Last year during Ramadan, we had a friend stop by who was (like most everyone in Senegal) fasting. He was here hanging out as the sun went down, so I gave my best effort to put together an ndogou for him to eat and drink to break his fast for the day at the appropriate time.
I’d never really considered it until that night, so realized in the moment that I had not a clue what to prepare or how to serve food to break the fast. Fortunately, my Muslim friends on social media responded quickly and were a great help and the ndogou-Toubab went over really well.
This year we’ve decided to make ndogou gift baskets to give to some of our friends who will begin fasting tomorrow for 30 days. (We don’t fast for Ramadan since we aren’t Muslim, but we do join in praying with them that God would continue to reveal Himself and His truths.) So once again I called on a Senegalese friend for help.
Everyone, meet Khadi Gadio. (Ask me in person sometime how I got to know her. Great story.) She’s offered to answer my questions so that we can figure out the best way to go about putting together the baskets.
Me: First, thanks for helping us out. As expats in Senegal, it can be a bit overwhelming and intimidating to navigate a cultural and religious practice that isn’t our own. But since we do live here, we want to be a part of life here.
KG: You are most welcome! Having lived 20-something years outside of Senegal, I fully understanding wanting to be a part of life in different cultural/religious environment. It is so great to see expats getting involved in local practices and customs!
Me: Okay, my first question is a pretty obvious one. What types of things can go in the gift basket?
Me: ANYTHING! During the month of Ramadan it is the cultural norm to give “Sukarou Koor” to those close to us, especially inlaws. Sukarou koor, meaning “sugar for Ramadan” is a metaphor for a gift given during Ramadan. These gifts usually come in the form of money, fabric, cooked meals, Holy Qurans and most recently gift baskets. I have received many different types of baskets in the last few years and made quite a few as well. I have received baskets full of different sorts of spices, baskets containing only condiments (ketchup, mayo, mustards, piment etc), fruit baskets and most commonly the complete ndogou basket containing, coffee, sugar, honey, milk, juice, hot chocolate, chocolate spread, dates, cheese etc.
Me: So it’s mostly breakfast foods?
KG: Yes, the ndogou basket contains mostly breakfast items that are consumed at the time of breaking fast.
Me: I’ve seen some people put in pastries like croissants in baskets. Could I put in something American and homemade, like banana bread muffins?
KG: Absolutely! Anything homemade would be great in a basket.
Me: What about fruit?
KG: Some people give fruits baskets but personally I prefer offering items that don’t go bad quickly.
Me: Are there any specific brands or varieties of dates that are considered better than others?
KG: There are dried dates (lighter in color) and normal dates. I am not a fan of dried dates. As for brands I am sure people have preferences as well but I am yet to come across a “bad” brand.
Me: As far as the packaging goes, I’ve seen baskets being woven along the side of the road here in Dakar. Could those work?
KG: I have enjoyed making my mom tons of gift baskets for the past ten years and every year I use locally woven baskets. They work great and can be ordered in any shape or size.
Me: And then would we include a card or note?
KG: Although not mandatory, I always include a note with warm words and prayers. Can’t forget Ramadan is all about kindness and well-wishing!
Me: What are some customary Ramadan wishes or prayers that people might say to each other, either in a card or when delivering the gift basket?
KG: Fasting during Ramadan is not just the act of refraining from food and water from sunrise to sundown. We fast to exercise and strengthen self-control, to attain closeness to Allah, to remember to learn to give and not to take (increase generosity). My wish is always that we obtain personal objectives throughout the month and that Allah accepts our fast. When delivering a basket I usually call before to mention that I am bringing by some Sukarou koor, once there it’s mostly “Bon Ramadan”.
Me: Do you think it’s best to give the baskets at the beginning of Ramadan or anytime during the 30 days?
KG: You can send a basket anytime during the month but usually best during the first two weeks so that the recipient has enough time to enjoy its contents!
Me: What if I really like the idea of giving a gift basket, but I don’t have time to package them up myself? Word on the street is that you can tell me where to order a lovely selection of gift baskets for Ramadan.
KG: But of course! This year I will be venturing into the basket world along with SENexpress to offer our clients very special baskets that may serve as gifts or even for personal consumption. We are proposing three different baskets including one for our diabetic fasters and a platter containing Moroccan zaalouk (eggplant puree simply-to-die-for), cheeses, dried fruits, smoked salmon and other goodies. To top it all off, all baskets or our platter come with a free SENexpress errand valid the entire month and is delivered to you or your recipient free of charge!
Me: Thank you so much, Khadi, for your time and for answering my questions. It really does go a long way in making Senegal feel like home when we are able to connect with our neighbors in meaningful and respectful ways. Jere jef waye!
KG: Anytime. Nio ko bok!