Tuesday, May 5, 2009

the first round of tea is bitter as life.

The national drug of Senegal is attayah. Usually served in liquid form, attayah is heavily sweet with hints of mint and a strength that will knock your socks into next week. Attayah is a type of tea.

Besides being the "national drug", attayah is also Senegal's national pastime. I mean, people drink tea all day. But this is not just any tea. It is made in a tiny tea pot, with strong flaked green tea, nana or fresh mint, and about a pound of sugar. The preparer pours the tea in an artistic fashion until a gentle and bubbly foam forms in the shot sized glasses, and then the steaming hot tea is poured in. Attayah is served in 3 rounds, each round with added sugar to symbolize the growing sweetness of friendship.

I was told that the first brew is bitter as life.

The second is bittersweet as love.

The third one is sweet as death.

The facts of life in three gulps of rugged wisdom.

We drink attayah almost every day. Sometimes we drink it multiple times every day. Why did I wait so long before writing about it? Because I think it beautifully sums up the time I spent in Senegal. I am leaving in 3 days, and as the time comes continually closer I feel like I am going to spontaneously combust from all the opposing feelings running around inside my head and heart.

The first round of tea is bitter as life.

Don't be discouraged by this description. While the first round of attayah is pungently strong and sometimes downright difficult to swallow, it widens your eyes. Such is life and such was my arrival in Senegal. Darting about, new smells, new sights, new people, a new way of life. Pungently strong like the first sip of attayah that sets your viens ablazing. Sometimes, it was difficult to swallow, the village, the calls of random men on the street, the longing for familiar surroundings. But it widens your eyes, and it certainly has widened mine.

The second is bittersweet as love.

The second round is my favorite. The strength of the first round is still ever present, however the addition of fresh mint dampens the bite and sweet sugary flavors compliment the bitter aftertaste just enough to leave something desired. As I gradually adjusted to my surroundings, and the pangs of what I had left behind dissipated, I certainly did fall in love. My new found awarenesses sharpened and the bite of this strange culture became second nature for me. I saw everything around me in a sugary glow, sweetened immensely by the friendships I was forging. And just like love, I was left wanting more, more of something I knew I could not have. More of this country, more of its people, and more of the way things were.

The third one is sweet as death.

The third round gives you diabetes. Not really, but it does have a hell of a lot of sugar. Death has many sides, many faces. For some it is a welcome relief, for others it comes too soon. Death is both an end, it is sad and sweet, but it is also a passing, a movement and a beginning. Such is the end of my journey here. Enough said.

The facts of life in three gulps of rugged wisdom.

1 comment:

  1. Very poignant and thought provoking... I like it.

    When I went to Morocco, they had a mint tea that sounds similar to this everywhereee! I want to try and make it when I go home, its so refreshing.