WORDS to EAT by: The Summons

I stare at the email in my inbox for the 1000th time. From HR:

Dear Ms Nz,
Your presence is required in my office at 11am tomorrow morning.
J Edgar Hoover
Head, HR

What have I done? I have only been working at Fitz Bannon & Indigo (FBI) for 3 months. I work as a data analyst which is really fancy speak for data entry. I really do not mind though. I am grateful to have a job.

I have a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. After the mandatory youth service year, I spent 3 years at home without a job before starting at Accenture working with the strategy team. At first, all I did was make photocopies of documents, sit quietly in meetings, take notes and prepare presentations. After a few months, I started working on client projects with the rest of the team and I was so happy. Sort of happy. After working there for 2 years and earning what was considered above average pay, I had no car, I was living with relatives who found my presence unwanted, and I had no savings to speak of.

I was restless and concerned about my future. Nigeria did not seem to be getting her act in order and I was tired all the time. I woke up very early and got home very late every day. I worked on weekends and public holidays and barely had any time for myself. In the middle of all of this disquiet, my team lead called me into her office on a rainy Monday morning and changed my life. She said an oil company we did some work for announced a scholarship program for bright lights. The full scholarship was for an MBA program at a university in Canada. Tuition, accommodation and a small allowance for the duration of the program. She said she nominated me to apply – my potential and all that. To say I was shocked is understating things.

I spent over 2 weeks preparing my application materials and sent it off. After a month of waiting and biting my fingernails, I got a reply. I was accepted. I had only a few months to get ready to leave Nigeria to make it for the new school year. I left Nigeria in August and started school 2 weeks later.

I braved the cold, intense classes and homework. The only homesickness I felt was about food. I missed Nigerian food especially my favourite yam and sauce. When I found familiar ingredients in Mexican, Asian and African, I was ecstatic. I was able to save money by cooking my own meals and got my MBA on time. Before I got a chance to start to worry about the next steps, a job fair came to my school. I was one of the few students in my class that had a job to start after graduation and I felt like my life was on track.

Now this email.

I run every single workday in my mind. I am so scared. Have I looked at anyone the wrong way? Have I forgotten to finish some tasks? I keep to myself. I really do not have too many work friends yet. I cook my meals and bring my lunch to work and have it in the lunchroom. I smile when required. What on earth is this about?


I walk into the head of HR’s office and I see two of my co-workers there as well.
I pause.

‘Come on in and have a seat’ J Edgar Hoover is smiling.

That’s a good sign, I think.
I have a seat. I notice my co-workers looking everywhere but at me.
Haaaaaaa. This must be bad. What have I done? I cannot afford to lose this job.

‘We have had some complaints from the people on your floor’ J Edgar starts.

‘Really? Complaints about what Sir?’

‘Well, I do not want to offend you but after receiving this 30th complaint, it is best I discuss this with you. Let’s see if we can find some middle ground’

’30 complaints?’ I ask

‘Well yes. The complaints started the week you began here’

What in the world?

‘See Ms Nz, The complaints are about the meals you bring in to work. The complaints say that your meals have very strong smells you see. The smells spread all over the office floor. Some of the complaints say that meals heated up in the microwave after you use it take on these interesting smells making them inedible. The reason we are here is to see how we can come to a compromise regarding this issue. Would you consider having the meals we offer at the cafeteria? Or consider bringing in meals that are less intensely fragrant?

Wow!!! I think about the meals I bring to work to save money. My yam and mackerel sauce. My eba and efo riro, my palm oil native rice. My moin moin with boiled eggs inside.


Mackerel Sauce

To prepare 4 portions, you will need:

• ½ cup palm oil
• 1 medium red onion – chopped
• 1 stock cube
• 3 large tomatoes – chopped
• 1 scotch bonnet or habanero pepper – chopped into small bits
• 1/2 teaspoon tomato paste
• 1 fresh mackerel fish. Head and bones removed and cut into chunks
• 6 African basil leaves (scent leaf)



• Heat palm oil in a medium pot on high heat until oil begins to smoke – about 5 minutes
• Add onions and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Turn heat to medium and add stock cube. Cook for 2 minutes
• Add tomatoes and pepper and stir. Cook for 3 minutes, add the tomato paste and stir well
• Add the fish pieces and stir to coat the fish evenly. Turn the heat to low and cover pot. Cook for 5 minutes and stir again. Do not be afraid let the fish go to pieces.
• Tear the African basil into pieces and add to the pot. Stir, cover pot and cook until fish is ready. This should take another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and serve.
I use salt sparingly in my cooking so feel free to add some to the sauce if you prefer. This sauce can also be served with white rice or boiled beans.


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About Author / Uzo Orimalade

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