DECOCTION 01: Haruna Solomon

Elee Kraljii Gardiner/ September 4, 2021/ Interview, Poet

Elee Kraljii Gardiner interviews writers about their coffee and tea rituals in this special series for CAROUSEL

— the act or process of
boiling usually in water
so as to extract the flavour
or active principle.

“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.”

Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings

Elee Kraljii Gardiner: Haruna, you are a writer and also a medical student, which means you must be used to long hours. Do you rely on coffee or tea or another beverage to get you through?  

Haruna Solomon: Coffee is actually the beverage that comes top whenever I make a provisions list. I like tea as well. I usually go for coffee in the mornings and go about the day’s activities with sharpness — sitting through lectures, standing during ward rounds and subconsciously plotting stories or imagining something creative. Tea on the other hand is more of an evening drink for me. I go for it when I need to relax and quieten my sometimes hyperactive mind. Once I am well rested and up at night to read or write, I return to coffee. This is however not a strict routine. There is an indigenous beverage that I am crazy about — kunu. It is essentially made of ground guinea corn, ginger, groundnut and tiger nut. 

Will you walk me through your ideal / typical cup preparation? 

My pleasure. It usually begins with a pot of lukewarm water or hot water depending on the morning’s temperature. I make my coffee in the kitchen on the grey-coloured countertop. I set my mug on the platform and pour the brown coffee inside and mix it with white sugar. I then stir until there is some level of blending of the two colours. Making coffee for me is a subtle art of colours. I am very deliberate about the choice of mugs I make my coffee in — white or brown mug. There’s a beauty in seeing how the brown coffee contrasts sweetly against the white mug. A brown mug on the other hand makes it seem like the coffee and the mug are the same substance with different forms. After my coffee is ready, I retreat from the kitchen to my reading table where I sip slowly while flipping pages or pressing my phone.

Image of white mug filled with black coffee. Mug has image of two red roses with green stems on it and sits on a teal surface against a grey background.

Is your writing or reading linked with drinking coffee / tea? What book matches your drink?

Yes, they are. My writing especially.  If I am to choose a book that matches my morning coffee, then it would have to be Cyprian Ekwensi’s The Passport of Mallam Ilia or Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist. For my evening drink, Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God or Alice Walker’s The Color Purple is a perfect fit.

What’s one of your unforgettable coffee experiences, good, bad, or bizarre?

Ahh! I was ill-prepared for my professional 3rd MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) exams and so the night of the exams when I was crash reading, I decided to load myself with coffee while chewing on kolanut. I was doing everything to stay alert and motivated. After gulping down coffee and chewing kola nut and forcefully keeping my eyes from shutting, I passed out into a sound sleep. I woke in the morning looking at the mug like the coffee had betrayed me. I angrily spat out the particles of kolanut left in my mouth and committed the exams into God’s hand. Lol, since that day I knew that coffee doesn’t and would never do my work for me. 

Image of Helon Habila’s multi-coloured book Waiting for an Angel resting diagonally on a grey surface.

What are you reading? 

I am currently reading Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel

What has been preoccupying you about writing (your own or someone else’s) these days? 

I have been preoccupied about the struggles of women in the suburbs of Nigeria, especially Jos, the town where I’m from. When I was a little child, I witnessed firsthand how women come early in the morning everyday to break rocks with no machines but their hammers. I watched how they ate into hills of rocks over the years — till this day these women, who are now old, still break rocks to fend for their families. I have seen women run local brewhouses to sustain their families. This is however not a general experience for women here, some have beautiful jobs with supportive husbands. Perhaps it is such observations from my childhood that I carried into my adulthood that have raised such interest in womanhood. As a child also, I experienced a near-drowning as a result of fleeing from a religious crisis that claimed the lives of friends, families and loss of properties. I am preoccupied with the thought of freedom of expression and love — regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality or political ideologies. Hate is a potent venom that destroys the godliness of people.

Do you have a piece or paragraph from current work to share? 

Yes, I do. This is taken from chapter five of the manuscript Brewhouse Silhouette. I began writing poetry but I have recently moved into fiction. My meddling with fiction started after I lost all the poems I had saved on my phone. For some time I had a low mood and couldn’t find courage to write another poem yet I wanted to write so I thought, why not write something short that is not poetry? That was how I started writing short stories — after I had consumed a lot of stories by Anton Chekhov, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Lesly Nneka Arimah, Raymond Carver, Elnathan John and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. After writing several short stories, I decided to try out longer fiction and that was how I came about my first novel.

Mama slept all through Sunday mornings. She began skipping church when the Widows Offering was done and only ten thousand naira was raised, compared to the ninety-five thousand naira that was raised for our Pastor’s offering. Mama and nineteen other women were supposed to share it. She stopped going when the Women’s Fellowship members wouldn’t stop murmuring about her and her business. Their whispers persisted into loud gossip.

This Sunday as I lay down listening to the tunes from our church, I imagined the energetic performance of the New Life for All group in our church. I imagined them smartly dressed in their red shirts and black skirts and trousers. I missed their rhythmic, knee-to-chest, marching dance and the melody of the skin drum echoing in the ceiling-void auditorium. Their performance always reverberated in my head, my heart and every part of me. Noro was the lead singer of the group. I loved her raw, high-pitched voice that fell with perfect timing on the beats of the skin drum, the tulu, the xylophone and the kacha-kacha. The xylophone was my favourite instrument and in my opinion, the most beautiful musical item that would never be missing in heaven. The way it was constructed with bars of wood arranged atop varying hollows of cow horns and the mallets used to beat it was smart and sweet and divine.  

This series was prompted by a Twitter thread about adding bay leaf to coffee. Writers are delighted or vexed — no in-betweens! So, have you tried it?  

I have not tried it, however, I have added lime to my tea. I am thinking about adding honey to my coffee or mixing it with homemade ginger juice. A friend recently recommended adding lemon grass to my tea, which I will try. I’m a curious and experimental person; as such, if I can lay my hands on bay leaf, I will be delighted to add it to my coffee.

What’s happening next for you? 

I am working on a speculative fiction manuscript while collecting research information for a historical fiction manuscript. There are also a number of poems that I’m working on towards a collection. Then of course, I’m working towards graduating this year. I hope to pursue a residency in Psychiatry. It is a department I feel strongly about. I’m fascinated by the human mind and how beautiful it is restoring someone who has lost touch with reality to a normal state of mental being. I also dream of getting into an MFA program in Creative Writing.

Thank you for spending this time with me. I hope we get to drink something together soon!

The pleasure is mine, Elee. I will bring kunu while you bring “bay-leafed coffee.” Thanks once more, and thank you CAROUSEL for letting this to happen.

Elee Kraljii Gardiner is the author of two poetry books, Trauma Head (Anvil Press, 2018) and serpentine loop (Anvil Press, 2016), and editor of the anthologies Against Death: 35 Essays on Living (Anvil Press, 2019) and V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012). Originally from Boston, Elee lives on the traditional and unceded territories of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam Peoples, where she works at Vancouver Manuscript Intensive. More:
Headshot of Black man with short hair and moustache in blue t-shirt and beige coat against a grey background.
Haruna Solomon Binkam is a writer from Jos, Nigeria. He has been published in Afreecan Read, was runner up of the Abuja Literary Society short story competition 2016, was finalist of the VMI fellowship 2021 and was just named a Bada Murya Fellow with the support of the MacArthur Foundation. His work has been aired on radio several times, with one of his pieces as the theme poem for the Healthy Liver Initiative campaign. More on Twitter: @firstsonshine

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