Dinner with Rougi and Cisse, in the Bronx.
My long, desperate search for a homemade African meal is over. As part of my ongoing “Dinner With” series, I finally scored an invitation to a West African household, just off Gun Hill Road, run by Rougiatou “Rougi” Tounkara and her husband, Cisse.
Before immigrating, Rougi and Cisse lived the kind of lives that remind you just how ferocious racial bigotry is in some parts of the world. Even for Africans living in Africa.
When he moved from the Ivory Coast to Tunisia, Cisse said he was spat on, by children, and had stones thrown at him, “because I’m a black man.”
"They come close to you," said Rougi. "They scream on you, they’ll call you monkey. They call you dogs, they call you cats. But we never care."
But of course they did. Rougi was never allowed to go to school growing up, but she’s making sure her kids get the best education possible, and they’re blissfully unexposed to the sort of name-calling Rougi and Cisse once took for granted.
So they’re happy. The funny thing is, they’re both unemployed at this point, getting by on whatever Rougi earns from sewing while Cisse looks for an IT job.
Cisse moved here just a couple months ago, so they’re in something of a honeymoon period. I wonder how long that’ll last. But Rougi’s hopeful.
"America is the best for me. I always say that, everywhere and every time. They help me a lot. To have all this opportunity."
On the menu: acheke (a grain, like couscous, but made of cassava — it’s smoky and delicious), baked chicken (spiced with onion, garlic, and MAGGI cubes) and fried plantains. There was also a sauce, Sauce Tomate (ie., tomato sauce) that apparently included molten lava it was so hot.
Many thanks to my warm and gracious hosts.