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  • When I first met William Wade, president of the Liberian Community Association of New York (LICANY), and mentioned to him that I had yet to find a good place for Liberian food in the city, he insisted that I come by his restaurant and try the pancakes. It wasn’t until I first visited the restaurant (and taken an additional 20 seconds to Google “Liberia pancakes”) that I realized this wasn’t an invitation to try a distinctive Liberian dish. I got the shawarma.

    Cross Culture Kitchen http://www.crossculturekitchen.com/ is one of the easternmost restaurants along a stretch of 116th Street in the Bronx that cater to the large West African community. It recently moved from a location a little closer to Eighth Avenue, replacing a Greek restaurant. It sits between the USA Superstore and a small shop that sells dashiki and other West African clothing.

    The second time I went to the restaurant was with Wade, following a cancelled LICANY meeting. Wade will be stepping down as the organization’s president soon, and the meeting was supposed to nominate an electoral commission. We grabbed a table in the well-lit dining room and he brought me a ginger soda from the fridge. He stepped back into the kitchen to talk to his business partner and I watched an AFP news report on one of the two large televisions. The other screen was playing a CNN feature about the “collar bomb” case from 2003.

    Wade sat down and we talked more about the diaspora. We talked back and forth about a few stories I was interested in, and he made some suggestions for bigger-picture ideas of what I should be reporting on.
    One of the servers brought out a bowl filled with a green, curry-like sludge and a large plate of rice. Being a moderately-poor cook myself, I fortunately have little aversion to food that looks a bit surprising. The food item was a cassava leaf sauce with lamb, slightly spicy and filling. Wade insisted I do my best to finish it, because he wasn’t too hungry. I didn’t mention to him that I had eaten dinner before coming to the meeting.

    I watch as plates of food pass by, being served to the handful of West African customers in the restaurant: some with fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, others with spicy okra and seared tilapia.

    As we worked through the hefty plate, Wade talked about his personal history, about the difficulties of being a foreigner in America, about his hopes for the future. He holds two master’s degrees and has a doctorate in political science, and sometimes he worries that the Liberian tendency to pursue more and more education makes members of the diaspora intimidating to American employers. His business partner, Balade, sits down next to us with a massive plate of grilled lamb and salad. He and Wade talk a little about the business and about family. Wade has a six year old son, Balade has two sons who are a little bit older.

    Wade has been considering returning to Liberia for a few years now. He almost ran for president, but was talked out of it by President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson. His life here in America is good; there’s been turbulence, some financial difficulties, but overall it is good. He’s trying to make just enough money now to settle down, to stop working. It’s been a long time coming.

    As we get ready to leave I mention to Balade that I’ll probably be coming by on Wednesday to get food for one of my classes. I tell him that we’re all bringing in food from the community that we’re covering. He nods his head and says that will be fine. “We’ll make you a platter,” he says. “We’ll have some arachide or some okra with meat, and then we’ll have some pancakes.”
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