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.

Dear Black Men:

Initially, I planned to use this letter as a platform to address what’s going on in society. I would comment on the police brutality. I would defend the cries for air, the pleas for breath, the petitions for equality, but God told me to talk to you, not around you, not about you, not through you, TO YOU.

I pray you feel my praises.

Let me start by saying, I love you. I love you like the dawn dew that quenches the thirst of every blade of grass-plentifully and full of provision.

I love you like the rest that comes following endless days, and sleepless nights-refreshingly

I love you like Sunday mornings- peacefully

I love you like the gentle kiss of the breeze- unseen, sometimes silently, but always felt.

I love you like the songs of freedom and salvation, eternally.

This is how I love you.

My dear Black man, you are strong. In your DNA lies the strength of thousands of men who watched their children be snatched and killed while their wives were raped and beaten. Some were stolen, some escaped, but all were affected and you were molded by them.

You were the Strange Fruit they sang about hanging from southern trees, and still your sweetness feeds us.

You have running through your veins the strength to fight. Even your weeping sends trembles down their spines. You have the strength to feel in a world that wants you numb. Find freedom in feeling. I’m sorry you have to be so strong, but I thank you for your strength.

You are resilient. Society has knocked you down, demonized you, animalized you, and painted you a threat. They have made a mockery of you. They have tried to terminate you. Still, you thrive. Still, you provide. Still, you exist. I’m sorry you have to be so resilient, but I thank you for your resiliency.

You are elegant. Yes, ELEGANT. Your presence stops people as you float across the room. They can’t quite figure out what of you is captivating, but I know it’s the beauty of your soul. It shines through. They fear the unknown, so they fear you. They judge the unknown, so they judge you. They kill the unknown, but as hard as they try- that beautiful soul will never die.

You are powerful. You could break and destroy all that has broken and destroyed you. You could tear from limb to limb all that has torn you. You could strangle. You could kill. But with those hands- those beautifully beaten hands- you hold our sons and daughters. You carry, so gently, your mothers’ burdens. You dance in slow motion, palm to waist. You take stretched out fingertips and go for long walks. You wipe tired tears. You tuck in. You cuddle. You caress. You comfort. You repair. You build. You heal. Thank God, your hands heal.

No matter where you go, no matter your position, no matter your possessions, you may be deemed worth fearing, but know that we see you. We see the gentle giant and we love him. Know that we hear you. We hear your supplication. We hear your pain. And we are near to you.

My sweet King, with the rising of each breath, I watch fear grow beneath your chest, and with every exhale- you become FEARLESS. Thank you for your fearlessness.

You are not an animal.

You are not a caricature.

You are not a monster.

You are not a threat.


You are tired.

You are meticulous.

You are determined.

You are valued.

YOU ARE NECESSARY.

I love you. We love you. Forever and always.

I’m bearing this burden with you. God sometimes has a strange way of healing the broken, but I trust His healing will come. You are His. You are kept. Yes, stand firm, but don’t stand for too long. Stop. Rest. Replenish. Feel. You will live.

Thank you for reading.

Feel free to leave a note of prayer requests, comments, or encouragement for the men reading.

Featured photo by George Coletrain on Unsplash

Refuse to go under

I don’t usually talk about my findings in scripture in and of themselves. They are more commonly the foundation of an idea or life event and those things become the topic of discussion through the lens of God’s word. Here though, I want to share how God’s truth kept me from drowning.

For the past couple weeks I’ve been experiencing this ongoing fight with Satan. In short, he has been telling me that I’m “too much.” I acknowledge that Satan is the enemy. I do not wrestle against flesh and blood, so the powers that be are to blame, not any person/people used as a vessel (Ephesians 6:12). Initially, it was pretty vague, but as time went on, the indistinctiveness (not sure if that’s a real word) became clear and constant.

