who scored F in cookery, it’ll have a rough and sour taste which cuts your throat into slices your voice will get hoarse and curse you. Angara is fish that you’ll only find where I come from, Pakwach.
Well, they are now being imported across the bridge to these sides of Kampala. Angara has a million bones and it’s salted for preservation. It takes an A cook to make this a delicious, tongue stroking, gut filling dish. If a bone gets stuck across your throat, swallow a chunk of millet bread. It’ll drive it down and out. Onang nang is my favorite. It’s fish you eat with all its bones, soft bones. It can be crunchy and munchy. My grandma always has them for me. Oh, my grandma Phoebe, she knows my love for fish.
Anyway, so I sat at the dining table with my niece over the weekend and she was pulling her spaghetti, strand by strand with her eyes shut, enjoying every bit of it. A long one slid right into her mouth and the next one hit her cheek. She opened her eyes and blushed. I didn’t comment. I didn’t say a thing. There was silence between us and I was biting my nails. And that is when she remembered a question she had asked me seasons ago.
“So, uncle Jr (that’s what she calls me), do you have my answer now?”
Of course I knew what she was referring to. She had asked me where black people came from. Her rationale was that on Noah’s ark, everything got in in pairs. There was no evidence that Noah’s family had anyone who was black. “Noah was a white man,” she said. So her questions was, “where do black people come from?” I told her I’d give her an answer. I didn’t tell her I had no answer at that time. I just needed some time to research. I asked around and there was no solid response. I googled but came short. Then I switched off, forgot about the question and moved on with life. It came to bite me right back at my gastrocnemius and I couldn’t walk.
She reminded me what the question was.
“Oh, that one,” I said. I went on to tell her that because of where we live, our bodies have adapted to the sun and we developed a pigment called melanin. Melanin is black (is it?) and it saves us from the sun’s burning wrath.
“Have you seen what happens to the skin of white people when they come around?”
“Their skin gets so red like blood wants to run out of their body.”
I said that was it. So for blood not to run out of us, we have a pigment called melanin.
“What did you say?”
“A pigment called melanin.”
She squinted her eyes and asked, “What’s pigmet?”
“No, not pigmet. Pigment.”
“Pigment. What’s pigment?”
I didn’t have a quick response and she shot another one.
“Does it have anything to do with pigs?”
That was a dumb question. I laughed. I could not help it. I thought her intelligence had escaped her. She’s 12 so she is allowed to ask anything. When she becomes a teenager, which she isn’t far from where she is right now, she might not get the opportunity to ask any dumb questions. She won’t be allowed to ask dumb questions. Adolescence will eat her up and she will be embarrassed. I hope she becomes a tooth ache to her teachers in school, asking a mix of dumb-intelligent questions. Adolescence is a bitch. I hope hers will make her a genius. I hope it won’t kill her eloquence.
“No, it doesn’t,” I answered. “It doesn’t have anything to do with pigs.”
And she went back to her spaghetti.