For the next few weeks as we head into April, I will be discussing 'Palm Oil' to coincide with the 10th Anniversary of the end of the war in SL, along with Sierra Leone Independence. Think of the next month as The Palm Oil Month and we would love to get feedback on your views and the future.
As you already know, my debut novel is called 'The Palm Oil Stain', but this was not the first title the book was given. In fact, the title only came about when the book was almost finished. The first title for my book was 'Scars of Survival' but the editor said it was too...well, it wasnt literary enough as far as she was concerned. She liked to think the novel bordered on literary which was a complement to me.
The second title was 'Isolate' which is French for Isolated, as the story follows those displaced from war and describes their never-ending isolation. It turned out nobody was feeling that title either. Some said - it didnt jump out at them. So as time drew nearer to sort it out, I was at a loss and it started to become a nonesense. I began to get frustrated as most times I just want things to be over and done with. This is part of my personality, I tend to lose interest fast when something isnt happening. I cant stand dragging things out. I guess that's one of the reasons I havent packed all my bags and moved to Sierra Leone as yet.
A phone call in the evening to a friend to discuss the problem was in order. One of my friends discussed the fact that the title had to be something African that everyone could relate to. I thought of African Clothes...No.....African Music or songs.....to complicated....African food?
"What type of food? What does everyone eat?" My friend asked....we'll call her Mitzy for legal reasons. (You know Roots right?)
"Everyone eats foofoo."
"No...not everyone will relate to that. The West has to relate as well." - Mitzy wasnt feeling it.
"White people know foofoo."
"Naw, not enough of them do and besides there's no feeling..no emotion in it."
"Peanuts...groundnuts..ground nut stew? Bitter leaf....akara...you've had that. That's that banana thing with raising flour that we fry."
"Yes, but how is that related to Shalimar and the Rebels or to Shalimar falling in love with a psycho?" Mitzy is a script developer in real life, by the way.
"Aaah. This is doing my head in."
"Whats universal...to eat in West Africa...what can everyone relate to straight away?"
"We cook with Palm Oil?"
"That red shit that gives everyone high cholestrol and heart attacks?"
"Yeah. That's universal, they use it to make things and they eat it in East Asia. Everyone knows Palm Oil and everyone loves it."
"Good idea. So how do we relate it to your book?"
"Well, Palm Oil is the smell of mothers.... in West Africa. When you smell it you get nostalgic about your childhood, your culture, blah blah. It's used it to cook everyones favourite dishes. Shalimar's mother is a pain in the ass....erm...it's the ingredient of the nation. They cannot survive without it but at the same time...I suppose it does damage..to your clothes...to anything that it comes across...it's very difficult to get the stains out. It is also not healthy at times...."
Mitzy says" Call it The Palm Oil Stain."
Me "OMG. Thats it! The Palm Oil Stain. They need it...cant live without it, it's the very source of what it is to be West African but it also destroys through its stains.."
Mitzy "Whatever..... I gotta go feed my pickney. Chat later."
And that my friends, is how the title was born.