You are too emotional

You are too talkative

You are too serious

You are too opinionated

You are too complicated

You are too eager

You are too loud

You are too common

You are too curious

You are too inquisitive

You are too analytical

You. Are. Too. Much.

As the days and weeks went on, I started to believe him. If you listen to something long enough, it becomes a part of you. I think this is one of many reasons why Solomon implores us to guard/keep our hearts. If not, the truth gets drowned in the bellow of lies and you go under along with it.

You lose your breath. You lose your capacity to survive. You lose yourself in the belittlement of all that you thought made you special. You feel yourself drowning. You feel the weight of the water pushing you down, no matter how hard you try to swim.  You grapple for air and as soon as your mouth opens, it’s shut with the berating power of hurt-filled insults. Despite the pressure of it all, you open your mouth again to scream for help and taste those attacks on your tongue. They fill your cheeks… then your throat…then your chest… and right before they reach your lungs and you drown in the weight of Satan’s trickery; God’s truth draws you to the surface.

A good friend, unknowingly said exactly what the Lord wanted me to hear, “Shakiyla, you are not too much…” As the tears began to flow, I found myself finally resting in the arms of His grace. I’ve come to terms with the fact that we live in a world where most people are either incapable or uninterested in learning the intricacies of our existence. Thankfully, God already knows and for eternity, He will welcome us into His presence. Nothing is too much for the Father. Your baggage is not baggage to Him. Your personality is not merely tolerated by Him. He loves you. All of You. He will mold you daily to look more like His son and in that transforming love, you will find rest.

So, here are some tangible reminders of the truth that I promise will keep you from drowning:

  1. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3. All of those broken pieces that you may be expecting others to put back together, are His for the holding. They may try, and some may succeed, but all of you is exactly what He asks for. Let Him bind you up.
  2. “In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.” Psalm 31:20. Not only will He protect you from Satan, He will protect you from yourself and the harshness of others. Seek Him. Take refuge under His wing and find rest there. We are warriors in a world that goes against all that we stand on. Be confided in the truth that you may be knocked down, but you can find rest, rejuvenation, and restoration in the Father.
  3. “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8. People change. Circumstances change. Relationships change. We live a life of acclimation or reservation. We choose to either deal with the changes put before us, or to flee. It can be exhausting, but the enduring power of the love of God is what makes it exceptional. Be reminded, although others may change; He never will. His love is constant. His presence is forever. He is near to His children indefinitely.
  4. “Behold, my eye has seen all this, my ear has heard and understood it. What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. But I would speak to the Almighty and I desire to argue my case with God.” Job 13:1-3. Stop defending yourself to people. Your service and your life are in His hands. In brokenness, misunderstanding, and defeat, go to the one who KNOWS. Cast that heart of yours over to the Lover of it. You may not be as confused as people make you feel. You may not be as wrong as you’re being told. You will not get that clarity from a human heart, so go to God.
  5. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7. As tempting as it is to bring your every thought, worry, question, and anxious thought to people you love, understand that they cannot bear the weight of it all. Yes, we are called to bear each other’s burdens, but we are also called to submit those to God. Which do you think should come first? Go to Him and you may find no need to go to them, and that’s okay.

He is everything we need and more. Stop searching for the validation, affirmation, and acceptance from people in this life. Your closest friend cannot be your Jesus. Your parents cannot be your Jesus. Your family cannot be your Jesus. Your children cannot be your Jesus. Your spouse cannot be your Jesus. YOU cannot be your Jesus. They cannot save you and thankfully, they are supposed to. We not only need a Lord, we need a Savior. Saving is transactional (don’t think that’s a word either). He calls us in and we should respond in love by relinquishing all. I was holding on to my identity and today, as I finished this blog, I gave it to Him. What are you holding on to? What can I pray you would pour like sweet perfume at the feet of the Father? I’m here, but more importantly, He is.

Thank you for reading. I hope it encouraged.

I love you.

