Alan dreams of suya

I woke up in the middle of the night last night with an inexplicable but overwhelming craving for a food that I haven’t eaten in nearly 25 years. Suya: marinated, highly spiced slices of beef cooked over a wood or charcoal fire and served with sliced onions and, when I had it, anyway, plum tomatoes. (It turns out, comically enough, that the Wikipedia page for suya links to an article I published in 1992.) It’s a Nigerian treat, especially favored by the Hausa people in the north of the country, but I first tasted it in the city of Ilorin in the heart of Yorubaland.

It was early evening, and the suya vendor had set up his cart at the side of a road on which the chief government building of Kwara state stood facing the sharia court building, in a kind of standoff. I don’t know that I’ve ever smelled anything more mouth-watering than the aromas wafting from that cart, and though I haven’t thought about the experience in years, probably, when I woke up last night everything about that evening came back to me with an uncanny clarity — spreading the suya on its bed of newspaper out on the hood of a minivan, eating and talking quietly with my friends as others drifted to and from the cart … how wonderful that was. So many moments in life get lost in the jumble of everyday busyness, it’s a gift when something small and sweet makes a gentle return to memory, to presence.

the sacred grove of Osun

In 1991 I spent a summer teaching at a seminary in the town of Igbaja in Kwara State, Nigeria. One weekend we took a long drive to visit a complex shrine-compound dedicated to the orisha Oṡun. It was an eerie and fascinating experience. Recently, in unpacking from my move to Texas, I found some photographs I took of the compound. They were taken with a small point-and-shoot camera, and have faded a bit over the years, but I think they might still be of interest.

Update November 2017: I did not realize it when I first posted these photos, but this shrine is now a UNESCO World Heritage Center: the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove.