TERANGA (wolof) [tar-aag-ga] n. the Senigalees practice of extending radical hospitality to everyone.
Teranga reminds us that when we open our hearts, minds, and country to immigrants, they will come into our lives and make them better. Teranga is about seeing the value in people who are different than you.
The first time I had a meal with Diagne, I was not feeling well. My gut was having issues, and I was trying all sorts of elimination diets to try and figure out what was causing it. At that time in 2018, I did not have a good relationship with food. I was going to Diange’s house in DC to film a video of her cooking.
As I walked up to her door that morning I planned out what I would say to her so I wouldn’t have to stay and eat, “I wish I could stay, this all looks amazing! But I really have to get back...” She greeted me at the door. I can’t remember specifically, but I’m sure she offered me food and drink upon my arrival, which I’m sure I politely declined. We had a great time cooking, and I basked in the magic of Diagne in the kitchen. Thinking how lucky I was that this was my job. We plated everything beautifully, and got great shots of her holding up the delicious plate and taking a bite for the camera. We wrapped the shoot and I was buzzing thinking of all the ways I could edit it together to make an awesome video. Then, we all sat down to eat.
I was not aware of teranga as a concept yet, and looking back on that day now, I think it’s the best beginning to this journey I have had the honor to be on with Diange. Before I had the chance to make a bad excuse, she dished me up a heaping plate of quinoa, yassa, and veggies. My stomach twisted. How would I be able to eat all of that? It would be so rude to not eat the food I had just spent the past 3 hours making with her. I felt sick. We all sat and chatted, and I took small bites. It was delicious, but between my nervousness to eat anything, and my anxiety about disrespecting her, I did not feel like scarfing it down. Diange definitely commented on me not eating (which she has done many times since then, and now I find it very endearing), and I said something about how I didn’t feel well for some reason definitely not related to her amazing food. “The juice!” She exclaimed. She went to the fridge and took out a plastic bottle full of a delicious purple juice. “I made this for the film, but I forgot about it. You have to try some, it’s very good for you.” She poured me a glass over ice, and I took a timid sip. I felt the cool juice hit my tongue with delicious fruity flavor and then slide down my throat into my stomach. Instantly I felt amazing. What was this magical elixir?
“It’s hibiscus ginger juice,” Diagne said, “a seneglese drink.” I scanned my brain for everything I knew about hibiscus. “Hibiscus is a flower with lots of healing properties. It is very good to drink.” Diange taught me. I took another delicious sip. “Ginger is also very good for the stomach,” she continued. I had drunk half the glass in just a few minutes. I felt amazing. I stayed and we continued to eat. Diagne taught me more about the different healing properties of food, and how the dishes we were eating had specific ingredients that worked together in the body. Why didn’t we ever talk about that part of food?
In America we do not eat things for our bodies. We never talk about how this meal will affect our bone density or blood pressure.
Food is medicine. Food is the OG medicine. Diagne see’s this ignorance in America, and she is giving her time and energy to teaching us. All we have to do is listen.
My journey with food as medicine began that day, but has continued to today. I am learning more about cooking and eating every day. There is so much I want to say about food, and so many intersections I would love to dive into, I want this piece to open our minds to all the threads of food and culture.