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Nigerian Zobo drink

Hey friend! The last post was super personal and a bit heavy, so I decided to lighten the mood this time around. This is a super quick and simple recipe for what I have found to be a popular drink here on the Plateau and I’m sure Nigeria at large. Now, let me first admit that this was my second *cough cough* third time trying this recipe… “I THOUGHT YOU SAID IT WAS SIMPLE!” I promise it is, but practice makes perfect, right?

The first time: I didn’t wash my leaves or cook them. I also didn’t add any ginger which is definitely one of the most important ingredients.

The second time: I took all advice from my husband. Truthfully, I knew better than to trust him around the kitchen. I love my chocolate man and he’s amazing at many things, but cooking is not one of them. HE CAN MAKE A MEAN GOAT PEPE SOUP, THOUGH!

This last time: I looked up recipes, called a couple of the women I’ve grown to trust in the kitchen here, and didn’t use any measurement tools.

Let me give you a bit of background on Zobo before I jump into the recipe. If you know all about it and are just reading to see how badly an American girl may have botched a Nigerian delicacy–click here for the recipe. Zobo is the Hausa name of the flower used to make this drink; Hibiscus sabdariffa is the English word. They are plucked from Roselle plants, which I happen to think are beautiful.

Roselle, Thai Red
Source: https://www.southernexposure.com/products/roselle-thai-red/

“The plant’s leaves and young flowers are often used for tea, syrup, jam, and [even] candy.” In the market here, many people harvest the leaves, lay them out to dry, and sell them by the mudu. Mudu is a common means of measuring produce in the market. To find out more about it and how it compares to other measurement systems, click here. On any day in Jos, other than during complete lockdowns, you will see people in the market with wheel barrels FULL of this dried hibiscus leaf, and even more people buying it by the bag.

I had Zobo when I first moved to Nigeria. The kids in the village made it for us with a side of cookies for the Christmas program. I’ve learned that many people drink Zobo during the holidays, parties, and some special occasions.

There are endless lists of the benefits of Zobo drink, but I decided to just ask around here and see what is most often noted:

  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Lowering blood sugar
  • Clarifying skin
  • Weight loss
  • Reduces swelling
  • Kills bacteria causing worms and parasites
  • Helps with menstrual pains

I’m sure there are other benefits, but I’ll stick with these for now. I posted me and Ishaku’s last attempt at Zobo on my Instagram story, and I had a few friends who have lived in other countries, such as, India, Mexico, and Japan tell me that they make something similar there. Hibiscus seems to have an array of health benefits, so it’s no surprise that many other countries eat or drink it. Y’all ready for the recipe or should we continue deep-sea diving into the specifics of Hibiscus sabdariffa? Let’s get to it.

Things you’ll need:

  • Zobo leaves (two hands full, maybe)
  • Ginger (1/2 thumb)
  • Honey
  • Pineapple
  • An orange
  • Water

Now, I prefaced this by letting you know that I didn’t use any measuring tools, so don’t be surprised if I say, “some”, “a lil bit”, or “a bunch.” I always give the option to skip the pictures and Shakiyla-inspired commentary and flip straight to the recipe, so if that’s your thing click RECIPE

Here are my leaves. We got them in town a few days ago. They were among those living the lavish life of a wheel barrel in town.

Now, you want to toss those babies into a pot of water (enough to cover them) and let it cook on a low-med fire for about 15 minutes. Look how pretty…

While that cooks down, chop about a thumb of fresh ginger into small pieces and add it the the pot. I used a potato peeler instead of chopping them because I didn’t feel like washing another knife. Do you. Just get it in there. Now that the ginger and leaves are swimming together, let them simmer for about 15 more minutes.

Grab how ever much pineapple you want. I think I used about 1/4 of a small one. The purpose of the pineapple is natural sweetness, so if you want to balance out the kick of the ginger, I’d say add 1/2 fresh one or one whole can of chopped. Mix that with a lil’ bit of honey and some of the pineapple juice.

