The story behind our story.

I met my husband about twelve years ago and just a mile down the road. We were here to work as public health instructors in villages.

I think this is the first picture of us, January 2004. We were working with Nebeday leaves for health lessons.

I think this is the first picture of us, January 2004. We were working with Nebeday leaves for health lessons.

He had just arrived in Senegal, fresh off the boat plane that very morning. I had been here for a couple months already and knew the ropes a bit so was going to help him with orientation. (This is the part where he interrupts à la When Harry Met Sally and tells the story of how I almost got him pick-pocketed on day one. To which I reply, “Yeah, almost. Not all the way.”)

Anyway… In the time it took for him to walk down the stairs and across the parking lot to where I was standing and say hi, I decided he was:
a) not my type (although did immediately peg him as the kind of guy my mom would have chosen for me to marry).
b) out of my league anyway.

First Tabaski, celebrated with friends in Yoff

First Tabaski, celebrated with friends in Yoff

Perhaps one factor in this quick decision was that the ratio of guys to girls in this particular program for recent college graduates going to West Africa was about 1 to 22. I’m not even kidding. Those would have been my odds, had I decided to chase after him.

Which I didn’t.

I instead decided to spend the next two years finding him a wife because, as I’d first picked up on and was confirmed over and over… this guy was one of the good ones. The really good ones. So every volunteer team or batch of newbies that came over, I was scouring for the cream of the crop to set him up with.

Would you believe my persistent match-making never worked?

Dinner with friends, who lived about a mile from where we live now.

Dinner with friends, who lived about a mile from where we live now.

Over the next two years, we spent a lot of time arguing and disagreeing (terms such as “cat and dog” and “brother and sister” were sometimes used to describe our relationship) as we worked together.

We even survived Wolof language study together. I say ‘survived’ because I am one of those who does what she’s told and rolls her eyes at the ones who don’t and slow everyone else down. He, on the other hand, is the one who got tired of doing the same old language exercises in class every day so when the teacher asked him to say in Wolof what he did that morning, he replied in Wolof saying, “I’ve already told you that. Why don’t you ask me what I’m going to do tomorrow or next week so we can learn verb tenses.” Sigh. Eye roll.

Day-trip out to Ile de la Madeleine

Day-trip out to Ile de la Madeleine

Working together actually meant working apart. We were in villages about four hours away from each other, but we’d get together with friends and teammates in Dakar about once a month or to coordinate trips for volunteer medical teams. Occasionally my roommate and I would go up to his village or he would come to ours. I remember one time when he was going to be passing through ours, I pulled out the ingredients to make banana bread the day before. When my roommate asked what I was doing, I told her that Cheikh was coming to town and we always made him banana bread because it was his favorite. I distinctly remember her looking at my like I had two heads and mumbling something about, “Maybe you make him banana bread…”

Up in Saint-Louis with my roommate and Pape Dieye, after whom our son is named

Up in Saint-Louis with my roommate and Pape Dieye, after whom our son is named

So yes, as time went by… we became friends. Good friends. The kind that share the ugly stuff, the fears, the dreams and the really ugly stuff. It didn’t matter because he wasn’t my type anyway, remember? And he certainly wasn’t interested in me… or so I thought.

But that roommate that mumbled at me saw something we didn’t. Actually, a lot of people saw something we didn’t. Like our supervisor’s wife. And Cheikh’s sister in America who had never met me in person, but we emailed often. That’s another little part of the story. Since he didn’t have internet access and didn’t take pictures, I would often email his mom and sister in the US and send them pictures of his life in Senegal. So yeah, they saw something too.

Sporting our matching Senegal jerseys

Sporting our matching Senegal jerseys

When the time came for him to go back to the US at the end of his term, one of his last stops was my village. We were hosting a team of volunteers at the time so things were pretty busy. But that same roommate who mumbled at me pulled me aside and told me I needed to go talk to Cheikh. According to her, we needed to get some things worked out and in the open before he left. I had no idea what she was talking about. I mean I was operating at such a level of cluelessness that I invited one of the volunteers to come hang out with Cheikh and me on the roof while we talked. Insightful Roommate prevented that from happening. (Thank you, Jana!)

So for hours that night, we talked. Up on the roof, listening to waves, we talked about the most unromantic, but important topics under the sun stars. We talked about his upcoming move to France, where he’d been accepted into a six-year program, but had no idea how he’d pay for it or live. We talked about what he wanted in a wife. Well… to be more accurate, I babbled on and on about what I thought he needed in a wife. ;) He remained thoroughly uninterested in my attempts to marry him off.

One of his last nights in Dakar

One of his last nights in Dakar

The next night, I drove him to the airport, hugged him goodbye and watched him walk away with his one backpack. And then I sobbed the whole way home. But I had no idea why.

Ten days later, he called my cell phone. (Still phenomenally clueless, I wondered why he called my number rather than my roommate’s if he wanted to talk to us.)

