Rebeca Kondi sits in her two-room shop with the door propped open so all passersby can see colorful, geometric-patterned outfits, smell the steamed aroma of rice, shrimp and peppers covered in a red-orange sauce and hear the subtle murmur of voices on a radio.
Shekina International African Market on Elson Street in The Square is a store owned by Kondi, her husband and her children, who immigrated from Togo, a West African country between Ghana and Nigeria. Kondi said she and her family have lived in Kirksville for two years, and she estimates there are around 800 other African immigrants currently living in Kirksville.
Kondi said she first came to Kirksville through her church, First United Methodist Church, and said her religion played a major role in her life and has influenced her shop. Her religion even influenced the name of her store.
“Shekina means the glory of glory — the holiest of holy,” Kondi said. “I’m a Christian and want to be a servant of God and spread his glory. So that’s why I named it Shekina.”
Kondi said the store has been open for about three months. Right now, she said, she sells some American products, like American sodas and toiletries, but mostly African ingredients, foods, beverages, clothes and cosmetics.
Kondi said there’s a saying in the African community — “Our food is natural. Natural from the sauce,” meaning it’s unprocessed by chemicals and fertilizers. Kondi said she wants to bring that kind of healthy cuisine to Kirksville.
“I see immigrants in Kirksville who need their own country’s food,” Kondi said. “That pushed me to bring this store into being.”
Kondi said in addition to other African immigrants, she’s seen a developing interest from Kirksville natives for an African restaurant in the area.
“Americans come to try African foods too,” Kondi said. “This is going to be a good way to introduce our African culture from food, and by and by we are going to bring out many African traditions to Kirksville.”
Kondi said in the future she hopes to expand her store, using one of the rooms to keep selling products and turning the second room into a restaurant that will offer traditional African dishes.
“I like bringing West African culture into Kirksville, because citizens of Kirksville see us West and Central Africans around and don’t know what we are and where we are coming from,” Kondi said. “Through this store they can come in and see the kind of food we eat, the way we dress and the way we behave.”