I blended mine until it looked a bit like “froth” and left it to stay cold in the fridge.

Once the leaves are soft and almost look gummy, it’s time to let them cool. Here’s what they looked like after boiling for about 20 minutes (I lost track of time). Leave them in the pot to cool down and go dance in the living room for a while.

Once it cools, add the pineapple mixture, give it a good stir, let it sit for a couple minutes, then strain it with your cheesecloth, t-shirt, or whatever it is you use for straining. Notice how the mixture foamed up a bit from the acidity in the pineapple. I loved it. Thanks to the hubs for straining so I can take the picture.

Just a heads up for anybody trying this for the first time, the Zobo leaves will for sure stain anything white (or lightly colored). I wanted to use this while cloth because I wanted to SHOW just how quickly it stains. It went from bright pink to deep purple. The scientist in me thinks the oxygen from the water is what changes the color but honestly, I have no clue.

It looks purple and blue because of the stains from yesterday’s batch.

That’s basically it. put it in bottles or a pitcher and store it, or serve at your very own Nigerian themed party, lol. I often see them served with a slice of orange and a straw but I’m tryna save the whales and dolphins so I only added the orange slice. I hope you enjoyed it. Comment down below where you would serve Zobo if given the chance! Be sure to take my poll before you go.

No, that’s not a lemon. I promise it’s a Nigerian orange.

Thank you for reading.

I love you.

DEAR COVID-19 BRIDES

Dear COVID-19 Brides,

Let me start by saying to my subscribers and constant readers, this was not the article I intended to write. This was not what I had scheduled for publishing in my planner but like many of us, things are not what we thought they would be. I’m going to try my hardest to be brief, and if you know me, you know not to hold your breath. I wanted to say a few words to the women whose weddings were scheduled during this time. I want to say what you already know partnered with what’s so easy to forget. I want to say what others may not have said because they don’t know you need to hear it. I want to speak love, peace, and understanding over you and I pray you are encouraged.

Disclaimer: I am speaking from a place of experience. This isn’t something born of a researched opinion (like some past updates have been). I didn’t take any polls. I haven’t chatted with hundreds of brides. This is purely coming from the heart of a newlywed who is still coming to terms with what happened less than two weeks from today.

5 weeks ago I had what I thought was my final dress fitting, purchased the flowers for my bridesmaids, and sent my mama’s measurements to our tailor here in Nigeria. 4 weeks ago I was added to an email group notifying me that my flight to the States for my Bridal Shower was cancelled. 3 weeks ago I cancelled my mama’s flight to Nigeria because all airlines were given the order to close, cancelled her dress order, cancelled our food vendors, and cancelled the decorator. 2 weeks ago, I contacted about 250 people and let them know that we would not be having an open ceremony or reception, cancelled my hair and makeup appointments, and waited while my fiancé called the pastors and church elders. 12 days ago, I had my final dress fitting (yes, I got my gown the NIGHT before the wedding) because in a couple weeks time I lost almost 10lbs, my assistant, Patience, did 3 of my maids’ hair. The morning of my wedding, their sister did the other half of their hair and 5 faces of makeup, I did one of my maids and my own hair and makeup, and we just accepted that I didn’t have a long enough veil. 11 days ago, without my mother, brothers, sisters, and friends, I married Ishaku. This past month has been a roller coaster of emotion. Some days I’d cry unbeknownst myself and then stop out of nowhere. Some days I’d fall asleep on the floor in prayer. Some days, I was fine. Most days, I felt like I was in a whirlwind of confusion and fought tirelessly to rest at the foot of the Cross.

So, if this is or was you, take courage, you are not alone.

