ataya

Khady, left, and Ibrahima, right, watch Pape as he prepares “ataya” or tea in Dakar, Senegal. Taking ataya is a tradition in west Africa where friends come together multiple times a day to socialize as one person pours tea from one small glass to another to mix the ingredients and create a foam before drinking. Photo by Jane Hahn @janehahn #senegal #dakar #teatime #ataya #friends

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Reasons to love life in the Gam right now

1) Fabric shopping in Serrekunda Market. On Sunday, our Wolof instructor took us to the market to get fabric so we can get clothes made for us, and a few of us went back yesterday to get a bit more fabric. The patterns are gorgeous, so many to choose from, from bright greens and yellows and blues to calm tans and browns; big, bold patterns of keys, chickens, or trees, or smaller subtle swirls and circles; and all piled so high in each shop. I got four meters worth of two fabrics and two meters worth of another three, plus one meter of a fabric with Jammeh’s face on it. (I couldn’t resist.) Bridget is the master haggler—she can talk down any price, she can play off the “you are my wife!” remarks from shopkeepers (“well, then you should give me the wife price of free!”), and she gets what she wants. She’s the perfect shopping companion in the market.

2) Going to the tailor. I actually wasn’t expecting to get clothes made so soon, but on Monday, Mohammed informed us that on Friday, we get to attend the opening of the National Assembly. Jammeh will give a speech, lots of important people—diplomats, parliament members, etc.—will be there, and we may even get to be on TV. That said, we need to look good. Holly and I stopped into a tailor right down the street from us, who Mary Catherine from the Nova Scotia-Gambia Association had also recommended to us, and while Holly was lucky enough to have a ready-made outfit tailored for her, I brought in some of the fabric I got yesterday and will hopefully have a Gambian outfit ready to pick up tomorrow evening. Looking fierce for the National Assembly? Here’s hoping! And now that we’ve established a relationship with this tailor, I’m thinking we’ll get more of our clothes made there—fifty dalasi wrap skirts, maybe a cute summer dress (I have the perfect fabric for the perfect dress in mind!). I’m pumped!

3) Being regular fixtures at La Parisienne and Alaedin’s. I actually haven’t been to the beach in over a week and a half now, but you know what? I don’t feel bad about that. I like the beach, but I’ve realized (or re-realized) that I’m not so much a beach bum than I am a coffee shop lover. I like relaxing, reading, people-watching. La Parisienne is perfect for this. Oftentimes, a few of us will head down to La Parisienne to do homework or read, just to escape from the boredom and distractions of the compound (which we have affectionately dubbed “Club Toubab”). In fact, I might just go there today to enjoy a coffee, work on some homework, and relax! Another restaurant we have found ourselves at (almost every other day it seems!) is Alaedin’s, a Lebanese restaurant. We go there very often to enjoy the mixed grill or pizza and to chat with the other regular customers there. The owner Hussein, a wonderfully funny man, often sits to chat and chill with us, and one of the workers there, Modou, has been teaching us new Wolof vocabulary.  I could feel content with going to Alaedin’s every day, the people are so wonderful and I’m always in such a great mood there. Our obnoxious American table is always the life of the party it seems, always filled with laughter and smiles.

4) Seeing the same people everywhere. It seems like we will meet someone one day, and then see them all over the place after that. Just yesterday, as we were trying to flag down a ride home, a Hummer pulls over and the window rolls down. Why, it’s Bilal, one of the Lebanese men we met in Senegambia the other night! “I knew I recognized those girls!” he said and we jumped in the car and chatted with him as he drove us to the Election House. Turns out, we’ve actually seen his Hummer almost every time we go to the traffic light, as it sits in the parking lot at his place of employment right at that intersection. Another time last week, one guy, Nounou, drove us to Alaedin’s (after our original destination, the Chinese restaurant, was closed), where he goes quite often (as does, it seems, most of the Lebanese population in the Gambia). Turns out, we’ve actually met his cousin before, and probably many other family members of his, as his uncle owns Castle Oil and oh yes, we’ve met many Lebanese people involved in oil here. Every day, I’m reminded of how small this country is, and I love it. We’re supposed to go to a barbeque that Nounou invited us to this weekend, and we’re wondering how many of the Lebanese folks we’ve met will be there. We really want to find out who is related to whom…

5) Ataya with the neighbors. We have a few neighbors who are really fantastic. Buba from Basse, who has been in Old Jeshwang for about three months, and Omar from Mali, who has been here for about six, became good friends with Dylan and since then, we’ve had some ataya nights outside our compound with them. Ataya is not just a tea (with lots and lots of sugar, yum!), but an excuse for socializing, for sitting around and chatting and relaxing. Usually men sit around in a circle outside their compounds and brew ataya (in fact, there is really this “ataya culture” all over the Gambia, as unemployed men just sit around, brew ataya and smoke; usually, when the police stop you at a checkpoint, they will ask for a bribe so that way they can buy and brew ataya themselves), but Buba and Omar have taken to coming to our compound to invite the rest of us to join them, girls and guys. We’ve learned a lot about the differences between the bush and the city, we’ve taught them about the differences between Gambian and American cultures (“You don’t want to get married?!” “Well, maybe not for like ten years.” “You will be too old!”), and they’ve been teaching us some Mandinka phrases and words (most of which I admittedly do not remember, but I do know how to say eyeglasses!). Buba will probably leave in another month or so to return to Basse, which really saddens me because he’s a great friend to have here. He’s been teaching Dylan how to brew ataya, Gavin and Matilda have tried it out, too, and he said that next time I have to try it out. There is a long process in brewing it I keep telling everyone that if I try to brew it, all of the tea will end up on the ground, but they won’t let me refuse for too much longer, I imagine! Omar will probably stick around a bit longer (though I’m not sure about this), and hopefully the ataya nights will continue. All I know is that I hope Dylan, Aaron and I continue the ataya nights at Juniata, too—gotta bring our favorite aspects of the Gam back home!