SO WHAT IF I CAN’T COOK? We many times wonder why the male folk and the older generation blow the cooking thing a little out of proportion, especially when a grown up Nigerian female cannot cook. Cooking, like swimming, driving and other recreational activities is a skill that can be acquired via a learning process and perfected by regular practice; one does not learn to drive or ride a bike without interest. So, what if I have other interests besides cooking? I could be a good hairdresser, fashion designer, or even an event manager or interior decorator. I could know how to keep a home, clean, scrub, organize but I just can’t cook. What’s the great deal? After all, many of those who actually cook don’t cook anything digestible. Is it just about cooking or cooking something eatable and ‘stomachable’? I know ladies who can cook well but can’t do anything else. They are untidy, disorganized, they don’t like kids; some are shopaholics, career crazy, politics driven, overly ambitious, extravagant, materialistic, arrogant, condescending, rude, bullies, and all the sorts you can think of; but my only offence is that I’m an African lady who lives in Nigeria and can’t cook. This is my only imperfection. So what if I can’t cook? After all, most American and European girls my age have never been into a kitchen before, not to speak of the ‘firewood-infested, smoke-ridden hut’ at the back of the house that I’m expected to learn how to cook in. Why can’t the world get it? Cooking is not just my thing. I’m sick of all these wife material standards. Why must cooking crown the list? It is not my selling point jor! I have other strengths. Let my future husband appreciate me for who I am not what I can cook!

Hmmmm, so EVERYTHING if you can’t cook! Let me tell you a story: once upon a time when we all could not cook, we despised the kitchen. We cried while chopping onions, sneezed while slicing peppers and generally had a tough time lifting the pestle. We missed our favourite TV dramas and movies to sit by the kerosene stove or fan the smoke blinding firewood cooker. Sometimes we sliced our fingers along with vegetables. Many times, we forgot to thoroughly wash the peppers off our hands before scratching our eyes and using the bathroom. It wasn’t easy learning how to cook but like mathematics and other prerequisites, we had to scale through with at least a credit. Students take the Senior Certificate Examination over and over again until they have at worst a pass in mathematics and English. They do this with zest and are determined to get into a university or some tertiary institution; but when it comes to cooking, it becomes an elective. Sometimes, I wonder if cooking is as difficult as it is made to appear. Is cooking not easier than mathematics? Come on ladies, there’s a reason why women have been cooking from time immemorial. Yes, I know everyone should know how to cook, whether male or female. But haven’t you noticed that on the average, women cook better than men? It is the feminine touch they put into the art. We are natural homemakers and the number one role of a homemaker is to ensure the survival of the people in a home by keeping their bellies alive. Yes, man shall not live by bread alone but husbands cannot fast all the days of their lives, neither can your children live on breast milk and indomie alone, nor your in-laws be entertained with burgers and suya all the days of their visit!

Wake up girls there’s not enough excuse to starve yourself, your husband and innocent children all because we live in the twenty-first century. Develop an interest in cooking and kitchen activities. Personalize it as a goal you need to achieve before you’re twenty-one. And if you’re above, it is not the end of the world. Get acquainted with the stove and gas cookers for starters. Sit with your mum or whoever cooks in your house. Practice by attempting to cook for yourself. After a while, cook for two or three. Ask for sincere opinions, don’t feel terrible after a great flop after all cooking is a skill and some would definitely be better than others. Aspire to be better every day. Forget about the continental and cross-country dishes for now. Begin with jollof rice and spaghetti. Later, you can expand to fried, coconut and braised. Practice simple egusi and okro soups before daring ofeowerri and vegetable specialties. Learn to bake something and consider pounding something other than crayfish and pepper. I mean, attempt pounding yam! You need to have more than just an idea about cooking. Leave all that theory, internet browsing, and Indomie 101 and start the practical courses. It is just cooking. It is not such a great deal, is it? Learn now to be the perfect wife and mother. Leave no loopholes in your marriage and stigmatise not your innocent mother who cooked and is still cooking. Even if your marriage is breaking up, let it not be on account of your husband’s constant purging. There’s really no excuse. Even your American mothers cook and clean for the record. Imitate your mother because you’re most likely going to be having Nigerian in-laws, friends, colleagues and male children who like Nigerian ‘real’ food!

Most men reading this now are smiling with a patronizing ‘tell them, tell them’; but if you are a real man you will have your corner in the kitchen. Yes, this is the 21st century and the rigid matrimonial division of labour no longer applies. The era of ‘Daddy in the parlour watching film’ has passed. Today, most women go out to help with daily bread; love is reciprocal, you too must help in the preparation of food. You think you can’t cook? Well, roll your sleeves! Cooking, I have said is a skill; everyone can learn it, and you don’t cook with the mammalian glands!

##Chika studied Literature in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. She was assistant editor, English Department and currently writes a column for the Olive Magazine.