It’s okay to cry. I know that not all women are emotional beings. I know that not all women feel the need to cry in order to feel relief from unwarranted burdens. This, though, is for those of you who need that. This is me giving you the permission your fiancé may not have known you needed. This is me giving you the permission your family and friends may not have known you needed. This is me officially giving you the permission that YOU may not have known you needed. Go into a place of solitude, and cry if you need to. Mourn the cancellation of a binding covenant. Mourn the joy you and your partner had as the days inched closer. Feel the loss, accept the loss, and move forward as slowly as you need to.

Be encouraged, you don’t owe anyone an apology. This is not your fault. You did not create the Coronavirus outbreak. You did not shut down your city and its businesses. You did not cause the chaos around us all, therefore, you do NOT owe your invitees an apology. Release that burden. Don’t listen to the murmurs. Don’t fold under the pressure of people-pleasing. You know what the most responsible decision is, make it. All of our circumstances are different. Trust your gut and your husband-to-be.

Remember, despite your culture, your family, and your religious beliefs, the wedding is much less important than the marriage. They may crowd you on that day, but think of the days ahead. Will they be an ear when things get tough, when misunderstandings arise, when arguments are brewing? If you decide to cancel the wedding, go to a small, intimate setting, and marry your best friend, do not feel guilty about that. Do not feel guilty about the cancellations. Do not feel guilty about the phone calls or long conversations with loved ones. Celebration with them is beautiful, but you know what else is beautiful? Enduring this pandemic alongside the love of your life.

If you decide to postpone your wedding because the thought of marrying without your loved ones makes you sad, that’s okay, too! Use the time away from your spouse to seek growth in the scriptures. Use the time away from family to rest in silence. Use the time to prepare you heart, mind, spirit, body, and emotions for wifery (it’s a word because I say it is). Read and write. Pray and seek. Eat the cake. Use the time alone to celebrate the fact that the decision you both made is the first hard one (of many to come) and you did it TOGETHER.

How beautiful is that?

Weddings are a great celebration of a life to come, and anytime we feel like the world has snatched greatness from our fingertips, it’s hard to find joy. Thankfully, the world cannot and did not snatch the man you intend to marry. The world did not snatch the beauty of this covenant. The world was shaken, but be reminded that Christ has overcome the world. This may seem like an emotional avalanche but in the grand scheme of His majesty and I’m confident that He will see you through.

Stop.

Close your eyes.

Take 5 deep breaths.

And thank God for them.

I hope this helps. I love you.

Sincerely,

A fellow Bride

Dairy-free Chocolate “Cake”.

Today is Easter Sunday. I’m sure everyone is thinking the same thing, “Man this is weird.” We’re in quarantine, on lock down, or have a stay-at-home order in most places. Initially, I was going to write about what it’s like to experience this sort of global pandemic while living with anxiety, but I decided that instead, I’d put on 90’s gospel (Fred Hammond mostly) and bake a cake. So, here we are.

I haven’t always struggled with lactose, but since I was about 25, my stomach has been saying, “No ma’am.” to anything that has it. After a few years, I decided to stop fighting it. If I’m dying for ice cream, I take Lactaid. If a friend makes a dairy-inclusive dish, I take Lactaid. If I want to make my fiance roll his eyes at my stubbornness, I take Lactaid. As of late, I just don’t want to have to take it so I’ve been researching and implementing healthy alternatives in the kitchen.

I found a few recipes, but none really screamed out at me so I just tried it on my own. This was my first time. I felt bold. Now, if you want to skip all of this step-by step business, Shakiyla-like writer’s voice, and amateur photography, click here for the recipe.

I called it, “cake” with quotes, because the primary ingredient is banana. Most people would call this Chocolate Banana Bread, but after trying it in the round pan, I’m convinced it would serve just as beautifully as a cake.

Here are the ingredients. Aren’t they just precious sitting on the counter like a lil’ family?

