By Anthony Awunor 

One important phase Ubulu Uku children pass through in their lifetime is the “Nni Aja” stage. “Nni aja” means mock food prepared with sand. Children within the age bracket of 3 to 10 practice it mostly and it used to be great fun cooking this kind of food on the streets at Ubulu. 

As a child, I engaged in such childhood activity heavily and am sure many members reading this piece also took part in the process. 

A tip of sand serves as the kitchen. In fact, sand represents many things in “nni aja” and that informed the choice of that name. 

Water may be put in a small container, say tomato tin or peak milk tin, which serves as the soup. Flowers plugged from trees serve as crayfish while stones and pieces of woods serve as fish. A small stick serves as the spoon. The food, per say, is made of sand and can be placed in any available container or even on the bare floor. It is also wrapped carefully with leaves and kept carefully in a container. The leaves Ubulu Uku children preferred most were “akwukwor akasi’ (cocoyam leaf), “akwukwor mkpokwukwa” and “akwukwor ogede” (plantain leaf).

Sometimes, privileged children steal balls of onion from their homes, only to slice it into these tins of water called soup. These onions when soaked in water used to leave us with bad odour, whenever we go to warm the food at the early hours of the following morning. Despite the bad smell, we still pretended as if we ate the leftover food. Salt, pepper, maggi and other condiments  are equally added.

 Although, fire is not involved in this type of cooking but the children, again, always pretended as if there was a burning fire. They set up sticks as firewood while they place the food on it with utmost care. Sometimes, they pretend as if they are blowing the fire; some even behave as if smoke from the fake fire reaches their eyeballs.

It takes a whole lot of time to prepare “nni aja”. Real food prepared in 45 minutes can be done in “nni aja” way in 2 hours because everything is pretentious. At the end of the preparation and when the food is done, the food is also eaten in “nni aja” way. If it is in the afternoon, they give the food to the sun but if it is in the night, they feed the moon. they do this by placing some lumps of sand and pointing it at the heavens. For their stomach, they place some lumps of sand, 3 inches from their lips and pretend as if they swallowed the sand. That is how they eat “nni aja”. They even drink water after that pretentious attitude.

In summary, everything about “nni aja” is all about pretense. Apart from that, it is one good way that prepares all Ubulu Uku children to master the art of cooking.

When next you see a badly cooked food, please call it “nni aja”

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