“Sure, tonight sounds good… 9 or 10 o’clock? Let’s say 9 o’clock… The métro at Place Guichard? Yes, I know where it it… And she can come too?… Okay – sounds good… See you later then.”
By this point I’m more than a little intrigued.
J: Well, that was the man we met at the Senegalese Consulate. He’s invited us to a soirée tonight.
K: What kind of soirée?
J: I don’t know. He just said a Senegalese soirée. I think he’s going with some friends. What do you think? Do you want to come?
At this point my mind jumped several directions at once as I tried to imagine what this ‘Senegalese soirée‘ might actually mean:
– A room packed with Senegalese men all focused on a soccer match, me being the only woman.
– A dance club featuring a DJ from Dakar and lots of Senegalese women shakin’ it as only they can.
– Some kind of formal event put on by the Consulate’s office, which is staffed by men only.
– Drinks at a bar. (No idea how devout this man and his friends were, but Islam forbids alcohol so if they were practicing Muslims, this one could have been safely crossed off the list of possibilities.)
– One of these cultural events I’ve seen advertised on posters: an African meal, Djembe concert and dance lessons for about $50/person.
As you can see, I was somewhat concerned about the whole ‘How do I, as a woman, fit into the picture?’ question. But I would have eaten my own foot before letting J. go to this soirée alone and me have to get the details second-hand! No way. I was most definitely going to this soirée. Whatever it was.
So that evening we dug into the nicer half of our closets (I skipped the self-tanner. Why bother? I’d glow in comparison anyway) and headed into town. We debated stopping by the ATM, but had no idea what we were doing so no idea how much to withdraw. “Here’s hoping the Senegalese soirée takes plastic!” I thought.
We arrived at the meeting point right at 9pm. For those of you who know ‘African time’, you’ll be as surprised as we were that he was already there waiting for us. I know – crazy, right? Even crazier, his friend who was meeting up with us arrived right on time as well!
Greeting, handshake, greetings, handshake, greetings… How’s your family? They are fine. How’s work? Thanks be to God, it is good. How is your health? My body is at peace. How is your wife? She is fine, thanks be to God.
“The restaurant is this way,” he said.
Phew. A restaurant. I was much more comfortable with that setting than a bar or dance club. (Or a roomful of men watching a soccer match, for that matter.) And we had a pretty good idea of which restaurant we were headed to.
Lyon has a small handful of Senegalese restaurants (La Mangue Amère, L’île de Gorée, La Rizière…) but the best-known is Lyon-Dakar. We’d only ever been to Keur Sadibou (before it closed) so this was going to be a very special treat for us.
No reservations had been made, but the owners set us a table in the very last available space. The menus placed in front of us were very comprehensive: mafé (peanut butter sauce with beef), ceebu jen (fish and rice), ceebu yapp (lamb and rice), yassa (chicken and onion sauce), thiou (beef stew), dakhine (lamb stew), soupu kandia (gumbo stew), bissap (hibiscus drink), gingembre (ginger drink), thiakry (couscous pudding)… Mmmm! How to choose?
I’ll tell you how. When faced with a full Senegalese menu, go straight for the ceebu jen. This rice and fish dish with roots in paella has always been my favorite.
There was a quick discussion about whether or not to get appetizers, but it ended with a happy look on our new friend’s face when we confirmed that real Senegalese meals do not include appetizers. You go straight to the main course. Our table ordered three plates of ceebu jen and one plate of ceebu yapp.
J. made their jaws drop when he asked if his could be served with extra xon, the burned bits of rice that stick to the bottom of the pot. Only a true Senegalese would know to ask for the xon.
As the men drank their spicy ginger drinks (no alcohol – our host’s friend asked twice to be sure), we talked about Senegalese politics, Obama, their wives and children still in Senegal, the friend’s trip to NYC in 2003 (he went to the mosque daily to pray), and of course, how much we all appreciated the Senegalese hopsitality, called teranga. As we wrapped up the meal, our host walked over to the bar to pay the check – for all of us. Teranga knows no borders.
We left the restaurant in Senegalese style – walking right down the middle of the street, oblivious to cars, at a slow pace fit for talking and telling stories. As the only woman, I fell into place behind the men. I thought about how on our way to meet them a few hours earlier J. and I had prayed for this evening – that it would build our relationship with this man from the Consulate and that he would understand our desire and motives for going back to Senegal, but also that it would be a fun, memorable evening for us all.
I’d say God answered that one.