Now, here are a few important things to consider with each of these items:

  • the bananas are RIPE. They almost look spoiled. That means they are ready and willing to make some sweet dessert-like-magic
  • I didn’t use flour. I used Wheat Meal. Wheat flour is hard to find here (Jos)
  • That small floral bowl contains the applesauce. It’s probably east to go to Wal-Mart and grab you some but AIN’T NO WAL-MART HERE. I took two medium apples, 1tsp cinnamon, and 3tbs of water, blended it up, and BOOM-applesauce.
  • I used brown sugar instead of white sugar and much less than most recipes.

Now, let’s get to gettin’, shall we? As with most baking recipes, start off by mixing your wet and dry ingredients in two separate bowls. I found one recipe that mixed the sugar with the wet ingredients and I think it really helped to keep that sweet kick subtle and flavorful. Go for it!

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cups applesauce
  • 2.5 cups mashed bananas
  • a tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar, or sweetener of choice
  • 2 cups wheat meal, wheat flour, oat flour, or any flour substitute that you use for baking
  • a tsp baking powder, baking soda, and salt
  • 1/2 cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s, anything is fine)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips if you feelin’ extra sweet today

Go ahead and preheat that oven to 350 degrees.

Your wet ingredients include: bananas (mashed), vanilla, eggs, and applesauce. I used about 7 bananas. I didn’t mashed them as much as most people recommend, but I secretly wanted them to be a bit chunkier in the batter. I like the flavor, and I think once they’re completely settled, it isn’t as “potent.”

Once you’ve gotten the bananas all mashed up to your liking, mix the rest of the wet ingredients in and stir until they are clearly combined.

Now, I’m one of those people who needs to see ends results. If that’s not you, ignore this shot. Truly, if you are a beginner with baking, it helps to see final textures and color for an idea of what methods create what outcome. (Hi, I’m a beginner)

Now, mix the dry ingredients in with your wet ones and again, stir until your soul says stop.

It’s not the most beautiful batter in the world, but baby, once it’s baked and in its Sunday Best, everybody gon want a piece.

I just want to take a minute and recommend that everybody in the world go out and purchase stainless steel measuring cups and spoons. Chile. I’m never going back. Erica got them and truly it’s going to be so hard to say goodbye *Boys 2 Men voice*

Now, I used a 1/2 cup measuring spoon to scoop my batter into the pan. It helped me to feel less prone to spilling but if you don’t have a Master’s degree in clumsy, go ahead and pour it in like a normal person. Bread pans work great. It was absolutely beautiful, but like I said, I really like it as a small cake or stacked cake batter. So, I tried both.

Put them in the oven for about 40 minutes. Poke with a tooth pick until it come out clean, and I recommend taking it out of the pan and putting it on a cooling rack if that’s an option. If you’re feeling real quarantiney, keep it in the pan, let it cook, and grab a fork. No judgemement.

Here’s our final product. She’s super light and fluffy. I made a small batch of banana “nice” cream to have on the side because what’s cake without ice cream? A mistake.

I hope you enjoyed my first attempt at healthy cakery.

Thank you for reading. I pray all is well in this time of confusion. Be encouraged, Jesus rose, and because He didn’t reamain in that grave, there is cause for joyful celebration.

I love you.

I Am Getting Married.

If you’ve known me for more than 5 minutes, you know that the last thing I saw manifesting in my future was marriage. Children, yes. Adoption, for sure. But I’d gotten to a point where I was thankfully content in singleness and had grown accustomed to saying, “That’s just not God’s will for my life.” This website has been the most transparent display of my journey with Christ, myself, and service. I’ve published article after article and interview after interview of me boldly saying, “That’s just not God’s will for my life!” I was never saddened or burdened by it- I just felt it was the truth. My past relationships and experiences with love had me convinced that was never supposed to be a part of my story.

In moving to Nigeria, I knew I’d find my purpose in a new light, but I never imagined my Father would send such a loving and gentle spirit to be a part of fulfilling that purpose. On my visit last month, I asked for my mother’s blessing (tears in eyes of course) and with the fullest of hearts, she said yes. It was like the greatest of burdens lifted and life started anew. I will be back in the States in March and my beautiful friends are hosting a Bridal shower in my honor. Please leave a sunflower in the comments if you’d like to be added to the guest list.

