A typical evening chez nous…. + spagetti!

To follow up on last week’s blog post, I feel obliged to share a few basil-related updates.

Firstly, it turns out that the basil is also an essential ingredient of the tea that my host mother brews daily to assuage her headaches. Its a mix of kenkeliba leaves, basil and mint (and a lot of sugar) and it is quite delicious, as I discovered last night after a very satisfying meal of pasta, a l’italien! Not knowing that my host mother had fried some fish for me, I asked if it would be ok if I cooked for myself this evening. I was afraid it would be too late to buy vegetables since it was almost dark, but its never too late when your neighbor is the one who sells them to you, or when the boutique you buy groceries from is just around the corner. So I ventured across the street into another home – Assalam Malekum, Malekum Salaam ecc. – and asked for Madame Diop, and some vegetables. I didn’t have enough weccit (change) at the time, but, grawul (no worries); I took my two tomatoes, eggplant and carrot and returned later to deliver the weccit. I like the way food is bought here daily, in small quantities (for example, I can run around the corner with my baguette and ask for the shop owner to spread some chocolate on it for 50 cfa) often from your good friend around the corner. My host mother recieves many visits daily of other friendly women which generally involve a discreet exchange of money or a bucket of fish. In Sebikotane, one of our assignments will be to investigate women’s organizations, and so I hope to find out more about these relationships in Dakar before I leave.

About an hour later I had produced by bowl of steaming spaghetti, in a light veggie-basil sauce, I sat down to eat and was soon joined by an audience, and little Maj reaching her hands into my plate. Maj’s mother Joor does not ever hesitate to tell her off, but of all “inappropriate” things that that little girl does, this would not quite be considered one of them. Sticking your hand into someone else’s bowl of food would not necessarily fall under the category of rude here. In fact, if I am eating a solitary meal, or even a snack, it is my responsibility to invite every passerby to join me. Even if they refuse (which most people do, with a simple ‘bon appetit’), it is my job to ask.

As for the remainder of my large bowl of spaghetti, I distributed little taste-size dishes to various people around the house. The best part was watching Joor and her daughter Maj sharing their little portion. In a place where table manners are less prevalent (or at least you have to be polite about different things) spaghetti is really fun to eat. I will never forget mother and daughter dangling long strands of pasta above eachother’s mouths and slurping them up gleefully.

After dinner and tea we went for a walk to visit the tailor around the corner where we looked through magazines, looking at examples of intricate boubous in anticipation of Tabaski (a religious holiday) in late November. Later still Deborah (the other American student also staying with my family) and I quizzed twelve-year-old Amadou on English verbs, and then insisted that he quiz us on Wolof verbs. “You are very intelligent, massallah” he says afterward. Massallah, a phrase to protect from the bad spirits who will turn your good fortune into bad. The Senegalese believe it is bad luck to compliment each other, without a preventative “massallah.”

It was a very enjoyable evening overall, and I am sure I will miss this first family as leave Dakar and move on to the next, in just a week.