Lately, I catch myself sitting by the window staring into space like something out of a 2000s R&B music video, reminiscing over the things I’ve come to miss in this dragged lockdown. I daydream of the too-early shrieks and whispers at the beginning of a packed concert. I think back to scrutinising the bartender’s hands mixing up a whisky sour, like a magic trick you can’t afford to miss. The feeling of entering the safe haven of the girls’ toilets, and then leaving with two new Instagram followers and a compliment in the back pocket.
Yet, as we find ourselves at the anniversary of the UK’s first national lockdown, I’m called back to plantain.
The versatile starchy fruit, home to nearly every non-white country on this earth looks like an everyday banana, but holds all the power an ordinary banana could never. Adaptable to a filling breakfast, a side dish or a cheeky snack. Baked, fried, boiled (I highly discourage the latter) – its range unimaginable. Its chokehold on my people with its unresolved pronunciation prompting annual diaspora wars on the timeline. ‘Plan-tain’ or ‘Plan-tin’? We will never know.
The imported goods displayed at the markets scattered across London are easy to find. Displayed like Rolex watches in eye-shot of bypassers, tagged with signs screaming “3 FOR A POUND” in black sharpie. However, whilst self-isolating during the lockdown I’ve been left without my favourite delights for nearly a year.
“The versatile starchy fruit home to nearly every non-white country on this earth, that looks like an everyday banana, but holds all the power an ordinary banana could never.”
I recall the countless times my Mum would be mourning the loss of some of her favourite childhood foods from back home, her eyes glistening whilst she talked of mandazi and sugarcane in Uganda, that I could never quite get a grab of. With the outdoors out of bounds, I found myself yearning to be digging through a box of bruised plantain, wrestling my way to the bottom in search of that very untouched one calling my name.
I miss walking into a kitchen with steamed windows and spitting oil, a big smile spread across my face. My tongue baptised by the honeyed juice, eagerly bouncing off the walls of my gums, always way too hot to eat. Nothing else compares to it.
Never am I not reminded of my first introduction to the plant. The story is relayed to me like a tale of triumph. Between the age of 2-3, I had difficulties with eating, what is known as infantile anorexia nervosa. Luckily I don’t hold many memories of that time but I have what others tell me. After failed force-feeding, relentless practices and doctors visits, it was explained my eating difficulties were something I had adopted from my mum. Caught up in her deteriorating mental health, combined with the struggles of first-time single parenthood, the eating issues my mum assumed primarily belonged to me were evoked from her battle with depression.
“I found myself yearning to be digging through a box of bruised plantain, wrestling my way to the bottom in search of that untouched one calling my name.”
A family friend that was staying with us shortly acquainted me with this unknown new thing that at first glance looked like your everyday banana, but came to be known as everything and more. Unexpectedly, lured in by its bronzed glimmer I took a grab of plantain off her plate, led by a second and a third. The gasps followed by screams that rolled through the house still linger, rushing to share the good news to Mum of this new-found wonder. It was the first time I began eating again. Was plantain the cure? Most likely not. Nevertheless, it did not deter my mum from hurrying off to the market that very moment, returning with a box of plantain sat firmly on her shoulder just for me.
Needless to say, our eating struggles were not ones that magically disappeared overnight due to the simple bite of plantain. It was followed by the prioritisation of Mum’s health where we both found gradual recovery. Regardless, I can’t lose sight of the role plantain has played in my life. When I found myself crouched in bed rocking with a stomach-ache, unable to keep anything down, I’m soothed by a bowl of plantain shoved in my face. Or when I’m broken-hearted at yet another episode of a woman in tears over a man who won’t commit to their 30-day marriage on Married at First Sight, I know there’s fried plantain waiting for me.
“I’ve come to understand that it’s not merely the taste I burn for, but what it has come to represent for me.”
When I hear my Mum’s stories of my first bite of plantain, I recognise it as somewhat a point of breakthrough and hope during that time of our life. It’s a hope that I earnestly seek now aged 22, thrown head-first into a global pandemic. To some, the reach for the blackened thick skin of a plantain may just be an empty craving. But I’ve come to understand that it’s not merely the taste I burn for, but what it has come to represent for me.
Sealed within the same four walls that I’ve become all too familiarised with for my liking, and struggling to find my bearings in this new norm of life – I’m on a desperate quest for a breakthrough. Despite it, I’m not left with much to work with, so for now, the sweet comfort of a plate of plantain will do me nicely.
Melissa Kasule is a freelance journalist from London often writing about music, TV & film and social media. @melxkas
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