Neyedaye to Nebi: A Friend’s Culinary Journey

My dear long-time friend Levita came to Senegal this summer for her Diasporic Soul Heritage and Healing experience.

Today, she is returning to work after the extended Thanksgiving weekend to share her experience with her co-workers and colleagues. She organized her workshop presentation around the idea of how her pilgrimage would be reflected in a memoir. Levita teaches humanities now and she I met when we were pursuing our Masters degrees in literature, so using memoir as an organizing approach makes so much sense to both of us.

As I reviewed the slides of the presentation, I was struck by how much fun we had and how rich the experience was for not only Levita but also for Eddy and I. I was tickled by how often we ended up laughing out loud like free-spirit pre-teen girls romping in the woods untethered by anyone or anything. So much joy.

Levita’s presentation and our long, lingering loving phone call moved me to go back and take the time to really look at the photos we took during her seven-week stay. The shared Goggle photo file is absolutely bulging. And, all of the pictures are not even there. These are the just the ones from Levita’s phone. There are more that I, Eddy and our other guest of the summer, Carmalita, took.

Mami Wata at the Somone Lagune

On our call, after talking about our families, including the lastest, most recent amazing accomplishments of her highly creative and dynamic daughters, Levita and I talked at length on Saturday evening about her presentation and the other ways her time in Senegal was currently influencing her life. I was thrilled to hear how excited she was to be sharing her experience with others for what would be the third time. She has done two other presentations about her time in Senegal this fall.

During our call, she spoke enthusiastically of making hot toddies for a recent wreath-making party using the neyedaye (moringa) leaves that my mother-in-law gave her as well as others with hibiscus (bissap). We decided that we should name the neyedaye toddy after Eddy’s mom – The Kafalang. Kafalang is how my mother-in-law, who I call Yaye, which means mom in Wolof, was called during her younger years living in the Medina neighborhood of Dakar. Naming the neyedaye toddy this way is an importan in part because Levita, like everyone else who visits us, connected with Eddy’s mom in spite of the fact that she does not speak Wolof or French. The connection between Levita’s visit and her recent presentations is also important because she is a vegan-chef and educator who I admire very much. She was the first person who introduced me and many others in the DMV area to idea that vegetarian food can have SOUL and be delicious, especially when you create dishes informed by our culture(s). I will always remember the scrumptious bbq tofu sandwiches she plated during a cooking class at the Southeast Tennis Center organized by our friend Tamara who was running a Freedom School site at the time. She is from Memphis, y’all, okay.

We also talked about nebi (black-eyed peas) because I saw that she has recently posted about a dish she has made where nebi as the key ingredient. We have both been so excited to recognize nebi as a food bridge, as a food that so clearly connects us to the Motherland. One that reminds me of my grandmother. During her stay, we had Thiebbu Nebi and I shared my mango-nebi burger with her, which I created in 2018 to capture that Diasporic connection. And, during her stay, Levita also had a dish called accra, which is made from smashed nebi that is then fried; visually it will remind you of small hush puppies in terms of size, color and texture. Accra is served with spicy onion and tomato sauce for dipping. I also was able to gift Levita nebi flour when she arrived along with a nebi-based chocolate sauce and a nebi bean pod (most folks of our generation or younger have not often seen the way black-eyed peas grow). Levita, with her culinary creativity, of course, made yummy chocolate-chip cookies using her nebi flour when she got back home.

So, yes, Levita’s journey with us, her pilgrimage home to West Africa, to Senegal specifically, is deeply tied to food and cuisine because that is who Levita is. At least since I met her one bright August afternoon in 1993. She came to graduate school in Maryland where we met with a whole lot of Memphis in her, which the North Carolina in me immediately resonated with. We became fast friends, perhaps because she cooked for me the first day I met her. Food is an integral part of everyone’s Heritage and Healing experience, but with Levita it is even more significant because of the work she does and her lived experience. And, it has been a big part of our friendship.

In fact, Levita is featured as a part of the Stopping the Clock series we did to center, acknowledge and respond to our collective loss and grief as Black folks in the Summer 2020. She participated in our Bearing Witness artists‘ panel along with her eldest daughter, Yetunde. And, with the help of our 2020 Diasporic-Soul-in-Residence Lailya Leach, in Communion, as part of our Stopping the Clock series, we highlighted Levita’s own grief and culinary journey that revolves around her mother, grandmother and her garden as a sources of solace, healing and restoration.

Yet, as I take time after so much activity over the last few months and spending time looking at the photos and Levita’s presentation, I am struck too with all that the journey proved to be for her that goes well beyond but includes her restored connection to the food ways that bring her closer to her ancestors.

She will tell you that her journey, her pilgrimage was healing and that she was able to remove blockages during her time in Senegal. But, that is her story to tell, and she will, because she wrote extensively during her time with us, which was what we agreed would be an ideal outcome of her stay.

Learn more about Levita the vegan-chef with SOUL on her website or Instagram. I know that I am looking forward to her forthcoming nebi-inspired series. And, if you are in the DMV area, join her for some hot toddies and wreath-making during this festive time of year. You won’t regret it. And, if you have decided to gift experiences this year, consider cooking classes with Levita.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: