Egusi Soup and Tuwo Rice

I know I know, I am supposed to feature a “Meet A Friend.” I promise I will, sooon! I’ve decided on the person and it seems like the more I pray for her, the harder it is to make my words come together. In the meantime, I had a new Nigerian dish today! Egusi Soup.

I didn’t prepare it, so I’m confident it’s much better than my first try would have been, lol. The ladies in the dining hall on our compound cooked it and were willing to let me watch. Egusi soup seems to be the children’s favorite and honestly, may be mine, too.

The History: Initially, I wanted to know from which West African tribe did Egusi soup originate. As I read, it became quite a challenge. Some people said Igbo, some said Hausa, and others said Yoruba so I decided that I’d leave it up to my readers to tell me! What I did learn, is that egusi soup’s main ingredient is the seed of the egusi melon. These melon seeds are ground up, and used in many West African dishes, specifically soups. They look much like watermelon, but the inside is actually a soft yellow and the seeds are off-white.

The Process: I love watching the ladies use the pestle and mortar, so that obviously was my favorite part. They ground the seeds up to a pretty fine consistency. The base of the soup is red palm oil. This is the same oil based they used the first time I watched them make stew. The seeds are mixed in, and they gradually add dried fish, beef tips, and stock from those proteins. It honestly looks more like a chowder, but I’m not Nigerian, so my opinion doesn’t matter LOL. The ladies also added chopped spinach, which, if you know me, made my entire day. They cooked it down and BOOM. Now, this process sounds super short when condensed into a paragraph on my website, but it was SO. MUCH. WORK. De-boning the dried fish, DRYING the fish, cooking the beef, making the broth, preparing the base, chopping the vegetables, and doing whatever else they knew needed to be done. One of my favorite aspects of Nigerian culture is the food. This isn’t simply because I’m greedy, but because of the time and care that goes into creating each meal.

Swallows:  Swallows are a pretty common Nigerian side dish. Each of them differ in flavor, but the texture seems fairly similar. They are what seem to be the “starch” of the meal. They are cooked down, pounded, mashed, or mixed, and molded into a ball shape to be eaten with various soups. With the egusi soup, the ladies prepared Tuwo Shinkafa Rice. I’m going to be honest and say that I missed watching them prepare the rice, but went to the website I’ve been using for trying different recipes at home, and found this quick video.

It is basically rice cooked with a small amount of water at a time until it is “mushy.” It is then mashed and mixed into a swallow.

When I first saw the soup, I was nervous. It’s not the easiest on the eyes if it’s something you aren’t used to seeing. The texture tasted much different than it looked. I couldn’t stop eating it, y’all. It was sooooooo good. It’s like the fish and beef flavor did the gwara gwara in my mouth. It was legit.

Egusi soup and tuwo rice

Now, finally, the eating! Grab a spoon and go crazy, right?! WRONG. I’m intentional about asking the ladies how to eat certain foods. I’m fairly shameless in my lack of knowledge and am always eager to learn. It is to be eaten by “collecting a small amount of the rice, and using it to scoop the soup out of the bowl…” They wanted me to use a spoon, I said “NEVERRRRRR!!!” and everybody smiled and laughed. I know it may seem small, but that showed them immediately that I respected and was intrigued by the culture. They called me their sister, and I’m loving how our relationship is beginning to blossom. Here’s a SHORT clip of me eating the soup and swallow. I had to stop recording because baby I went to TOWN on this food.

I hope those of you following my website are enjoying the small pieces of Nigeria I’m able to share as I serve here in Jos. I promise to keep it up. My greatest desire has been to show my students from the states that they are, too, capable of experiencing a life outside of what society deems their standard. I hope this does just that.

Thank you for reading.

I love you.

Happy Monthaversary…?

Today marks one month of being in Nigeria. I was going to post a beautiful picture of the horizon and put my favorite Bible verse in the caption like most people in this sort of position, but quite honestly, I don’t feel like it. I know, I sound like a bratty teenager. I’m content with that. This was one of those times when I had to bury myself in order to see God lift me up.

