Bonjour everyone, nanga def?
I want to say, "I hope you're all doing well," but nobody's really doing well. Of course you're not okay right now. Life has never been so screwed up or hard, for most of us.
I hope whatever you're going through that it gets better soon. I hope you reach out if you need help right now (I have).
I'm just checking in, letting you know that we made it to California. I live in California now. It's still weird to say or even write. It's also currently super on fire; I can't see the usual mountains out of my window because of the thick smoke. There's a layer of ash over all of our outdoor chairs. The day we arrived just over a month ago, a fire began on a mountain so close we could see the red flames from our driveway. Then, a few days ago, someone had a gender reveal party that resulted in the current wildfire, so that feels pretty much in line with how life and the world are right now.
That said, I'd love to share great news about what's going on with Teranga Market despite the literal clouds following us around out here. I'm officially writing and working on Teranga Market full-time since arriving to Redlands, and this now includes being a vendor at a local farmer's market every Saturday from 8:00am-12:00pm.
Last Saturday was my first day at market... and IT WAS AMAZING.
I was up at 6am (let's be honest, I hadn't slept all night) and I was out the door by 7am. The sky was a piercing (fireless) blue streaked with clouds, the air smelled so fresh, and the palm trees were tinged with that super wholesome morning glow.
As I pulled up alongside some other vendors unpacking their trucks, I felt like a kid on the first day of school, hoping everyone would be nice and like me. Some things never change, I guess.
I unloaded all of my things in my designated spot, which was basically on top of a dozen ant hills, and parked the truck in the nearby parking lot.
When I returned, I did everything I possibly could before having to admit I couldn't open my huge tent by myself, but I recognized a kid who had sold me some fruit last week and asked if he wouldn't mind helping me out, and he was super nice and did. I said he could come back for a free scrunchie when we officially opened.
I was already sweating by 8am - we all were. It was already 86 degrees, and it was predicted to get up to 116 by noon. I later learned that the other Redlands farmer's market hadn't even opened because of the forecast.
Here are my favorite moments from the next 4 hours:
Just before we officially opened, I tried to look at a few other stalls, one of which had a giant sign that included the word "BONJOUR" in its name, so of course I made a beeline to it. An older gentleman sat behind an assortment of spreads on ice (hummus, cheeses, and more), and was already at work getting his portable fan set up. I bounced up in my giant colorful handmade skirt, unable to resist chirping, "Bonjour monsieur! Comment vous allez? Vous parlez français?"* (Hello sir, how are you? Do you speak French?)
Caught off guard, the man looked up, gave me deer-in-headlights eyes, and then immediately says, "Je vous aime toujours chérie," which means, "I'll love you forever my dear."
Okay, weird start to the first day of market.
I laughed and said that was a pretty strong welcome. He chuckled, saying, "Nah, I just asked you how you're doing, didn't I?" and when I told him what he had said, he shrugged and said, "Well yeah, that's true, too."
So, long story short: he doesn't speak French, he just sells stuff with a French word in the branding.
*PS: Yes, I know I could/should invert subject-verb here, but I mostly speak informal French in my life, and even when I use the formal form "vous," I love me some declarative sentences with intonation. Life's too short to be a prescriptivist.
The first couple hours of the market were surprisingly busy, but I kept my head tucked behind my book (Untamed, for those curious) since I personally don't like being on the other side of a table and getting bombarded when I'm the customer. I wait for you to come to me, and then I try my best to read your body language without access to your facial features and go from there (to be fair, past students of mine will tell you even without masks, I still read things poorly and like to story tell... a lot).
Some people just wanted to buy a cheap little cinch pouch to throw their headphones in, not really interested in the backstory, while others stayed at the table for 5 or 10 minutes, asking questions and sharing their own stories. I love it when it's the latter. The teacher in me pops out and loves answering questions about Senegal and French and Wolof and the conversations that stem from it all.
But one of the biggest surprises came when a woman approached my booth and I decided to mix it up and greet both in English and French. At the sound of the French, her head snapped up, her eyes widened, and she replied in perfect, crisp, standard French: "What? You actually speak French? How is it possible?"
If you know me, you know that when I get excited, I start talking about ten times as quickly, and it's no different in my second language.
We rapid-fire exchanged questions back and forth about the other's backstory, and I learned that she was formally educated in France but is from Eastern Europe, and her husband is Lebanese (where they speak Arabic and French), which led me to showing her the bracelets I had made (my sole interesting crafty contribution to the table) from recycled maps from my travels, one of which had a bead from Lebanon, and she was just tickled pink by that.
