Monday, February 20, 2017


The whole family gathers at her house most Sundays afternoon - her children and their spouses, her grandchildren, some cousins, and sometimes even a neighbor or two.

We - Julien, Angèle, the kids, and I - come from church a couple blocks away.  One of the uncles and a few of the kids are out in the courtyard when we arrive.  We exchange greetings.

The smell of food wafts out from the kitchen where Rosa, the youngest aunt, is overseeing the noon meal preparations.  Today it's mafé, which makes me immensely happy.  I could eat that every week and not get tired of it.

We greet the family in the sitting area - a kind of inside courtyard - before going into the living room to greet Angèle's grandma.

She's sitting in her usual spot, on the couch facing the TV.

The years have etched their lines in her face, and somewhere in her dark eyes, you can read a tale of loss.  She's buried a husband, at least one sister, and now a daughter.  Life has dealt her a hard hand, but she never gives the slightest indication of bitterness.  She seems instead a mixture of resignation, grief, and silent stability.

I lean down and kiss her on each cheek, asking how her health is. 

She pats the couch next to her, wanting me to sit there, at least for a little bit.  She asks me how I'm doing, if the weather is too hot for me, if I hear any news from my family in California.

Her voice is low, kind.  It's normal to ask about someone's health, their family, their news.  But with her, I know it's more than mere politeness.  She cares.

I look over at Grand-mère and realize how wonderful it is that she's taken me in.  How this whole family has taken me in and loved me and given me the gift of belonging.

It's beautiful.  Just like that face framed by the starched white scarf and lined with age.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Lamine, the Tailor

In Senegal, holidays almost always mean new outfits.

Easter is coming, so Angèle calls Lamine, a tailor she knows.  He comes to the house one evening.

Angèle and I page through the dozen or so catalogs he's brought with him, while he sits almost shyly nearby.  I'm beginning to learn who wears what styles - and when.  But even so, the possibilities left for me are nearly endless.  It's overwhelming, so I look to Angèle for advice.

She thinks I should go all out (this is Easter, after all).  Fancy ruffles, embroidery, little sequins.  I've never worn an outfit remotely like that before, but it's festive, very Senegalese, and she likes it.  I figure that's a safe basis for the decision, so I tell him what I want.  He looks at the gray basin fabric and asks what color I'd like for the embroidery.  Again I look to Angèle.

Pink, she says.  I nod in agreement, letting her taste in clothing shape my own.

It's her turn.  She shows him a drapey satin sort of fabric and explains what she wants.  He takes our measurements, talking to Angèle in Wolof.

He slides the stack of catalogs into his backpack and stands to leave.  We give him a partial payment - une avance - and thank him for coming.

Next week, he says, he'll have our outfits ready.  Angèle seems as excited about my outfit as she is for her own.  "He does beautiful work, you'll see.  You'll like it," she says.

I laughingly remind her that Lamine made my Christmas dress (a much simpler outfit)...and most of the outfits she wears to church.

I'm confident in his talent.

Monday, February 13, 2017

To...the Flavors of Senegal

The very first time I went over Angèle's, she handed me this little recipe book and encouraged me to browse through while she got lunch ready.  When I moved back to the States, she gave me that book to take with me.  Every time I see it on my counter, my mouth inevitably starts to water.

Allow me to give you a sampler of the flavors I encountered (and grew to love).

Petit-déjeuner (breakfast):
Coffee (of the instant variety) or hot milk (from milk powder)
Baguette with a dozen different topping possibilities...chocolate peanut butter spread, spreadable cheese, butter, onion sauce, tuna with mayonnaise, fried or hard boiled eggs, leftovers, akara (little fritters made from beans), lightly-sauced vermicelli, saucy beans.  And more.

My favorites were onion sauce and akara.  I could eat them every day and not get tired of them.  (Actually, that's pretty much what I did last time I was there.  I never dreamed I could be so excited about spicy onion sauce every morning, but my word... And my mouth is watering again.) 

Déjeuner/repas (lunch):
In the home, this was almost always a rice dish.

Yassa is an onion-mustard-lemon sauce with chicken or fish served over white rice.
Mafé is a peanut-tomato sauce with chunks of beef and vegetables (cabbage, carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, eggplant) served over white rice.
Chebu jen is stewed fish and vegetables served over rice.  The rice is cooked in the broth that the dish and vegetables were cooked.  There's a "white" version and a "red" version - the red version is made with tomato paste.
Chebu yapp is a similar dish, chunks of beef stewed in a broth, then served over rice that has been cooked in the same broth.  Tomatoes and cucumbers with a vinaigrette are usually sprinkled over top.
Chebu guinaar is essentially just a chicken version of chebu yapp(Guinaar means chicken.)