I woke up this morning and began a long list of things to do instead of just sitting around the compound because the kids are gone. I cleaned. I read. I cooked. I painted. I wrote. I ran. I danced. I looked at the clock and it was only 1pm. I woke up at 5:30am because I’m still fighting jet lag and can’t afford to sleep in. I paced around the house for longer than I’d like to admit and eventually broke. When I say “broke” I don’t mean broke down and started crying. I just lacked functionality. I didn’t move. I didn’t talk (to myself of course). It felt like I didn’t breathe. I felt like a Nintendo 64 (when it’s time to take the game out and blow inside of it because it just froze in the middle of fighting Bowser for Princess Peach). All of these feelings were rushing through my mind and it was like I couldn’t do anything about it. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic to you, but this was my reality.

Today has been nothing short of an emotional roller coaster. At one point, I just sat on the floor and stared out the window. I think it’s tempting to have fairy-tale expectations of what it feels like to be obedient to God. The reality is, sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it’s so hard that we stop in our tracks and think of all the things we could be doing INSTEAD of what He says. Fortunately, feelings are temporary, and I’m finally at a place in my life where I don’t make decisions based explicitly off of how I feel. I’m learning the difference between temporary emotions, and truth. The truth is, I love Him and am thankful to be His broken and rebuilt cistern.

Before you say, “GO TO YOUR TEAM!” or “Why didn’t you talk to anybody or reach out to somebody??” understand that this was not a cry for companionship or community. I could have been in a room full of people, but that, too, would have been a failed attempt to be my own Savior.

Eventually, I sat down, and talked to my Daddy.

Why do we wait until we have no other fleshly option to go to God? This is not a rhetorical question. I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments. I know the typical answers “that’s what the flesh does” and “pride, Shakiyla, PRIDE” but today it felt like my heart and spirit had a disconnect. It was like I had to intentionally ask God to unite Himself with myself in order to feel purposeful again. It was nothing like I’ve ever experienced. I’d gotten so robotic in my worship that I was relying fully on feelings, emotions, and outward expression as a source of fulfillment. It was like I was in High School all over again. I was unknowingly floating at a surface-level devotion to God, and had no idea how I’d gotten there.

There is an evident difference between personal desire, and God’s command to do something. Today, it was like He stopped me in my tracks and said “Come to me…FULLY” It was an overwhelming reminder of just how much we need Him. I don’t know where I’m going with this. I think I just wanted to encourage you to Go to Him. Don’t wait until you’ve exhausted all other avenues to go to the King of Kings. I tried a million and one things, before I went to the author of my life (silly girl). We are indeed broken vessels in need of His grace, and today, I felt it pour over me.

I pray He does the same for you.

Thank you for reading.

I love you.

Welcome to Nigeria.

I’m finally sharing. Initially, I planned to post on the website the day I landed in Abuja, Nigeria, then I realized how useless that would be. I decided to give myself time to experience the city of Jos before I shared. That was the smartest move I’ve made in a while. Other than, of course, updating the website it! Make sure you click around a bit. (it looks better from a desktop) lol. If you’re new to the blog, click here to hear more about how I ended up going from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Jos, Nigeria!

Well, I landed in Abuja on my 27th birthday, and it was a beautiful way to start a new year of life. After having given Aries away, having had the surgery, and having left my family, I felt a sigh of relief at the thought of newness rather than loss. We drove through countless villages and I was able to see the variety of cultures throughout the five hour drive. I think it’s tempting for people to see Africa as just “Africa” but each country has its own culture and within each country, each state has its own culture. Each state has villages and each village has its own culture, and it’s been surreal to watch them all unfold. Here’s our village. It has many cottages, school buildings, a dining hall, central gazebos, a basketball court, and a soccer field for the kids (and myself) to play on. It’s a beautiful site to see in the morning.

Rafiki Village Nigeria.

I’ve decided to eat mostly Nigerian food. I say mostly because on Sundays my team and I go out to eat and it’s generally an American-ish restaurant. So far I’ve had, gari, pounded yam, stew, sweet potatoes, suya, bean cakes, buns, and of course, JOLLOF RICE. I try to make a Nigerian recipe at least once a week and ask the cottage mamas their opinion on what I should do to make it RIGHT. Today I made meat pies. These were pretty easy, primarily because we eat them in the south. The biggest difference was the seasoning. Curry is so popular here and I’m honestly not a fan, but Mama Hanatu said I can’t leave it out, so I didn’t. Here’s the final product. I’ll post the recipe link with more pictures and a series of unfortunate events later this week:

(mini) Meat Pies.

