February 21, 2014
The Market Bowl by Jim Averbeck
The Market Bowl
by Jim Averbeck
In the nation of Cameroon, Yoyo and Mama Cécile make their living selling bitterleaf stew in the marketplace. Each step in making the stew is important and Mama Cécile sings a song to keep everything on track.
“Slice the bitterleaf thin as a whisper.
Wash it in water, cleaning it well.
Grind the egusi (pumpkin seeds). Add a knuckle of njanga (dried shrimp).
Simmer some time for a fine stew to sell.”
The problem for Yoyo is that it takes so long to make bitterleaf stew Mama Cécile’s way. Wouldn’t it be better to hurry things along and get to the market earlier? Not surprisingly, Yoyo’s stew is lumpy and unappetizing, a face Averbeck emphasizes with circling flies.
When their last customer offers Yoyo much less for her stew than Mama Cécile always makes, Yoyo refuses his coins, thus cursing their market bowl. Because the market operates on a barter system, any fair price is accepted. Refuse a fair price and the people believe that Brother Coin will no longer bless their market bowl, the bowl in which buyers drop their coins.
Yoyo takes responsibility for what she has done and sets out to restore the blessing to Mama Cécile’s bowl. When she finds Brother Coin, he is a in a fowl mood and announces that he will grant no wishes that day. How can Yoyo trick him into restorying the luck to her Mama’s bowl?
Averbeck worked as a Peace Corp volunteer in Cameroon and his experiences obviously color this tale, bringing life in the market into clear focus for young readers. In the back of the book, he even gives a recipe for the stew, subtituting spinach or kale for the bitterleaf, also known as ironweed. Because the stew is tricky to make well, an accomplished cook would be able to make a fair amount in the market place.
This story is complex enough to engage slightly older readers but would also make a fun story time book. Just be ready for plenty of discussion on how your listeners would try to fool Brother Coin.