My favorite - as you may know already - is mafé.  Not only is it my favorite Senegalese dish, it's only of my top favorite foods of all time.  Right up there with beef enchiladas (specifically Mom's), homemade pizza, shrimp fajitas, and fudgy, chewy, cakey brownies.

Dîner (dinner):
Usually lighter than lunch, and almost always accompanied by baguettes.

Grilled fish, french fries, and crudités (marinated sliced tomatoes and cucumbers)
Nyebe (beans cooked in a tomato sauce)
Thiakry (couscous pudding)
Ragoût (sauce with meat)

My favorite is probably the grilled fish dinner.  Angèle makes the most amazing marinade for her fish and then grills it to perfection.

Okay, I'll stop.  I'm officially way too hungry.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Auntie Corner

The cuteness of these little humans is just too much.

Was it a smoothie?  Chocolate milk?

Whatever is was, he loved it!

(And what a doozie of a mustache he got...)

Jonah-boy.  He's grown so much since that tiny preemie in September.  Just look at those sweet, chubby cheeks.

Kai is so into dump trucks right now.  And trucks.  And actually just anything with wheels.

 She's the sweetest little cupcake around!

I wish I knew what she was thinking here.  She looks mischievous already, doesn't she?

Be still, my heart.

Oh, I love that cheesy smile with every ounce of my being.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Rain, Fog, and Ice {And Life}

We've had a disappointingly small amount of snow so far this winter.  Disappointing, at least, for me.

Life has more or less settled into a routine now - work and church and social things.

I'm thankful.

Thankful to have been starting this semester from a much better place mentally and physically.  Thankful for the prayers the Lord has answered.  Thankful for little victories and new opportunities.  Thankful for daily grace.

I'm not going to be naive and think that 2017 will be all smooth sailing and easy and auto-pilot-y.

The Lord is not hands-off with His children, and I know He will continue the work He started in my life.  Which means stretching and reminders and difficulty.  That's how growth happens.

And it's painful sometimes.

Still, looking at the year, I'm hopeful, because I've gotten to know His heart just a bit more, and here's my confidence:

He is good.

And that is enough.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

After-Dinner Tea

We've finished cleaning up, Angèle and I.  Julien has torn himself away from the soccer match long enough to retrieve the tiny charcoal stove from the bedroom.

He sets it on the living room floor and gathers up the tea-making supplies.  We Fayes love our tea - any and all kinds.

"Which tea should we make tonight?"  It's always our question.  Julien has tea from Kenya, tea his boss has given him, tea from other places he's traveled.  I, for my part, try to find good deals on tea whenever I shop.  There's a nice collection in that drawer under the TV.

Tonight we settle on a berry tea.  Fruits rouges, it's called in French (literally "red fruits").

Julien fills up the flowered teakettle with water from the drip filter in the kitchen.  He brings the canister of sugar, three spoons, and three cups back.

The water boils.  He pours into each of the teacups while Angèle and I fend off little hands wanting to be in on the action.  No matter how many times we tell them it's hot, they seem to forget in their excitement.

We stir in spoonfuls of sugar and watch the tiny whirlpools in the cups.  It's too hot to drink right now, but the smell alone is enjoyable.

He returns the box of tea to the drawer, carries the sugar canister back, and rakes the ashes over the coals.

The tea cools to a more reasonable temperature.  We watch TV and enjoy our tea down to the last drop.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Radio Station Musings

African Essentials.  It's a Pandora station in my favorites.  It plays...often.

I've learned to notice and appreciate the differences between the music from different regions of Africa.  The beats, the instruments, the accents, the feel.  When I hear a new song, I lean over to the computer to see where the artist came from.  I just find it fascinating to hear how geography influences the style of music across such a vast continent.

But when a Senegalese song comes on, it feels instantly familiar and homey.

It makes me think of Julien and Angèle and language sessions and parties in the neighborhood.  Of sun and grilled meat and people all dressed up.  Of Orange promotions and taxi rides and little food stands.

And I'm thankful for what those memories represent.

You guys, it was hard.

I didn't always like it.

But God was break-takingly faithful during those years.  I saw His hand then, and I see it even more clearly now that I look back at that time.

Walking with Him through that was worth it.  Walking with Him is always worth it, even when the path doesn't take you where you thought it would.

Let's not forget where we've been.  Let's remember with gratefulness the life experiences that have shaped and changed and grown us.  And most of all - let's remember the One who was, is, will forever be by our sides.