The 11th grade class invited me over one afternoon to help them bake cookies for Teacher’s Appreciation. It was there I learned what a pestle and a mortar were. I recently followed a Nigerian chef, Nma, who has captured my heart with her love for Nigerian food. Click the link for her AMAZING blog on the pestle and mortar. I’m addicted to these tools. I want to pound EVERYTHING in sight, lol. Faith and I crushed some ginger, cinnamon, and other spices for the dough. You basically just throw it in the bowl and get to work. The trick is to twist, and move with a downward inward motion. Idk if that makes sense, but that’s what she told me, and Aunty Lydia said I was doing a good job so I’m gonna keep doing it. My arms were definitely sore the next day but it was totally worth it.

I’ve also been pretty intentional about going to the market. This weekend I went to the “Main Market” and was honestly blown away by the Christmas rush of it all. Just like anywhere else, people wait until the last minute to get what they need and pile up on the streets and in the market. It was crazy. This picture does it little justice, but imagine miles of this full of people, children, stalls, and food. Once I got this picture, I ran to the side and refused to step foot on the road again. LOL. Every umbrella is a different stall (or two):

I was able to get a few groceries to last me through the holiday, and some makeup to try instead of getting it sent from home. We stopped for a bit and waited for the owner to get some of his “good stuff” so I was able to catch this lady braiding baby girl’s hair for the first time. At first, she wasn’t having it, but it was so sweet to watch the stylist not only comfort her, but encourage her to think fearlessly. The mama allowed her to do so, and for me, that was just a sweet picture of community. People don’t do that anymore. We can’t tell other people’s children how to feel, because they will either take offense or become defensive; it reminded me of Crowley. I was thankful to have seen it.

I’ve spent so much time with the kids that I can hardly stand them being away right now. They will be gone for about 3 weeks, so I have time to hopefully create some normalcy as I transition in. There are 6 girl cottages, and I think 4 boy cottages. Each has 6-12 children/young adults. In my head I was like “LAWD THAT’S A LOT OF CHILDREN” but y’all, the kids live so harmoniously. Obviously, they’re teenagers, so of course they fuss and fight, but every night ends with devotion alongside one another and a prayerful transition into the night. They are full of laughs and love, and I really am excited to get to know them even more. I’ve had a few stick like glue, and those relationships are blossoming more each day. It’s nice to be able to love on them in a different capacity. No classroom, no lesson plans, no school board, just love with God at the center. Here are a few shots from time spent together:

In creating this blog, I wasn’t sure what I would say. I didn’t sit down and outline any main ideas or write an essay like I usually would. I didn’t pin point specific encouragements or lessons learned, and I didn’t really introduce any new ideas. I did what I said I would, share. I know it’s pretty shallow compared to most of my other updates because they tend to be deep and sometimes dark with a light at the end of the tunnel, but that’s not what this blog is. This is more like a reflection of what has happened and what makes it special. This time around I was really able to feel what was around me and I felt a sense of freedom in that. I will FOR SURE give you more details and tell you the lessons I’ve learned, but today, I just want to encourage you to allow yourself to experience life. I have pictures, but it is very seldom I bring my cell phone with me anywhere. I really just grab my bag and GO. It’s refreshing to feel less attached. So I think that’s what I recommend; detachment.

Whatever you feel like you can’t be without, let it go for a minute and experience life in all its rawness.

I recommend all of my followers to follow me on Instagram! I post DAILY and go LIVE weekly so people can get a taste of what’s around me and what life looks like. My name is shakiylas click here to FOLLOW ME and join us. I hope you enjoyed this small taste of Jos, Nigeria. I can’t wait to share more.

Thank you for reading.

I love you.

Judith’s New Name.

Sundays are generally filled with laughs, reflection, and planning for the week to come. This Sunday was much different, though. This Sunday I was invited to baby “Judith’s” Dedication at church. Why’d I put Judith in quotes? We’ll get there. If you haven’t read my last update Meet Sarah and Judy you should read it before reading this one because it’ll give a much more authentic look at why I’m crying at my computer. Well, the service was a Hausa service, which means that everything was in the local language, Hausa. Initially, I was a bit nervous about a 3-hour service in a language I do not yet understand or speak, but everything about it was beautiful. I loved hearing the children worship in their native tongue. I loved watching the women play their local instruments. I loved hearing the the people behind me singing to the Lord, even if I didn’t know exactly what was being said. When I studied for my Master’s, I wrote many papers on the learning process of bilingual children and often referred to their native language as their “Heart Language.” In the grand scheme of things, that’s exactly what it was for everyone in church today. Sure, most of them knew a good bit of English, but Hausa is the language of their lineage, community, family, and from what I could tell, their hearts. Sarah had been planning to dedicate “Judith” for about a month now, but the dates just weren’t working. The 28th is a special number for me. Not simply because of my birthday, but it was the day I learned that I can truly be loved. It seems silly, but I was ecstatic to spend the 28th of July dedicating this beautiful baby girl to the Lord.

