Yesterday morning our delightful nanny showed up with a suspicious looking tub of beige soup.
‘I made this for you’, she said, ‘it’s a type of sweet porridge called ngalakh. I made it at 5am this morning to celebrate Easter!’. She continued explaining that it’s made from a mix of millet, peanuts, the fruit of the baobab tree (also known as bouye), vanilla essence, orange blossom and sugar. Every Easter, Catholics rise at dawn to prepare this unique dish and share it among friends and family. But not just to share with fellow Catholics, oh no, they share it with their Muslim mates too.
This sense of togetherness doesn’t stop at Easter; Christmas traditions are also shared and there is a wider mutual observance of each other’s holy days. To mark the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr by offering up their delicious dishes to their Christian pals and during Tabaski, they also distribute roast lamb prepared for their annual feast.
There is a genuine peaceful Islamic and Christian coexistence here. They stand together like brothers and sisters; a different religious DNA perhaps, but the same determined desire for tolerance. What’s more, intermarriage between the two religions is fairly common, and in some cases Muslims and Christians cohabitate in a single family.
Muslims make up approximately 94% of the country’s community and Dakar is called to pray five times a day from minarets around the city. Christians (mainly Roman Catholics) make up a further 4% and the remaining minority practice Animism, among other traditional beliefs.
Every morning, when the babies take their morning nap, I (finally) make a much needed cup of coffee and turn on BBC News. And most days it seems that the people of the world are determined to wreak as much heartache and catastrophe on their fellow man as possible.
However, here I am in a country (that this time last year I couldn’t have pointed to on a map) where ‘peace’ isn’t just a hollow noun bandied around by politicians after yet another terror attack. In Senegal, peace is a lifestyle. While the rest of the west are breaking unions, banning travel and building walls, the people here are embracing each other’s beliefs and sharing feasts.
The locals have a special word for their hospitality in Wolof; teranga. Which literally means ‘to help a guest come ashore’.
Wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place if only there was a little more teranga.
Happy Easter everyone, near and far. And wherever you are this Easter, may you be welcomed ashore with open arms.