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Tiebou Diene and Collard Greens
By Nya Joy PaytonNya Joy Payton
The chances of finding an African American man who is not incarcerated or participating in activities leading to incarceration are slim. Of that small percentage, take out the brothers who have no jobs, live with their mommas, or have no educational degree (GED included), and the number gets smaller. Among those left, eliminate the gay and bisexual brothers, and the ones who exclusively date women who don't look like their mommas and you are left with about three dudes - all of whom are desperately sought after by most African American women.
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Okay. So this is an obvious exaggeration of the truth, but I'm still left with a dilemma - Who do I date? Some sistas have turned to other sistas for a lifetime of companionship but that's not an option for me. I can try other races White, Asian, Hispanic; but they all lack a certain je ne sais quoi, a rhythm that accompanies dark skin, a sweetness exclusive to caramels and chocolates.
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So, living in this crock pot city they call New York, I discovered the "International Black Man," the Cat who was born elsewhere and migrated to the United States. These guys are always hardworking, usually multilingual (therefore good communicators), and for the most part ambitious (they packed up and moved from the familiarity of their home in search of success and a new life).
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This is a tale of Tiebou Diene and Collard Greens. A tale of two Africans in love in America. The one arrived four years ago, the other four hundred years ago. It's the tale of Adama and Nya.
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It was an unusually sunny spring day on the streets of SOHO in downtown NYC, when a pair of ebony eyes held me captive from across the street. The stare lasted three seconds at most, but I knew what was exchanged would stay with me for a lifetime, and so, not to my surprise, moments later, the brown eyes from across the street, were now by my side. His name was Adama, and he was Mandingo ;-) from Senegal.
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This was no surprise to me. In my new "International Black Man" search, I found myself most attracted to Senegalese men and they to me. They seem to share the same b-boy swagger and attitude as young Black American men, only they also spoke French (which is sexy by itself). Too, they come in a gorgeous variety of shades from beautiful brown and delicious dark to beloved black, with tropical smiles that warm even the winter.
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A friendship buds between Adama and me, stemming primarily from daily lunch dates, and a relationship is ignited.
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Although he's an "International Black Man," and probably my last hope for Black Male companionship, I had my reservations. First there's the green card issue - will he fall in love with me for me, or for the citizenship freedoms I possess?
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Many international brothers are in search of green cards via a wife, and therefore willing to manipulate and front love, when they aren't truly feeling the heat of potential chemistry and companionship, but rather the pressures of immigration.
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I am especially sensitive to this, having been proposed to for "papers" before. Although he claimed he loved me, and that I was the only woman on the planet that could "light his fire" (whatever that was supposed to mean). I declined his proposal, and later discovered he married some other unsuspecting American woman less than a month later (I guess she "lit his fire" too). Note to self before continuing this relationship with Adama check his green card status.
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Another international Black Man issue is their perception of women.
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My growing up in a home with "partnership parents" (dad AND mom bringing home AND cooking the bacon together), and with role models like Oprah and Claire Huxtable, it is beneath me to think of myself as less than a man, or for me to project a docile and submissive image. Although I don't compete with or challenge men - my companion should be a partner and not a rival - I refuse to devalue or decrease who I am to stroke a man's ego (or any other part of a man for that matter). This poses a threat to many men, especially those with traditional beliefs. It is many times misinterpreted as the "angry black woman syndrome," and that is why some brothers choose other colors for companionship. But, to set the record straight, it is not "angry Black woman syndrome," rather it's the "I know who I am, do you know who you are" syndrome. Only brothas who don't know are threatened but that's another essay for another issue.
So an easy way to scope Adama out on this is to inquire about his parents. How does he feel towards his mother? What was her role in their family and in his life, and how many wives does his father have?
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At our next meeting, I planned to bombard Adama with all of these questions about his citizenship status, his momma, and his daddy's wives. Before I can even begin my interrogation, he tells me he wants to talk and proceeds to whip out his working papers and identification. He's legal in the U.S. for another ten years. He assures me he's not looking for a wife, rather a friend and he doesn't want me to have reservations because he's an immigrant. He was open and honest about green card nuptials, and assured me that his intentions were of true interest and admiration of me - not for legal matters. I must admit I was flattered at the compliment, although I was still a little suspicious. But his papers and identification were legit, so that was one thing I didn't have to worry about.
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Now for his family evaluation when I asked him about his mother, his entire face lit up as he talked about how strong and beautiful she is and how he calls her at least once a week. It’s obvious he respects his mother a great deal, and they have a special bond, which is important because we all know the way a man treats his momma is how he'll treat his woman.
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There is one problem. His father has five wives. In that instant we've digressed back to square one. Not to make him pay for the sins of his father, but that raises serious questions - how does he perceive women? As pieces of property collected by men, placed on earth for their pleasure? How many wives does he plan to "rack up?" Does he even have some already? Before I can begin to formulate these questions, he's already apologetic. He doesn't agree with his father's "use" of women, and assures me that polygamy is an old-fashioned traditional Muslim/Senegalese belief that he doesn't practice or agree with. In fact, he's impressed by independent ambitious women who have a bigger agenda in life than being the prize piece of a man. Either Adama knows how to sweet talk American women, or we have the birth of the "post-millennium neo-international Black Man." Either way, I'm impressed.
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Dare I ask what, if any, reservations he may have with American women?
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Naah! We're perfect, right? ;-)
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It turns out we have many things in common, from a love of Caribbean music to international cinema to soy burgers at Dojos in the village, and the beauty of our relationship is the cultural exchange. We sit for hours talking about Dakar and D.C. He's opened up my world to international politics as it relates to Africa. I'm learning to speak Wolof, French, and Mandingo, while helping him with his written English. On Saturday nights, we hit the club dancing, everything from Samba to hip-hop.
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As an African American, I many times feel culturally disconnected from my heritage. Unable to trace my ancestors' origins in Africa, sometimes I feel like a rootless tree. My relationship with Adama has helped to foster roots and allowed me to create a direct connection to my history, which is now my present.
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When I look in Adama's eyes, I see peace, understanding, joy, truth, and friendship qualities that exist beyond language and culture.
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We've come to the table of life with separate dishes eating off each other's plate, and we've discovered, Tiebou Diene and Collard Greens taste good together.

Quick Tiebou Diene

3 pounds of your favorite fresh fish, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1 cup mixed vegetables, (carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, jalapeno peppers),1/2 cup cubed fresh tomatoes,1 cup, finely chopped onions, 2 bouillon cubes, 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 cup tomato paste, 1 cup, half-cooked rice, 2 cups water.
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Preparation:
1. In a big saucepan heat oil and add onions, frying until translucent. Add vegetables, tomatoes, and tomato paste. Stir for three to five minutes.
2. Add water, salt, bouillon cubes, then vegetables, and fish. Cook for about thirty minutes.
3. Carefully remove fish and vegetables. Add rice. Stir until thoroughly mixed.
4. Cook on low heat, adding more water if needed until rice is soft and fluffy and all moisture dried.
5. Serve fish and vegetables on a bed of rice. Serves 4.
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**This article was first published in the July 2001 issue of “The AFRican.” The late Nya Joy Payton was our founding Creative Editor.
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