Now for the name…

About a week ago, Sarah wrote me a letter asking me if I’d give her permission to change Judith’s name to Shakiyla. I was stunned. I’ve only known Sarah and her family for 8 months…EIGHT MONTHS, so the thought of her naming her daughter after me was beyond anything that made sense. I hadn’t told anyone but my family, and honestly, I didn’t think she was serious. We talked about it, and she said things that brought me to tears, things about my character in light of Christ, things about the gifts of God she sees in me, and things about my flaws. Yes, my flaws. Sarah is honest and whole-hearted so even reminding me of my imperfections are full of love. She has seen me at my worst and has loved and encouraged me through it. She said things that were a true reflection of who I am because she has taken the time and initiative to see me as more than her boss. She’s welcomed me into her country, her village, and more recently, her home. I’ve tried my hardest to reciprocate that love. I’ve prayed many nights asking God to just show me what I could do to serve her more intimately. I wasn’t sure if I’d done that, but in that moment, she solidified the fact that even in my brokenness, she saw Him, which was my greatest desire. God knows I see Christ in her.

My last blog was the ONLY picture she has of herself smiling, so I cherish it, lol. Also, me and Shakiyla match, AGAIN.

I feel like I need to introduce her again. So, meet baby Shakiyla. She is the sweetest, quietest, and most cuddly little flower child. The kids call her “Shaki Shaki” and I think I may end up calling her “KiKi.” I’m still in awe of the fact that there is a child on this earth named after me. I’m so humbled that she and her husband saw it fitting.

Many days here I question whether or not I’m where I’m supposed to be. I question whether I’m with the people I’m supposed to be with. I question whether or not I heard God clearly when he gave me the specifics of this calling to Nigeria, but today I am confident. I’m confident that He’s building a family for me here. I know I have a long way to go in my personal growth with the Lord and remaining faithful while missing the people I love most gets exhausting. I know there are days when I just give up, but I’m encouraged in the truth that WE ALL WILL. We’re supposed to. We are nothing without the love, patience, provision, and strength of our Father.

She was tired of the foolishness.

Seeing pictures of myself holding a baby is overwhelming. Before coming to Nigeria, I was in a place in my life where I just knew I wouldn’t be a mother. Lately, I’m not so sure.

Thank you for reading. If you haven’t already, please go to my connect page and subscribe and follow. I love sharing this journey with you all. Send kisses to Ki Ki.

I love you.

Meet Sarah and Judy.

Looking at my website, I noticed it had been over a year since I’ve posted in the “Meet a Friend” section. The purpose of my creating that page, as stated, was to shed light on some of the most compelling and impactful people I know. Without further ado- meet Sarah:

Most of my professional life I’ve been told, “Don’t make friends with the people you work with, for, or who work for you.” For a long time, I obliged. In my mind, it made sense to just keep all things professional. Keep my distance. Pay them. Make my money. Do my job. Go home. Thankfully, that stopped early on. For 5 years I worked in home health where for 10-13 hours I was in the same house with my co-worker, and now sister, Alexis. We were responsible for the lives of 8 men. How can you not build a relationship? Eventually, she was the husband and I was the wife, lol. Sometimes we switched. I couldn’t imagine life without, Lex. I’ve cried, prayed, and laughed more than I could count. After receiving my Bachelor’s, I moved on to teach high school English where I met Cary. We were the dynamic duo (at least to our kids) If Cary had a young lady in his class who just needed “mama for a minute” he came knocking on my door, took over my class, and I went on down to his room. I was able to do the same. He was my backbone in education and is now my backbone in life. I know, I’m supposed to be introducing Sarah and Judith, but it’s important to understand that early on, I was nervous about building a relationship outside of anything professional, then, through reminders of people like Alexis and Cary, God said otherwise.

From the moment I landed in Nigeria, Sarah has been a sweet breath of fresh air. Her gentleness reminded me that it’s okay to be gentle. Her boldness reminded me of the beauty in balance. There are certain people in your life who you just gravitate toward, Sarah was that for me. After about 4 months, I found myself telling her about my hysterectomy. It was like the words just fell out of my mouth and she immediately caught them and reminded me of the maternity she’d seen from the moment I got here, “No surgery can change that, Aunty” she said.