The wedding will be in May, which is one of many reasons why we were so insistent on saving and raising money to get my family here. It’s looking as though my mommy will be able to make it, but prayerfully, my brothers can follow sometime in the near future. I’m grateful. God has been so evident in our relationship. We could write a book filled with all that has happened this past year. It was hard and heavy. We’ve watched each other grow, change, and look more and more like Jesus. I can’t wait to watch our ministry blossom for His kingdom.

Toni Morrison taught me years ago that there was beauty in rising in love, rather than falling. Falling denotes a lack of self-control. Falling denotes an accident or even an inconvenience. I did not fall in love with Ishaku. I rose in it and I’m grateful to see that smile as we continue to rise together. #RiseInLove

Nairobi, Kenya

If you could be any wild animal, what would you be? I legitimately asked myself this the entire time I was on the safari in Kenya. Would I want to be as quiet and meek as an elephant or as bold and alert as a lioness? I’m still not sure, but what I am sure of, is that I will be going back to Kenya soon. It was breathtaking. I’ve finally found a bit of time to share images and experiences and I hope you feel like you’re on the African plains with me.

First, here’s a bit of information on the place we visited. It is called Masai Mara National Reserve and it is based in the same general area as the Maasai tribe. The reservation is bigger than anything I expected. “The Maasai Mara lies in the Great Rift Valley, which is a fault line some 3,500 miles (5,600km) long stretching from Ethiopia’s Red Sea through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and into Mozambique.” The cultural density in the area makes it that much more supernatural to experience. It was only 2 short days, but it felt like much more. My desire it to engulf each of you, my readers, my people, my friends, into the natural beauty of Kenya and God’s creation.

I think the easiest and most effective way to do this is to take you on this journey as I experienced it; beginning to end.

We took a flight from Nairobi, using Safarilink. It was super comfortable and about a 30 minute flight from the city to the reservation. I’m going to link as much as possible in case anybody is interested in going! The plane dropped us in the middle of nowhere and guess what I did, took a picture, LOL. It was pretty small. I think only about 40 seats, so you felt EVERYTHING, but you saw everything too, so the nausea was well earned.

From the plains, we got into our jeeps and took another 30 minute ride to the camp. On the way, we were able to see a few animals so it was a sweet taste of what was to come.

As tempting as it is to show you every single picture I took, I know that will make for a poorly put together informative blog, but honestly, it needs to happen. There was so much beauty around us. It’s an understatement to say it was overwhelming but there were times when we just sat in silence and stared off into the distance. That’s the power of God’s Creation. It was untouched, unaltered, and in all its greatness around us we couldn’t utter a single word.

The tent was definitely a 21st century one, lol. It was tucked away into a tree, but sturdy enough to keep the baboons at bay. We also were able to pass through the Obama Forest. There, the Obamas visited and planted some of the trees, so that was cool. Yes, yes that is an outside shower. No, I was not bold enough to use it.

Now, let’s head out for our first drive, shall we?

It took very little time for Jonathan (our guide) to start spotting things. He noticed many of the animals, made his team aware, and sped off to get up close. One of the first encounters we had was a group of cheetahs- 5 brothers, they say. They were so in sync and could not care less about the fact that we encircled them to take pictures. Eventually, you start to feel bad-like you’re invading their space, then you get over it because the smallest one yawns and it’s so stinking cute. *I did not use the zoom for these pictures, that’s how close they were to the cars*

We were eagerly watching them prowl on a herd of zebras. They used all of our cars as shield so the zebras had no clue they were behind us. They, soon after, went for the kill and ate. My crew and I weren’t patient enough to watch that, though, and Jonathan saw an elephant, what seemed to be, a million miles away. Pretty soon after, we saw a herd of them and a few giraffes waiting for me to blow them kisses.