An hour later, I hung up the phone with the room spinning uncontrollably and no words forming able my mouth. He’d asked me to marry him.
Well. Kind of. Sort of. Ish.

What he actually asked was if I would pray about us starting a relationship. In his mind we could at least ‘date’ over the phone until I came back to the US, then in-person for the summer maybe and he could come back at Christmas break and we’d get engaged and then we’d get married the following summer.

He didn’t say any of this, of course. I mean, at the time, I was actually dating someone else even. But I knew Cheikh and I knew his heart and I knew how he thought.

So I called him back three days later and said I would marry him, even though he never asked me. I knew that’s what he meant and I knew before even hanging up the phone on that wordless evening that my answer to him was and always would be yes.

The day after I arrived back in the US from Senegal

The day after I arrived back in the US from Senegal

Just to make things exciting and a little unorthodox, we decided to get married even faster than the one-year dating/engagement/wedding timeline he’d never actually laid out for me. We decided on a wedding at my church in Georgia six months later at Christmas and that I’d move to France with him then. (Like three days after the wedding.) But in order to move to France, I needed a visa as his wife. And for that visa, I needed a new passport and a marriage license.

Our wedding, in the living room. My dad did the talking and mom took the pictures.

Our wedding, in the living room. My dad did the talking and mom took the pictures.

Well, lucky for us, my dad is an ordained minister and could marry us right away. So a month and a half after that phone call and the day after I arrived back in the US from Senegal, we got married at around 9pm in the living room of my parents’ house, with me wearing shorts and t-shirts.

On September 1st, 2004. Ten years ago.

Just the beginning...

Just the beginning…

My answer to you, Cheikh, was and always will be… yes.

Ebola in Senegal and what it means for me

PicMonkey Collage

A couple hours ago, the Health Minister confirmed the first Ebola case in Senegal. To be honest, I’m still processing what this could mean and am not ready to go into that right now. There are just too many unknowns.

As I was receiving info left, right and center about the patient and whether or not the virus had been confirmed and how many days he’d been in Dakar, refreshing my Twitter feed and BBC’s webpage and firing off text messages and emails… my phone beeped and I saw this short reply from my husband:

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That perspective was exactly what I needed and am committing to.

It helped when a couple hours later I received an email from an expat friend who lives with his family in Guinea, which has been hit hard by this outbreak. He said that when Ebola was first announced, it was a great concern as there were so many unknowns. And of course, it is still a great concern in that many are dying. But through their experiences they have seen that it is very difficult for people to get Ebola unless they work with patients who are sick with Ebola or with dead bodies.

I also received this reminder in an email from a friend who is involved in medical work locally: “Fear is the enemy and prayer is a great weapon!”

These messages led me to do two things:

1. Resist the urges to bleach down every surface or start packing bags or feel mom-guilt for choosing to raise my kids in Africa or all the other panicky things I start thinking and feeling.

2. To pray for the patients and medical workers who are exposed to the virus. May God protect them and heal them.

Just for info…
Yesterday the WHO issued a roadmap to scale up international response to the outbreak. It aims to stop ongoing Ebola transmission worldwide within 6-9 months, while rapidly managing the consequences of any further international spread.


Where can I get updated news?
International SOS is an excellent site for updates and information about the outbreak.

What’s the weather like?

6:37pm
I check my weather app on my phone to see when we’ll get another good rain. It says 3% chance right now, nothing over 25% for the next few days.

6:40pm
I hear something. “Is that thunder?” I asked.

6:41pm
Cheikh replies for me to look out the window.

6:47pm
I concede to Jenn that my weather app stinks and hers is far superior.

photo 1

Boom.

photo 2

See the rain pouring on the ocean? Insane.

photo 3

About two minutes later.

Going for a puddle walk last week. His froggie umbrella was a big hit.

Going for a puddle walk last week. His froggie umbrella was a big hit.

The dos and don’ts of hot season

Do take many quick showers. It’ll make you feel (temporarily) refreshed and also… you never know when the next water cut will be!

Don’t underestimate the power of a good fan aimed on you. Forget letting it oscillate. Point that sucker right at your face.

Do drink a LOT of water. If you’re not a fan of the clear stuff, try adding a splash of bissap to it or a squeeze of Casamance lime. Yum.

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Don’t forget to make ice. It’s amazing how fast you go through it! Especially if you’re making emergency milkshakes.

Do get your hair cut off if you’re tempted. It makes the heat (and water cuts) more bearable, plus I’m always on the ‘Chop it all off!’ side.

Don’t turn on the AC. I’m serious. If you can tolerate the heat/humidity, do. You’ll acclimate faster and suffer less.

Do turn on the AC. If you need it, use it. No need to be a hot season martyr.

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Don’t think the beach is a good place to go on a hot day. At least not before 5pm. But in the evening, a little beach gathering may be just what you need to forget the day’s sweat heat.

