Sweetened With Love

Sweetened With Love

My husband and I still laugh about the five-week trip we took to Guinea and Mali the year we married. It was a trip—not a honeymoon, not a vacation, but a trip. We both love African dance and music, and wanted to travel to the heart of West Africa to learn more.

We already were parents to a young boy, and found out shortly before leaving for Africa that we were expecting our second child (yes, we lived like celebrities; bought a house, had kids, then got married). We planned to leave just after Christmas, and began preparations—we got our shots, visas, tickets, some duct tape, granola bars, and Band-Aids. We were ready.

Christmas arrived, and as we do every year, we joined my in-laws for a gift exchange extravaganza. Our son received a bounty of gifts, but unlike his cousins who were gifted a trip to Disneyland, we were headed to Africa.

We’ve now been married four years, and have never had a proper honeymoon—we still dream of taking one someday! And our kids have never been on a proper vacation—you know, one where the idea is to relax and have fun with them? Traveling to Africa with kids is not exactly fun. It is engaging, amazing, enlightening, wondrous, difficult, overwhelming and eye-opening—but it is no Disneyland vacation.

Nor is it a honeymoon. We were reminded of this often in West Africa. Once when traveling to a small town in Guinea, our local guide reserved a motel room for us. The “amenities” were minimal. We were shown to our room—a small, dark, cement-walled cube with one bed, sunken in the middle, wedged into the room. Small slats in the walls let in some air and just enough light so that we could see the cockroaches scurry away as we peeked into the bathroom. The bathroom consisted of a bucket of water for washing and flushing, a tub (with no running water, hence the bucket), a toilet (sans seat of course) and a plastic teapot filled with water for wiping (rinsing?) after using said toilet.

But despite the hardships, the Guinean and Malian people, especially the kids, sweetened the experience daily. The children followed us everywhere, smiling, touching our hair, joking and laughing. They sold everything from boiled eggs, to fresh fruit, grilled meat skewers and frozen ginger drinks. Many of the items they offered we couldn’t enjoy, at the risk of contracting stomach ailments and worse. But we could eat the small cookies made from honey and sesame seeds, called benne. Since these sweets were cooked then dried, the risk of bacterial infection was minimal. A short-lived moment of complete sweet bliss.

As we all climbed into the the small, uncomfortable bed, my husband and I turned to our son, who was wedged between us, and in chorus said, “this ain’t no Disneyland vacation.” Then we looked at each other and laughed, “But this is the honeymoon-is-over suite.” We kissed each other goodnight.             

RECIPE: Toasted Sesame Seed Sugar Cookies

Adapted from McCormick Gourmet


1 1/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, softened
3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sesame seeds, toasted
2 ounces bittersweet baking chocolate, melted (optional)


1. Mix flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Set aside. Beat butter in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add sugar; beat until well blended, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture and 1/4 cup or slightly less of the toasted sesame seed on low speed until well mixed.

2. Refrigerate dough 2 hours or until firm.

3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in remaining toasted sesame seed. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.

4. Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets 1 minute. Remove to wire racks; cool completely. Drizzle cookies with melted chocolate if desired. Let stand until chocolate is set.