Okay, let’s pause for a second. I didn’t formally introduce anybody. Here is my group. We really did have a good time. Standing up in the roof of the jeep, laughing, and learning with our tour guide made the experience even more memorable. If you are considering going to Masaai Mara, ask for Jonathan! He’s wearing his traditional attire. Many of the men in the village still do so. The necklace symbolizes how many wives he has. In his village, polygamy is still very much recognized and praised, but Jonathan is a one woman man.

From left to right: Steve, McKenna, Karen, Jonathan, and me, I’m Shakiyla and the sun was in my eyes.
still with the sun…

Okay, moving on. This was where everybody lost it. Nobody on the tour who had been on a safari had ever seen a leopard this close. He walked under each of our cars. He walked beside them. He sat and stared. It was surreal. Again, I did not use zoom specifically because I wanted to model just how close we were to the game.

Maybe 5 minutes after we all picked our jaws up off the ground (figuratively speaking of course) Jonathan saw a cheetah, again, a million miles away and we were off.

He posed for us.

We rode around for a while and Jonathan talked to us more about what it’s like living in this area. He was so accustomed to being around the animals because for him, it wasn’t a tour, it was just everyday living. The land the reservation is placed on, was protected from big companies wanting to build and destroy, not tribes willing to live peacefully alongside the wild animals which is exactly what they do.

As we headed back to camp to close our first day of the safari, we were gifted with goodbyes from a pride of lions and their cubs.

We ended Day 1 with a beautiful sunset and more giraffe kisses.

The next morning, we were on our way by 6:00a.m. it was pretty chilly, but I couldn’t keep myself from sticking my head out of the window. On this morning we saw hippos, water buffalo, and the remnants of a successful lioness hunt.

This ride was not nearly as long as the other one because we were going to close our afternoon with a visit to the Masaai village. I was able to see all of the things they make and sell by way of the Masaai Reservation, and the authenticity of their compound. They allowed us to go into their homes, sit in their living areas, and ask really intrusive questions. I had to stop and ask Lemayian if he enjoyed it… if he actually liked having strangers in his home regularly or if this was something he sacrificed to provide for his family. I was pretty forward, but he received it beautifully and with kindness. He said, “I really do like it. It gives me the chance to educate outsiders on my people, our lives, and who we are.” It was the most sincere answer. As we entered their home, they welcomed us with traditional song and dance.

I only got a couple of shots of their crafts, because I was too busy asking questions…. surprise surprise…

One of the most captivating things they showed us was the way they make fire. I’m sure, they are able to get matches from the camp we traveled from, but in asking him why they don’t, the chief’s son responded, “What we do works. We don’t have to go looking for easy options. If it works, and ours, why would we change that?” I nodded in agreement because what does one say to that..?

So, they take a piece of softwood and a piece of hard wood. They wedge them together on top of a machete and spin it around in their hands until it begins to heat up. If necessary, they’ll take turns and eventually, smoke will begin to rise. Once it does, they put dry cow manure on top of it to catch flame and it begins to burn. The process took no longer than 3 minutes. I was in complete awe.

We were able to walk around for about an hour more, ask more questions, and see what life was life for them. I felt, in a word, undeserving. I don’t know why I felt that way, but I left with a new sense of admiration for village life and what it entails.

After visiting the Maasai tribe, we headed back to the camp, had lunch, and prepared to head out. I must say, I have never been so struck by Creation. That entire trip I found myself reflecting on how ridiculous it is that I doubt God’s power, the author of all, and I have the audacity to doubt His power. It put much into perspective and helped me to mentally prepare for doing His work confidently, intentionally, and relentlessly. I hope you felt like you were in Kenya, even through pictures alone. My website has only a few goals: make God’s glory known through sharing His creation, make His healing seen through transparency, and make our need for Him evident through authenticity. I pray I have done so.

Thank you for reading.

I love you.

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