‘A white casket without hinge or lid
Yet golden treasure inside is hid’
The answer is eggs, and this is a part of a riddle contest between two central characters in in the Hobbit, by J.R.R Tolkien…
They are ‘mayai’ in Kiswhili; ‘des ouefs’ in French; ‘amaqanda’ in Zulu, and ‘das Ei’ in German.
Italians exhort us, “non puntare tutto su una sola carta” which to my ear sounds much lovelier than the English version, – don’t put all your eggs in one basket – even though it omits the Italian term for eggs which is ‘uovu’, while apparently many of us think that getting egg on your face is embarrassing. But why eggs, for goodness’ sake?
Why not turn red because it’s salt- or pepper – or flour, suddenly and unexpectedly decorating your mush/visage/countenance?
Strange things, eggs. Chicken eggs, of course.
A central and crucial part of global diets.
In his book “Gulliver’s Travels, “ the satirist Jonathan Swift imagined a civil war in Lilliput between those who opened their boiled eggs at the larger end and those who attacked theirs from the smaller one. They called themselves, “Big-enders” and “little-enders”!
Which brings my musing to the crux of the matter.
How to effectively peel a boiled egg…
I googled it of course, and there are videos and helpful advice.
Which reminds me that for some strange and now forgotten reason my family went through a phase of calling eggs, googies.
The first task is of course to somehow pierce the shell.
My big brother once used my head for that purpose, rapping the egg sharply against my protesting bonce.
Anyway, my favourite advice was from the guy who uses a pin to put a hole in both ends, squeezes the shell with his hand between those two poles, and then, open sesame, magically the shell falls way neat and clean.
It hasn’t worked for me…
And here in North Rift, where battery farming is rare, removing the egg from its shell can be tiresome. The shell fragments into small pieces, and you can spend what seems like hours chipping away, all the time wishing you had the magic touch, and the shell would peel away in sensible pieces, and without removing some of the egg white with it.
Oh, the perils of perfectionism!
So this is the peripatetic background to a story I want to relate.
I was sitting in a bar in Eldoret.
It’s okay, gentle reader, you can relax, I was taking a soda, not sipping from the demon drink, when a street vendor ventured in, distracting me from giving partial attention to a EPL soccer match involving Tottenham Hotspur.
The vendor was more interesting.
Actually perhaps this is where we could have started this picaresque narrative.
A man walks into a bar in Eldoret, North Rift, Kenya.
He was carrying a black plastic bag in one hand, and a teaspoon in the other.
These plastic bags are everywhere, and very useful when it rains, as they can be popped over ones head to protect the weave and braids from the ravages of water.
He greets the bar tender, and is recognised, and ambles around the sparse guests, hawking his wares.
I am the only non-African there, and he first goes to the locals, but when I see what he has, I call him over.
He is selling boiled eggs.
In his bag he has many, and chumvi (salt) and sauce, red sauce, pili pili.
And he effortlessly dips one hand into the bag, whips out a spoon, raps the big end smartly, digs in the spoon, and peels the shell in two twists of his wrist.
And the egg tasted marvellous- so marvellous that I had to have another one. Yes, I wanted another, but the added bonus was to gape, awe struck at his dexterity.
There is no profound conclusion to be drawn from this tale, except that there are some people who acquire a skill while the majority of us remain maladroit fumblers.
How long might it take me to acquire his skill, if I hung out with him for a while?
I learned how to drive, how hard could it be?
But I have never seen him again.