A story of grit: How a Bay Area resident is living out her American dream

Tucked away in La Cocina, a San Francisco kitchen incubator, is a woman living out her American dream. Her name is Nafy Flatley, and she came to the United States 10 years ago from Senegal, armed with a promise to her mother to bring back a degree and one to herself to live out her dreams.
The inspiration behind her move to the U.S. is not what you might expect.

“In Africa, we watch a lot of soap operas,” Nafy explained. “One that really influenced me was Beverly Hills 90210. And I’m seeing all of these kids at age 14, 16, working, driving cars, living in their own apartments, and I’m like oh my god, that’s the American dream? I want to live like that too. So I told my mom, once I finished school, I would like you to help me go there.” 

However, much like most things in life, it was easier said than done. In order to obtain her U.S. visa, Nafy had to queue overnight at the U.S. embassy to ensure she’d be the first in line. She arrived at 4 p.m. and was only let in around 9 a.m. the following morning. Nafy ultimately received her visa, and arrived in the United States in 1998.  

Nafy holding a baobab fruit, a key ingredient in her products

Nafy went on to graduate with a degree from the University of San Francisco and worked as a marketing manager in Silicon Valley. She eventually got married and in 2009, she and her husband welcomed their first baby boy. Unfortunately, her son was born a month early and was in need of medical attention and care. Despite this, she was only given 6 weeks of maternity leave, even though her son was in the NICU for 2 of those weeks. Recounting those times, Nafy said “I went back to work, I was pumping milk in the bathroom because there was nothing to accommodate new mothers.” 

Finally, Nafy could not handle it anymore, “I quit, with no money left, with one income [her husband’s], and a child who needs a lot of help. At the same time, my mother, who by that point has joined us from Senegal, got diagnosed with dementia.” 

It was an undoubtedly a hard time for Nafy and her family, and she felt like she had failed her mom. 

“To me, the American dream was wearing nice suits, wearing high heels, having an office, traveling, and I didn’t have that anymore,” she said.  “So I felt like I did not achieve my American dream. So I said to my mom, what is another way I can reach the American dream? And she said ‘You don’t have to work for someone, to live the American dream. You can bring something from home, that way you can live the American dream.’ I said, what do you mean? She simply replied, ‘just think, why don’t you make the baobab juices we made and sold back home, make them here and sell them? You’ve had everyone you’ve made them for, tell you they’re good.’ ”

One thing led to another, and Terenga was born.

Terenga bars and their corresponding ingredients

However, getting a business started from the ground up was not easy, and Nafy, now a mother of 3 little boys and one stepson, knew she needed some help.

“I registered my business in 2016, from there to mid-2017, it was a lot of tasting, giving out free samples. So I wasn’t making much money. Someone told me why don’t you reach out to Kiva. Kiva does this thing where there is no interest, and you can pay back slowly. I thought that was such a good idea because even though I had a really good credit score I knew I could not go to banks and take out a loan for a company that isn’t even a year old yet.” 

Today, Nafy’s Terenga energy bars and juices are sold in various grocery stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, and she has plans to expand it further. 

Terenga juices can be found in select grocery stores across the Bay Area

When asked what her hope was for this holiday season, she said, “I would love for every American household to have a Terenga product in their kitchen tables. I really hoped to see something like that, either Terenga juice or Terenga energy bars. It would support my suppliers in the Bay Area, as well as those throughout Africa since Baobab grows all the way from Sub-saharan Africa to South Africa.” 

Support entrepreneurs like Nafy, and help them achieve their American dreams.

About the author

Barani Maung