We reached a point where others were starting to form around the table, so she took my card and asked if we could get together for "un petit café" sometime to keep chatting in French, and I wanted to cry. Yes, of course I want to have a petit café with you. Just hearing it yanked me through the passage of time and landed me at the table I always sat at while blogging during my year in small town France. The hiss of the espresso machine, the biting, strong smell, waiters not giving a crap about anything...
It's a Small World
"Hey there!" came a friendly voice. "Welcome to the Grove Farm! I'm Peter, one of the farmers and teachers at the school."
"Hi Peter, I'm Katie. Nice to meet you!" He couldn't see how big my smile was behind my mask. I was so excited to meet everyone.
"Nice to meet you, too."
Peter then proceeded to share a little about the history of the farm, a little about the woodworking classes he teaches, and then we struck gold.
"Yeah well anyway," he continued, "I think you're going to like it here. You came during the hottest time, but it's much nicer the rest of the year after fire season is over."
"It mustn't be too bad," I replied, "You said you're not originally from here, and you've been here for 40 plus years right? Where are you from anyway?"
"Small town in Minnesota called St. Cloud."
"No way!" I couldn't believe it. "I went to grad school in St. Cloud and spent two years there!"
"Wow! What a small world..."
And then the conversation turned to how great their hockey team was, which is the only way that conversation could have gone, if we're being honest.
Sit DOWN! Let me show you TERANGA!
While Peter reminisced about hockey, another man showed up to the table. He seemed to know Peter since he casually walked up to him, like he had been part of the conversation all along, tilting his head to listen in.
I noticed he was holding an empty plate and cup, so while Peter continued, I grabbed my trash from behind the counter and offered it up to him in case he wanted to free up his hands.
"No no, thanks, I'm all set. I like to take these home and let the little buggies in the backyard have at 'em."
Oh, I soooo live in California.
This set off some kind of over-my-head banter between Peter and New Guy, both of whom shortly turned back to me and started asking questions about Teranga Market.
New Guy took a closer look at the vibrant patterns and items on the table, prompting the question, "So where is this all from? What's Teranga? Is it a country or...?"
They were both looking at me for some answers, but I seized the moment to "invite" them to sit on some chairs in my tent, and New Guy immediately plopped down, ready like a Kindergartner for story time, looking up at me expectantly, but Peter tried to insist that I sit down (ahhh, you are Midwestern), to which I replied,
"Oh just get your butt in the chair because that's Teranga!"
They both burst out laughing, and Peter took a seat as I launched into how Teranga literally translates from Wolof to "hospitality," which prompted them to ask a dozen more questions about language, Senegalese culture, religion, Anne-Marie and her family, colonization in Africa (just keeping it light, you know)... I felt like I was in my element. Back in teacher mode, passionately sharing and discussing all of my favorite things with a captive audience, hands gesturing widely, so excited I was pacing back and forth under the tent. It probably looked like a little performance.
I was so engrossed in the moment, I almost missed Siw's arrival!
A Cool Beverage and Friend
I met Siw via a Redlands Facebook group when I posted an inquiry there about a writer's group (and when I failed to find one, created my own). She was one of the first to join, and then she quickly connected me to ALL THE THINGS in Redlands, sharing resources and connections after she learned a little about me. She was the one to tell me about this market and was why I now a vendor.
GUYS, SHE BROUGHT ME A COLD DRINK IN 110 degree weather!
I could not have been more grateful, despite having a cooler with me and plenty of water - the icy juice drink really hit the spot. I unceremoniously (but in a Teranga way) kicked out my new friends to make room for Siw, but she was taking her time looking through the bracelets and tote bags before making her selection. I chugged her gift in the meantime, giving her a hard time about how sore I was from attending her YMCA bootcamp class the day before, when all of a sudden, there comes Mike zooming down the bike lane!
It was getting close to the end of the market, and I was hoping he'd be able to make it to help me pack up. And thank goodness he did, because not 15 minutes later, they closed the market about 20 minutes early due to the heat, and having his help was invaluable. I felt like I was getting slowly roasted alive.
A Good Day
So there you have it - an adventurous 4 hours filled with great people and conversations, a strawberry mango smoothie I forgot to mention, and one of the best days I've ever had at market!
Thanks to everyone who came out, and I hope to see you at a future market day! I'll be there every Saturday unless otherwise noted on our Facebook page.
PS: the "kid" I mentioned earlier did, in fact, come back for the free scrunchie (after a reminder). He gave it to his mom :)