Fuad November 23rd Day 63 Senegal

A Day In Saint Louis

Saint Louis in has two things in abundance; sunshine and Thieb.
The colonial architecture reminds you of Goree Island, but at city scale. Everywhere you turn, there are doors that are decades old, walls that are even older, and tiny kids running around them.

This city used to be the seat of the colonial government. In fact, it was also in this city that the chef of a Colonial governor did something incredible.

Penda Mbaye was a chef who spent most of her days in the 1800s cooking at ceremonies. She also invented the modern Thieboojen, what most of us now know as Jollof Rice.

It’s why we came here, trying to see if we could find anyone who knew something, a story, someone who knows a story.

The first place you go looking for storytellers is a museum. Saint Louis has none. So we checked a gallery.

It was a photo gallery with powerful portraits from as far back as 1930. There’s a little girl’s portrait who’s wearing bangles that look exactly like the ones on Toke, Aina, and Tosin’s hands.

The photographer, Mama Casset, died in 1992, aged 84 years. She gradually lost her sight over time, due to the flashes from her camera, before going completely blind. Her photos were some of my favourite, alongside Amadou Diaw’s.

Also a portrait photographer, most of his photos were everyday portraits that looked like they helped the photographer and the subjects capture a moment in their lives; maybe a new year. Or job.

Today, it’s history. Because now we know how they dressed, for example. It had me thinking about some photo studios in Lagos where I live, that have been in business for decades, and what might be up with their archives.

There was contemporary photography on display too, my personal favourite being one by David Uzochukwu, a photographer I’ve followed since 2015.

By the time we’d done seeing the gallery, we knew there was nothing of Penda here. Our guide at the gallery didn’t know where we could find anything either.

So we headed out again, this time for lunch — only right that we had Thieb.

The first restaurant had run out of Thieb, but down the street was another.

One thing was clear by the time we were done with lunch: most of the Thieb wed eaten everywhere else was always too much of something, or too little something.

Saint Louis Thieb was unanimously our best. “I didn’t even like Thieb in Dakar,” Azeem said, “but this one’s really good.”

“I feel like most of the Thieb we’ve been having has been watered down,” Toke the Food Perfect started. “But this one just tastes really good. And of course, we know whatever reached Nigeria was watered down.”

Which led us to the next question, which is better, Thieb or Jollof Rice? This conclusion, we’ll make on another day.

Time flies when you’re eating Thieb, Drinking Coke and washing it all down with tea.

Again, we asked our attendant, and the person who appeared to own the restaurant. They knew very little about Penda Mbaye besides the fact that she invented it. I asked kids, they knew her, but that was all.

Since we’ve entered Senegal, we’ve almost always been offered only two meals besides Dibiterie lamb; white rice or Thieb rouge.

Everywhere at lunch time — in the markets or restaurants — you’ll find people bent over Thieb. I couldn’t wrap my head around how nobody seemed to know that much about its history.

“It’s normal to them,” a friend of my said over WhatsApp after my rant. “It’s their staple, so I don’t think they see any need to have museums or monuments. Do we have something similar for the person that first made pounded yam for example?”

I mean, she’s right. But, it’s Thieb. Jollof. But I get it.

We retired early for the day, because of the long days ahead. Day 63 will be spent riding over 700 kilometres to Kayes in Mali. Black is going to burn at least two full tanks, over 160 litres of petrol. And that will just be one leg on our two-day stretch to Bamako.

Wish us luck.

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