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.


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