Stories from Senegal: Omelette Katie
“Kah-tee Omelette! Tu vas ou?”
I’m trying to peel out of WARC without being noticed, which of course is impossible. I’d emerged barely alive from the morning’s 3-hour long lecture. At this point, it feels like some kind of mandatory sacrifice to be free for the rest of the day, and I was hauling it to UCAD, the local university, for my weekly Translation class. I wanted to get there before Mariama had a huge line of hungry college kids, which would also mean less time talking about my acne and rapid descent into spinsterhood.
However, I had been caught, so I skid to a halt and turned to my accuser with a big guilty smile.
“Bonjour Rama!” I replied, walking up to the schools’ mini restaurant. Once you fly into a greeting web here, you are stuck in it. “I’m just heading over to UCAD for my class…”
Rama, one of the waitresses, puts her hand on her hip, towel in the other hand. She tilts her head down at me and says, “Hm. Is that right? And without eating lunch?”
A couple of the other waitresses have come up to the window now, too, all leaning over the counter and looking at me with a knowing smile. They know where I’m going and what I’m doing, but they love to see Rama tease me and watch me squirm.
“Well,” I gulp, “I’m just gonna pick up a quick sandwich on the way…”
“Hm,” she says again, “Another omelette sandwich?”
“Ah… yes,” I say, guilty as charged.
“Kah-tee, you are going to become an omelette if you don’t stop eating nothing but omelette sandwiches! You are Kah-tee Omelette!”
At this, all the women laugh, and I join in, resting my arms on the counter. I kind of love it that they tease me, especially because they all seemed a bit intimidating in the beginning, but I think they’ve been warming up to me over the past few weeks.
Basically, I didn’t understand their demeanors at first, coming from the US where we expect service workers in restaurant settings to reassure us endlessly with smiles and well wishes for our day. So, I misinterpreted it as disinterest or annoyance, but I soon realized it was a combination of usually being super busy with work, plus, Senegalese women turn out to have the best poker faces in the world and won’t let you on to what they’re thinking or feeling until they’re quite certain they want you to know.
I’m the opposite. When I’d arrive before class to order breakfast here when it’s less busy, I’d burst into the courtyard with my excited-for-life energy and ask them questions about themselves, their lives, and I’d practice being goofy on them in French. I wanted to make them laugh because they always seemed to serious and worked so hard, so I’d trail around the courtyard like a stray pup, begging for scraps of attention and trying out my most recent dance moves on them, much to their amusement.
Rama was the last one I had to crack. I felt like she just straight-up did not like me. While the other five women gradually warmed up to me, Rama remained steely. I hadn’t passed her test yet, but I didn’t know what it was either.
It turns out, the answer was *not* to stop eating at the restaurant. Her restaurant.
You see, I had recently discovered that, directly across the street from WARC, was a man named Ibrahim who had collected enough tin and cardboard scraps to make a makeshift room on the sidewalk, leaning against a fence. Ducking to get inside, you’d see a low table, made of a few upturned buckets and a thin, recycled-looking piece of wood. Surrounding this were four makeshift benches, upon which customers would sit as Ibrahim made them coffee and various sandwiches. You could even bring your own ingredients if you wanted something added to his standard fare, like a can of condensed milk to add to your coffee...soooo good.
While the other students lovingly refer to it as “Cafe Diarrhea,” I leapt at the opportunity to save $1.50 on breakfast because that shit adds up when you’re a college student with something like $500 in your checking account and four months of your semester abroad left.
So, when you combine this with the fact that I had also recently discovered a similar situation at UCAD with Mariama and her cheaper lunch option (which, uh, was also an omelette sandwich), the women at WARC noticed that their lives had become suddenly quieter and more peaceful, and it turns out Rama wasn’t having it.
“So,” she continued, both arms crossed now over her chest, chin tilted up even further. “You don’t like my cooking anymore?”
There are few worse situations to be in then to stand accused of not liking a Senegalese woman’s food. There’s no laughter now, but the other ladies’ smiles widen, and they look to me expectantly for my response, their eyebrows disappearing up their foreheads.
“Uh…well, I mean....” I say, brilliantly. Her eyes narrow on me.
“I just… well, Rama, I think it’s just that, I don’t deserve your cooking. It’s just too good for me.”
Eruption of laughter.
Thank all the gods.
I have no idea what made me say it, probably some instinctual survival skill, but while the others were bent over laughing at this, Rama blessed me with the slightest curling of her lips, a shake of her head, and a puff of air through her nose.
She pretend-hit me with her towel, swatting me off like the stray mutt hanging around begging for too long.
“Kah-tee Omelette, go get your lunch already.”
I ran away, stopped halfway to the gate, spun around and declared I had a special omelette dance just for Rama, and sealed in my fate as the weirdest exchange student of all time.
Breathless from the spontaneous quick dance, I resumed my sprint to UCAD, but not without a quick glance back to see Rama’s huge smile and wave.