The first time I lived in Senegal, I was a public health worker and part of that role including helping coordinate volunteer medical teams coming from the US. The women in the hosting villages would often make huge meals as a way of thanking the team members.
But those toubab team members weren’t used to eating heavy rice-based meals on hot days, so I would eat. And eat. And eat. And eat. All with the goal of making it look like the team had appreciated the meal and eaten well.
I thought this secret plan was working just swimmingly until my parents came out to visit. When they met the village chief, he informed them that their daughter had ‘the stomach of a cow’ and could really put away some food.
I am very, very happy to report that on our recent trip to Saint-Louis, I did not have to bust out my cow’s stomach. My mother-in-law tucked herself in shoulder-to-shoulder, grabbed a big spoon at dug into some ceebu jen! And then she kept digging…
One by one, people pulled away from the common bowl. But she kept going. Finally it was just down to two people: Cheikh’s toubab mom and his Senegalese brother, Pape. I have never, ever seen Pape surrender his ceeb spoon before the platter was empty. But on Saturday, he plopped the spoon down and said to her, “Today, you are the winner.”
Now I would never say that my mother-in-law has the stomach of a cow, but I will say that I was so, so proud of her.
There were many reasons for us to make the trip up north to Saint-Louis. One the larger reasons is pictured above: for Pape (the younger) to spend some time with his namesake, Pape (the elder).
Cheikh lived in Saint-Louis for just over a year, and he lived with the Dièye family in their compound. When it came time for us to choose a Senegalese name for our wee one, we easily and immediately decided to name him after Cheikh’s Senegalese brother. So there you have it… Pape and Pape. And this was our first time taking little Pape up to meet the rest of the fam.
Another big(ger) reason was because Cheikh’s toubab mom and Senegalese mom were finally on the same continent and needed to meet! We had waited for this day for a long, long time. And it was every bit as cool (well, actually quite hot and sticky) as we’d hoped.
As we were leaving, Penni (via Cheikh translating) expressed her thanks to Yaye Coumba, mother-to-mother. I loved Yaye’s response: “A child is a child. We take care of each other’s.”
This photo opp made me laugh. “How many moms does it take to keep Cheikh in line?” I think he made it out of the weekend without any of them swatting him with a flip-flop…. more than I can say for some of the kids in the village!
Any photos in this post that make you think, “Wow!” were probably taken by Penelope Jordan.