ndank: slowly

There is a Senegalese proverb that goes: Ndank ndank, mooy japp golo ci ñaay. Translated literally it means, Slowly, slowly, one catches the monkey in the brush. If you rush after the monkey, he will run away. But to creep up after him step by step, and you will succeed.

It is a proverb deeply applicable here. Slowly the afternoon is spent drinking àttaya. Slowly, day by day, I am getting better at Wolof, more accustomed to the Senegalese ways, finding my place in this new life.

Poem: àttaya

Yow, gan gi, bul ñibbi léggi.

Toogal ci basan gi naan ak nun àttaya.

Naanal lëwal bi, dafa wex ni noor. Soo ko naanee dinga yég ngelaw li ak tangaay wiy dam yaxi nit ñi.

Naanal naareel bi, dafa neex ni nawet wuy délusi. Soo ko naanee dinga gis ñax miy sax, soow miy ball ci leket yi ba xiif wéy.

Toogatal tuuti naan ñetteel bi ndax dafa saf suukar ni mbëggeel.

Yow, gan gi, bul ñibbi léegi. Toogal ci basan gi naan ak nun àttaya.

Stranger, don’t leave so soon.

Sit on the mat and drink tea with us.

Drink the first glass because it is bitter like the dry season. Drink and you will feel the wind that blows and heat that breaks the bones in your body.

Drink the second glass because it is gentle like the return of the rains. Drink and you will see the grass grow, the milk in the calabashes, your hunger satisfied.

Stay and drink the third glass because it is sweet like love.

Stranger, don’t leave so soon. Sit on the mat and drink tea with us.

(Traditional Tuareg poem)


àttaya: traditional Senegalese tea

On a Sunday afternoon, when the house is quiet and dark, everyone napping in their rooms, I wander downstairs and find my cousin Ussainu in the kitchen. Come drink àttaya with me, he says.

We wait for the tea to brew, in a little silver kettle over the fire. We wait a long time. Ussainu tells me that àttaya is a Senegalese tradition, and in the Senegalese tradition, you take your time. The first cup, the second cup, and then the cup glass—each a little less bitter than the one before—can take up to three hours, sitting with your friends, in the sun. Àttaya is about community, Ussainu says. It is a time to sit and spend time with those whose company you enjoy, to sip tea, to let life slow down around you.

When the first cup is ready, Ussainu pours the amber liquid into two little glasses, the size of shot glasses. He pours the tea back and forth between the two glasses, back and forth, so many times I lose count, until a sweet froth forms on the surface. When we finally sip it, the àttaya is cooler, slightly bitter on my tongue.

The first cup, says Ussainu. Now we wait for the second.

He puts the kettle back on the fire. I barely notice as minutes and then an hour slips away. Ussainu and I sitting in the cool shadowy kitchen as the Sunday afternoon creeps onward, talking about life, about our plans, about anything.

I love Senegal, I think. I am grateful for this opportunity to enjoy àttaya, to enjoy life, on this lazy Sunday afternoon.


jigéen: female

To be a female in a Senegalese household is to be a hard worker. The women in my house do everything—they cook every meal, each meal feeding up to twenty people. They clean the house—each day sweeping and mopping the floors, bending over so that they are folded nearly in half. They take care of the babies, bathing them and feeding them. They do the laundry and hang it out to dry.

My sister, Ndeye, explains to me a woman’s role. It is above all to take care of the family, the house, and the children.

But what if you are a woman who works outside of the house?

It doesn’t matter, says Ndeye matter-of-factly as she folds baby Ndeye Fatou’s tiny underwear. To work outside of the house, that just means that your workload is twice as difficult.

I am so impressed by the women in the family. They work so hard, even when the boys in my house barely lift a finger and spend all their time watching football matches on TV. They love their children and form strong bonds with each other. All the women in my house, from my sister Nene to Ndeye, Rama to Diodio to my yaay are all so funny and smart. It is truly the women who are the heart of Senegalese life!