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Millicent The Magic-Making Cook

I’m not going to lie: it’s a little scary to walk through a pitch dark, packed market, lit by only tiny flickering gas candles, pursued everywhere by the ghostly yell: Yavoo! Yavoo! White woman!

Luckily, I had Millicent’s warm hand on my arm as we wove through the shadowy stalls to buy her ingredients for the week.

When you live or travel in a country far less expensive than your own, you will likely have a once in a lifetime opportunity: a wonderful woman to cook every meal for you.

It feels rather strange and guilt-inducing at first. “Wait,” you’ll say to yourself, “I’m an adult! Shouldn’t I cook for myself?” But the truth is: many local folks need jobs, these folks can cook the country’s delicious food a whole lot better than you can, and finally, locals are far more skilled at using funds cost-effectively at the market. And in my case: no one wants to eat your freaking apple veggie stir-fry, you weirdo.

And thus we at the YCC Guesthouse are lucky enough to have magnificent Millicent, hired just three days after my arrival, to whip up banku, fufu, and other amazing Ghanaian delights at every meal.

“It’s not easy,” Millicent murmured as we trudged along with dirt road to the guesthouse with the heavy bags from the market.

We had not even bought all the supplies on her list (“Ahhh, we are late! All the people are leaving the market!” Millicent exclaimed upon our arrival), and yet the two massive yams and four mangoes dangling in plastic from my arms felt denser than boulders.

How would this woman have carried the full grocery list the mile home if I hadn’t randomly decided to come along? Answer: she just does it, and she does it nearly every day.

I have such admiration for the women who cook traditional Ghanaian food. It seems every dish takes at least two hours, minimum, not even counting shopping time.

Each succulent delicacy requires the chopping, frying, mixing, boiling, and steaming of at least ten different ingredients, some of which become so thoroughly stewed that you don’t even realize until you’re done scarfing it down that there was, for example, a whole tin of canned fish incorporated into your bowl of red happiness.

Pictured on the right side are two more Ghanaian dishes in my ever-expanding list of foods I’m becoming addicted to.

In the upper right is gari fortor: fluffy ground cassava (sort of between a cous cous and Thanksgiving stuffing texture… mmm!) mixed with vegetables and oil and sometimes fish. It is eaten by sticking the hand in and pulling out a yummy clump… which I only realized after inhaling the whole bowl with a spoon and then looking up to see everyone else at the table wrist-deep in it and staring at me with disdain.

To the lower right is omu tuo, or ground nut soup and rice balls. Using a similar method to banku, you eat it by pinching off some of the mass of rice with your fingers and swizzling it around in the delicious peanut, meat, and vegetable broth before slurping it blissfully into your mouth.

In the bowl pictured here, the meat is goat (ooo– I can hear one outside right now crying in protest!) and the oval shape is a tiny eggplant.

And now my favorite two Millicent quotes of the week…

The first…

Me: I’m going to Accra today with John for supplies, so don’t cook anything good for lunch while I’m away pleeeease!

Millicent: Take your phone with you.

Me: Why?

Millicent: So I can send your lunch through the phone.

The second…

Volunteer: Sorry, I couldn’t finish this dinner. I’m full.

Millicent: YOU’RE NOT FULL– YOU’RE LAZY. LAZY EATER!

Thank you, Millicent, for the miracles you perform each day through your hard work! They are deeply, deeply appreciated.

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