Y’all already know what I did next, so I’m not going there. Well, during that same time, she and her husband got pregnant, and to be honest-it hurt. I know that sounds silly and selfish, but that’s my truth. It hurt. I sat on the counter in the kitchen and she sat across from me and asked how I felt. “How do I feel?” How do I feel about the fact that 6 months post-op, prime menopausal, and settling into a new life, country, and culture, having to watch you be pregnant? How do I feel?

“I feel ridiculed by God.”

I told her that, and she sat in it for a moment. Silently. That silence will forever be in my heart. I know she was praying. I felt her communing (even without words) with the Lord right in front of me and I immediately thanked God for placing her there. Sarah reminded me where I was. She reminded me that I am surrounded by children who would kill to be loved-she reminded me about adoption-she reminded me about being in her daughter’s life- but most importantly, she reminded me that my identity was not, and should never be in child-bearing.

I know many of you are probably like, “LAWD, SHAKIYLA, LET IT GO!” I feel like I’ve talked about it in every post in the past year, but imagine having an image of who you want to be. Imagine cultivating that for 10+ years. Imagine finally establishing a sense of “identity” then leaving it on a hospital table never to be felt again. It’s hard. It’s exhausting, but it’s my story and I’m accepting it.

Well, Sarah had baby Judith, and I’ve decided to call her “Judy.” Their village is about a 30 minute walk from my house, and so I drove, LOL. She was so thankful to have me visit, but honestly I was even more so to have been invited. Everyone was welcoming and loving. Sarah made lunch and I held on tight to Judy. YES WE MATCH. I’m a nanny. I came to Nigeria to work at a high school, ended up at a college, and am closing in on month seven with a God-child. It has been interesting, to say the least, but I couldn’t imagine life here without having felt the warmness of Sarah.

I know this isn’t a typical “Let me encourage you” article, but honestly, that’s not why I do these. These are to show appreciation for those beams of light in my life. They are to remind us of how to love, serve, and be a reflection of God. These have little to do with who I am, and more to do with the people I aspire to mirror in my daily desire to be better, show better, and love better.

Thank you for reading.

I love you.

There’s Hope.

I was finally able to go downtown under the bridge and get some shots of the new mural. There’s so much hurt happening right now. Every time I read a blog or website in Jos, its focus is murder, tribal wars, political disarray, and constant attacks. I decided I didn’t want that to be my post today. Sure, I could talk about the things that have been happening-the things that are hard to come to terms with- but this beauty deserves just as much of a platform.

Let’s start with the name, The Secretariat Junction Flyover Bridge…..short and sweet, right? We parked on the side street, and walked (but really ran) across to get some close-ups. I’m not sure who painted. I’m not sure why they painted. All I know is that it is a breathtakingly beautiful image of the different tribes and all things that make Jos special. I am in NO way a photographer, but I hope these pictures make you smile like they made me. First, here is what the bridge looked like when I first got here

(in November):

This is what it looks like now (May 2019):

I find much peace and power in finding the silver lining; especially in things outside of my control (basically everything). These simple paintings helped start my week on a much better foot than the former ended. I’m passing it on to you.

Wherever you are in life. In whatever trial. Overcoming whatever obstacle. Breaking free of whatever bondage, make sure you stop to find your silver lining. If it’s seemingly impossible, do what these artists did and CREATE one.

Thank you for reading.

I love you.

If you follow me on Facebook, I shared a video of a couple of boys we got to see dancing, too! My upload took much too long, here.

The Women of Hope and Batik Fabric

So much has happened in the past few weeks. Initially, I planned to talk about some of those things, but this day was too sweet not to share first. I think sometimes we glorify our hurt. We give it an unwarranted, undeserved pedestal, and stare at it from a distance in self-pity. It’s as if we’ve grown so accustomed to it, that we prefer it over the freedom that comes with letting go. I met some of the most beautiful women, and they are teaching me the necessity of relinquishing the hurt from my past. I left so full of love and encouragement.

Each of them is HIV positive and in Nigerian society, and most societies alike, they are deemed outcasts and ignored. Poverty runs ramped in women combating such a social stigma, but these women have a light at the end of the tunnel. They all have special artistry skills and use those skills to support themselves and their families. Some of them sew, make dolls, make stuffed animals, tapestry, blankets, clothes, shoes etc. On this day, though, I was focused primarily on the women who create the Batik (bah-teek) fabric.

