FEATURE ARTICLE

Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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HOW DO YOU EAT?

he Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English simply defines eat as "to put food in your mouth and swallow it." In other words the food must enter the mouth and then be swallowed. If it enters the mouth and remains there, then it has not been eaten. The swallowed food goes into the stomach through a large tube called esophagus. Then the process of digestion begins. Indigestion is the inability of the swallowed food to dissolve. This is purely a digestive problem which needs serious medical attention. During digestion the body absorbs the required quantity and quality of the food. The unused ones are excreted through the anus.

Biologically speaking, we eat to live. It is an obnoxious statement to say that we live to eat. Those who eat to live have great ambition in life. On the other hand, those who live to eat are normally hopeless. What of you? Do you eat to live or you live to eat?

The inability to eat is known as loss of appetite. This normally happens during sickness. As a cure to it, the patient is given multivitamin tablets. Loss of appetite is a gain for those who have appetite. If you are looking after a sick person who lost appetite, you smile graciously as long as the sickness lasts. When the sick person regains appetite, he or she grieves over the missed delicious foods.

To state the obvious, I am just clearing the bush where am about to cultivate my intellectual crop today. Every question has a definite context. It happened that I casually visited my senior colleague in the Lord's vineyard few days ago. He was enjoying small bottle of cold stout in order to cool his tensed brain. He asked his clerk to offer me the same cold bitter alcoholic drink. I objected. Instead I asked for a cold bottled water to cool my warm body due to the day's hot weather.

After exchanging pleasantries, my senior host who is aware of the poor living condition of my pastoral place of assignment and the harsh living condition in the country asked, "How do you eat?" This question is very simple but hard to be given a definite answer. I smiled like a drowning person and replied, "Father, the hunger that kills a rich man buries a poor man alive. Indeed I eat from hand to mouth. Also I have no eating timetable anymore. I eat whatever is available." He sighed and said in Igbo, "Ka o di be oke ka o di be ogini." This means that everybody including himself suffers the same hunger bite in Nigeria of today. His office is full of academic books while his kitchen has little stock of food items. If books were edible, he has no cause for alarm. From there I visualized my own kitchen and laughed hopelessly.

The spirit of the Gospel of Christ took me to Saint Theresa's Parish Ichida in Anaocha Local Government of Anambra State on Sunday, being seventh Sunday of Easter and 12th day of May 2024, where I officiated at Eucharistic celebration. During the homily I looked pitifully at the downcast faces of the congregants and asked them, "How do you eat in this time of renewed hardship?" They sighed and chorused simultaneously, "Father, we are managing!" Ironically I expressed, "So you all are now managers of hunger!" They laughed. I encouraged them not to despair because there is hope in hopelessness. They shouted, "Amen!!!" The sermon a hungry person understands is food on the table. A healthy body in a sound soul is very essential. I encouraged them to eat anything that is available because the stomach does not display its contents. After this I delved into the day's Gospel message.

Making a timetable for eating in the present economic crunch is useless. As a little boy during the Nigeria - Biafra civil war, we were tortured with food blockade into Biafran land by the Nigeria Government. Consequently we ate lizards, rats and grasshoppers as protein supplements. It is a pity that the rats of this present time are distributors of Lassa fever. In those days of war hardship and lack of food, most Biafran children suffered from a deadly disease called kwashiorkor. If the disease reappears today, it will affect both children and adults in Nigeria. An ignorant and stupid young man in my area goes by the nickname Kwashiorkor due to his skinny body. If he experiences the terrible disease, he would quickly renounce the nickname. Indeed ignorance is a disease.

The prevalent curable and incurable disease in Nigeria today is hunger. The people are hungry. It is written boldly on their faces. A hungry person is an angry person. Hunger combined with anger is very disastrous. The efficacious remedy to hunger is food on the table. Once a hungry person eats, he becomes happy. Happiness dispels anger. You can be angry as well as hungry; but you cannot be happy and angry at the same time.

The inflation rate in the country presently is very high. If you go into the market, you come out with tears. The huge amount of money in your pocket purchases only few foodstuffs. The cost of essential food items is excruciating. Last week my cook came home from the market wailing. I nearly sent her packing because of the little quantity of meat she bought at twenty thousand naira. The next time I went into the market to buy the same amount of meat. Sadly I came home and apologized to her. Before accepting my apology she cried profusely due to the suspicion I imposed on her earlier.

Few days ago while at lunch table I drank sachet water popularly called pure water. Surprisingly my two houseboys came up and started laughing. Confusedly I asked them, "Why are you laughing?" They answered with one voice: "Father, why did you descend so low in drinking common sachet water instead of bottled water?" I told them boldly in Igbo, "Umu m, nwa agwo n'azu amaghi na ije bu oru." This literally means that a child being carried at the back does not know that walking is difficult. Also I told them this Igbo proverb: "Onye mkpumkpu anaghi ekowe akpa ya ebe ka ya elu." This means that a short man does not hang his bag very high. It is harsh condition that made the crayfish to bend. I can no longer afford bottled water due to its high cost. The two boys laughed sarcastically. I shouted, "Common get out, stupid boys!" They walked away amusedly.

As a concerned citizen, I appeal to my fellow hungry Nigerians to practice what we call in economics "Priority of Values." All necessary things should be done first while the less necessary should wait or be jettisoned. Three days ago I casually went into the house of one of my parishioners and saw him eating a mountain of pounded cassava and watery soup without meat. Frequently he licked his fingers down to his right elbow because of the watery soup. I shook my head. Immediately he understood my gesture and promptly said, "Father, do not wonder. It is better to eat food without meat and be satisfied than to include eat meat and go hungry. The watery soup is the stark reality of the renewed hardship in this country. If you don't mind, sit down and enjoy with me because hunger has no respect." With false smile I responded, "My brother, you are right. Satisfaction is preferable to dissatisfaction. Half bread is better than none." He laughed in the midst of an extraordinary ball of the pounded cassava still rolling inside his mouth. Then he swallowed it with force. The sound I heard from his stomach is 'gbiim!!'