Metropole Magazine

Today's Weather: Abuja NG: Partly Cloudy, Day 360|Night 260

22 Oct Written by  Kimberly Ward

Abuja: Land of Milk and Honey

“But powdered milk is for babies,” my 15-year-old sister curled her lip in mild disgust. We were talking on Skype, she in England and I in Abuja.

“Well in Nigeria people put it in their tea and cereal,” I said. “There’s condensed milk too.”

“Urrgh! I tasted that at Imogen’s house once and it was horrible. Isn’t there any normal milk?”

“There is, but it doesn’t taste the same.”

For someone that refused to be breast-fed, it’s funny I should now long for ‘normal’ milk: pints of skimmed, semi-skimmed or whole fat milk in white plastic containers you buy at English supermarkets. We once had a milkman too. He’d leave three full glass bottles at our doorstep at 5am every morning and collect the empty ones from the day before, then drive off in his milk-float with the clinking of the empty bottles stacked in crates behind him echoing throughout the still-sleeping streets.

Milk-floats were what KekeNapeps reminded me of when I first arrived in Abuja, and at first milk was not something I missed about England. But after having to learn the art of diluting powdered milk to the right consistency, and discovering the tricks to piercing the rim of a milk tin on two opposite sides, I missed the simple pleasure of fresh, cold milk ready to drink at the twist of a cap.

And where refrigerated milk was an inexpensive staple available in almost every store in England, here it’s almost a luxury, available only in the larger supermarkets in Abuja at prices that seem too dear to be a daily indulgence for the average Nigerian. I remember the first time I saw boys hawking milk cartons in traffic, holding it aloft in large see-through bags filled with ice to keep it cold. I wondered if it would be past its use-by date, and whether it was imported from abroad or pasteurised in a Nigerian factory.

One thing I know that is freshest in Nigeria is honey; the thick, unadulterated honey that is deep-brown and sickly sweet complete with honey-comb fragments. You would never get honey so real in the UK; there it is thinner, lighter in complexion and lacking the fullness of taste like the honey here. And since honey is one food that never goes bad, it has become a staple in my fridge, as friends coming into town from northern Nigeria supply me with it in tiny white plastic cans with red tops. My love for Nigerian honey has become legendary as I drizzle it on bread, stir it into tea or lick dollops of it off a spoon.

I’ve swapped fresh milk for fresh honey, forfeiting a standard part of the British breakfast table for an exotic nectar that was an overlooked delicacy in London. Well, I never did like milk that much anyway.