Let’s have a quick “History Lesson” lol. Batik is a special sort of printing that is made by boiling wax, using stamps or other locally made tools, and creating a wax-resistant “print” in the fabric before dyeing. Some people draw pictures and make images, all with the heated wax. There are so many different ways to create the fabric, and it is extremely time consuming, meticulous work. For centuries, different nations have been creating their own special form of Batik art, and for centuries they have turned heads. Personally, I’ve gotten Batik from Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana, but there are many other places that have their own style of Batik fabric-making. The places I’ve been able to look more into include, but are not limited to, Indonesia, Australia, Egypt, The Philippines, India, Malaysia, and China. As you’ve already seen, I love all things Nigeria, so that’s where I’m focusing in on here.

This is a short video I made (for all my visual and audible learners) that simplifies the process (as much as I could), but this article will be a much more detailed look at the work that is necessary to create this breathtaking fabric.

I will explain and show images of each of the three methods the ladies taught me. Just getting this footage of a mini-preview took over 2 hours, so I KNOW the actual creation of these products takes much longer.

The first, is the Stamp Method.

The women started with a large pot of boiling wax, it took about 30 minutes to completely liquefy. They’d created some “stamps” to be dipped into the wax, and used to make the fabric design. These stamps are a pretty durable foam material that the women cut and carve to get a desired look. This too, takes much time, but they are able to wash and re-use them. Once the wax is boiled, the stamps are dipped and placed on the 100% cotton fabric. They stressed the importance of using 100% cotton. They said the most other fabrics “are not as fine.”

The next step in the stamp method is to mix HCl acid, WARM water, and the dye of choice. The ladies had on face masks and gloves because the chemicals were strong. They emphasized the use of warm water rather than hot or cold, because you don’t want the wax to melt, then the print wouldn’t emboss, and you don’t want it to harden, then it’ll be harder to melt off once dry. SO. MUCH PRECISION.

Finally, the fabric is laid out to dry. Once completely dry, it is dipped in hot water to remove the wax, and left out to dry once more before ironing, selling, or sewing.

The second is the Jollof Method. The Jollof method is much easier. The ladies simply scrunch the fabric up on the ground outside, and pour over it the colors the buyer has asked for. In the video and these pictures, they used purple and red. The fabric is left out for a while, then right before it is completely dry, they open it up. It was absolutely gorgeous. This one is washed and ironed before selling.

The last method I was able to watch was the Broom Method. It, too, was pretty simple. The ladies took handmade brooms, dipped them in the boiled wax, and “sprayed” it all over the cotton fabric. The same steps of dipping and dyeing that are used in the stamp method, were used here.

In short, I was able to spend hours in awe and silence while watching and listening to their stories. I was gifted with the ability to not say a word, but listen and learn lessons that life taught them. They work hard. They are thankful, but things get tough when sells are down. The Batik women, and all of the Women of Hope are a sweet reminder of faithfulness and God’s grace. If you’d like to purchase any of their items, visit the website below. This website is a collection of the 10 African countries Rafiki assists in supporting women all over the continent. I encourage you to take a look and support if possible.

https://store.rafikifoundation.org/women-of-hope.html

Thank you for reading.

I love you.

Acha Pudding.

Here’s a quick recipe I think is among my top 3 favorite Nigerian dishes. One of my University-level students made it for me to try, then I asked about a recipe and realized it’s not hard at all. She has consistently brought me random Nigerian dishes, and I love the time we get to spend together at the table as they giggle while curiously go forth. The students are teaching me so much more than they realize. I’m able to see them as people, and not just numbers on a role sheet, or grades in an excel file. There’s is such depth in education, but that’s another article in itself.

The dish is called Acha pudding. The main ingredient, and in most cases, one of 3 ingredients, is Acha or Fonio grains. They are pretty popular grains in West and Sub-Saharan Africa. They’re tiny, smaller than quinoa, and cook down with various liquids to create practically any dish! I’ve been on this kick with researching the health benefits of everything I eat, primarily grains. I think it started when I was first diagnosed, and it has become somewhat a habit.

Okay, so this is what they look like. Despite my elephant hands, I think you can tell how tiny these super grains are.

I’ve read a few articles on the grain itself, and the most common response is, “very little goes a long way!” Most people can feed a groupof 16-24 with only 2-3 cups. TWO TO THREE CUPS. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but that’s a lot of mouths being fed. Research shows that the average household size in Nigeria is 6 people, so imagine the naira (money) being saved if this was the starch for a meal rather than something as expensive as rice.

We walked right into the market, and grabbed a huge bag for about
₦ 1000 ($2.80).

Now, there are PLENTY of health benefits listed, but I’ll only share a few. If you want to know more, there are hundreds of articles where people talk about the amino acids, methionine, and origins of acha (fonio), we’re not doing that today, friends. I’m sorry if I let my science folks down.

Health Benefits (a few)

My favorite are the digestive benefits. I think anytime I can eat a meal that will not leave me so full I want to die, or unbearably bloated- it’s a plus. Like most healthy grains, fonio is loaded with fiber and as such, it rids your digestive tract of toxic waste. It’s also gluten free. That doesn’t mean much to me, but for some, that’s the selling point so there ya go! I’m finding that more people are developing a gluten allergy than I’ve ever seen, so anytime I can recommend, I will. I’ve heard about the challenges that come with finding delicious, affordable foods that aren’t gluten-filled.

It is also a great source of energy. Most people here (Central Nigeria) eat acha pudding for breakfast, which makes complete sense because you can literally feel the boost of energy hit you in the face. It’s like another form of Oatmeal. Obviously, it isn’t but that’s the best way I can describe it. It actually reminds me of Cream of Wheat, too. I feel like I’m just typing out loud. Is that a thing? Like, thinking out loud-but with my fingertips? This is what happens when you write without outlining, kids. OUTLINE. What in the English teacher is happening? This is a mess. LOL. MOVING ON….

I cooked it down with skim milk (because lactose intolerance), honey, and it took about 30 minutes. Yes, 30 minutes. I thought I would be able to just pop it on the stove for a bit like oatmeal, but this is a much more dense grain and apparently she needs a bit more attention. You want it to be smooth, rather than “gritty”, the consistency is much like quinoa. If you’ve never had quinoa, that’s not helpful at all…

Here’s the recipe we used:

Acha Pudding

Ingredients

1 c Acha (Fonio)
4 cups of milk. (Any milk is fine, but again, I'm lactose intolerant so
I've used soy, almond, and coconut and they've all worked fine)
1 dash of salt (I always lol at this measurement) 
1 tbsp raw honey
& fruit of your choice. (The first time I had it, I didn't add fruit,
the second time I added bananas, and the third time I added mango.)

Instructions
1. Rinse the acha (just like rice, I can't believe there are people in this world who
don't rinse their rice)
2. Add the acha and the milk in a medium/large pot and stir
continuously for 30-40 minutes. 
3. Once the grains are tender, it's finished!
4. Add whatever toppings you'd like. 

I know this wasn’t the most traditional recipe article, but none of my recipes ever are. I have such a strong love for “author’s voice,” that I refuse to compromise. Also, I wanted to share a bit more of my food adventures while I indulge the beauty of Nigeria and her culture.

Thanks for reading.

I love you.

Egusi Soup ft. a Louisianian.

Okay, so I know the last time I posted, I shared some background information on Egusi soup, possible origins, and the inspiration behind why it is often coined one of the BEST Nigerian dishes. This time, I made it myself, y’all. Like, I really made it myself. It only took me about a month to build up the courage and just go for it, so of COURSE I documented it.

Just for clarity, I promise this is NOT a food blog, lol! I just can’t stop eating everything I see, and I have to share. My next few posts will be on relationships (which I NEVER write about) family, national attire, acha, and Psalms 1 in no particular order.

Well, let’s just jump right on in. If you’re here because you just want the recipe and you’re willing to miss out on all this extra photographic magic, here’s the link to the written recipe BUT, there’s no fun in that. Right?

Let's just look at how many ingredients went into this madness of a soup...

Ingredients
4 cups Egusi seeds
1/4 cup Palm Oil
2 cups (or so) chopped beef
2 cups (or so) Shaki or cow hide
2 tbsp crayfish
1/2 fresh catfish chopped into bite size pieces
Smoked fish (I'm not sure how to measure this, I used 6 fish)
3 cups of spinach or bitter leaves 
2 chicken stock cubes (or fresh chicken broth, it's soooooo much better)
Salt and pepper
Cayenne, because Louisiana
3 garlic cloves
1 white onion
1 green onion
3 small tomatoes

That in itself would be reason enough for me not to cook this, but I said I wanted to give it a try so a good friend took me to the market and we got EVERYTHING I needed (and of course some fabric because why not).

I recommend taking the time necessary to prep your foods before starting. Egusi cooks fast, and the last thing you want is to be chopping your life away and smell the main ingredient burn to ashes… I speak from experience…harsh, depressing experience lol.

Chop the beef and shaki (cow hide) into bite-size pieces, add a small chopped onion and begin to let that cook down on the stove. I added 2c of water, the chicken stock, and just kept an eye on it while I did these next few steps. Look how beautiful. My hands smelled like the seaside and I loved it.

fresh fish, shaki (cowhide), and beef cutlets.

Take the smoked/dry fish and soak it in a bowl of water. About 2 cups. It
doesn’t need to fill the bowl or cover the fish completely. This will get it
soft enough to break up and add to the soup. The smell was the absolute worst, and honestly, I don’t know how I took this picture.

Smoked catfish


These two steps are pretty simple and quick, remember your meat on the stove! Using a food processor or blender, go ahead and chop the egusi seeds
into a slight powder substance. Chop your onions, tomato, and peppers and blend them as well. It should be a pretty thick salsa-like consistency. Save a little onion for later. Set it aside.

Blend your crayfish into a powder- like consistency, and set it aside. Crayfish was something new to me. I honestly didn’t know what it was and when he grabbed at the market I wanted him to put it back.

Now, let’s cook!

Add the palm oil to a deep skillet. I prefer not using a really large pot, or
a shallow pan. I switched pots mid-cooking, and I’m here to
save you time and dishes. In a separate bowl, mix the Egusi seeds and the onions from earlier and stir gently with your hands. It’ll be pretty thick. That’s okay.

Firs, add the salso mix to the oil, then slowly add the Egusi mixture to the HEATED palm oil and begin frying. Check your meat from earlier, and be sure it isn’t burning…take a guess why I keep saying that… (not pictured)

Allow the Egusi to completely fry, then add the meats and stock. The first image was when I was tempted to add the meat, the second one is when I actually decided to. I’m glad I waited, because that small change in consistency made ALL the difference. In the second one, you can see where it started to burn-it cooks fast-gas stoves don’t play, but it did fine after I gave it some tender lovin’.

While this cooked a bit, I began breaking apart the dry fish and de-boning the fresh fish as fast as my fat fingers would allow.

Now, add ALL the meats, and the stock from the beef and allow that to cook down for 25-30 mins, stirring continuously. I think that’s what I’m noticing most about Nigerian meals, they take work. These women cook much larger meals for their families and it legit felt like I worked my arms out by the end of the recipe. Hats off to the Naija queens and kings putting in work in the kitchen.

During the last ten minutes, I added the chopped fresh fish and chopped 
spinach, and during the last 5 minutes I added the crayfish.

Let’s have a moment of silence to acknowledge all of the dishes I’ve used thus far…

I washed them before I ate because it hurt my heart to look at this, lol

While the soup cooked down, I went ahead and began preparing the swallow to have with it. I used Poundo. Nigerians, don’t judge me. I haven’t mastered the art of actually pounding yam. Baby steps. I also danced my life away to H.E.R. because if you know me, you KNOW, I seldom cook in silence.

Serve 
Scoop you up some in a bowl, and eat with any tuwo/swallow of your liking. Most people I’ve read prefer pounded yam, but I prefer tuwo rice, unfortunately, I didn’t have either… so the fake stuff it was.

This song is probably one of my favorites from this E.P. (act like you care).

Honestly, I didn’t anticipate that this blog would be this long, but I really have enjoyed writing it. It took a couple hours with links and images, but this was probably the most therapeutic quiet I’ve had since I made the soup. Loneliness sometimes creeps at the door and sneaks up on me when I least expect it, but lately, I’ve enjoyed times like this. I’ve enjoyed the times to share, cook, talk(yes, talk), read, and just write by myself.

Well, here’s the final product and a final look at the chef, lol. I love creating, especially in the kitchen. If you’ve read all the way through, thank you. If not, thank you for visiting. I love being in Nigeria. I love learning so many new things, and I just love the authenticity of this culture. I’ve heard some people say some pretty harsh things about the “people here”, but I’ve seen nothing short of magic.

Thank you, again, for reading.

I love you.

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