Do run a bath in the afternoon. When the cold tap water is 100-plus degrees coming out of the faucet, let it sit in the tub a couple hours then take a soak in the evening or after exercising. It will have cooled off by then and feel… sigh… heavenly.

Don’t forget that many ice cream shops in Dakar deliver! (Even just one scoop.) Check Hellofood for an option near you.

Do reconsider your pjs. What I mean by that is on the hottest nights, put on a large t-shirt, hop in the shower to get wet, don’t dry off, sleep under a fan or on the cement/tile floor. #villagetricks

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Don’t stop exercising (or delay starting) because of the heat and humidity. Sweating for your health feels so much better than sweating just to sweat. And once you’re out there, it’s never rarely ever as bad as you think it will be.

8 favorite games for children in Dakar

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Chicken, Chicken, Goat

The object of this game is to walk in a circle, tapping on each child’s head until one is finally chosen to be the new picker. Maa!

Gendarmes and Voleurs

A game of tag in which the gendarmes, who are in pursuit of the voleurs (the team being chased), arrest the voleurs by tagging and putting them in Reubeuss jail. Voleurs can stage a jailbreak by tagging one of the prisoners without getting tagged themselves.

Mamadou Diop

A form of tag played in the ocean. One player is chosen as “It”. This player closes his/her eyes and tries to find and tag the other players without the use of vision. The player who is “It” shouts “Mamadou” and the other players must respond by shouting “Diop”, which “It” uses to try to acoustically locate them. If a player is tagged, then that player becomes “It”.

Pin the Tail on the Donkey

Please do not use a real donkey.

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Hot piment

Involves players gathering in a circle and tossing a small hot pepper to each other while music plays. The player who is holding the “hot piment” when the music stops is out.

Red light, Green light

The “it” person stands at one end of the playing field, with the rest of the players at the other end. “It” turns their back to the others and calls out “Green light!” or “Red Light! Green Light! 1, 2, 3!” The players then run as fast as they can towards “it”.

At any point, a player may call out “Power Cut!” at which point all players run in any direction they want, resulting in complete chaos that is made worse by police officers giving conflicting traffic directions.

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Rock, Paper, Plastic Bag

Rock-paper-plastic bag is a hand game usually played by two people, where players simultaneously form one of three shapes with an outstretched hand. The “rock” beats plastic bag, the “plastic bag” beats paper and the “paper” beats rock. Alternatively, the paper gets used to wrap bread at the buutik.

Seynabou Says

A player takes the role of “Seynabou” and issues instructions (usually physical actions such as “jump in the air” or “hop over a pot-hole”) to the other players, which should only be followed if prefaced with the phrase “Seynabou says”. Players are eliminated from the game by either following instructions that are not immediately preceded by the phrase, or by failing to follow an instruction which does include the phrase “Seynabou says”.

Ebola prevention resources

Ebola_06Aug2014

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. To date, there are no cases here in Senegal. We pray it stays that way.

I’ve been working with Women of Hope International to develop materials for preventing Ebola and have their permission to share them here. Please feel free to download, reproduce them and distribute them. These lessons are designed to be used in a primary health care setting for community health education, not necessarily for health care workers who are dealing with patients infected with the virus. The booklet can be printed in black and white on A4 paper.

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Ebola booklet – outside – French

Ebola booklet – inside – French

Ebola health lesson – French

Ebola booklet – inside – English

Ebola booklet – outside – English

Additional information and resources in French and English can be found here at International SOS, which is an excellent site for getting updates on the Ebola outbreak.

Shoppers extraordinaire hit HLM market!

One of the outer alleys of HLM market

Car door slamming
Horn honking
Woman laughing
Bus coming

Cross the street
Dodge the hole
Step over the puddle
Enter in

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“I’ll take this one. And this one. And that one…”

Narrow walkway
Vibrant umbrellas
Filled tables
Sitting vendors

Drinking coffee
Eating bread with chocolate spread
Come eat breakfast.
Next time, then.

photo 2

Annica, Ashley and Michelle stocking up

Hello, Madame.
Try this one.
Buy a necklace.
Buy a sarong.
Buy your husband a shirt.
What’s your price?

photo 3

Decisions, decisions.

Hello, Madame.
Try this one.
Buy a teapot.
Buy a bra.
Tell your friend to buy a skirt.
What’s your price?

photo 2

Danielle waiting as they cut a fabric we decided to share. (Spoiler alert: she and I are going to be twinsies A LOT in the near future.)

You speak Wolof.
What’s your name?
Are you Muslim?
Bébé… what’s her name?
Give her to me.
But I need another wife.

Incense
Dust
Café touba
Car exhaust
Fried beignets
Charcoal fire

Shopper’s paradise.

Beaded strands thrust in my face
Stacked t-shirts pressed into my arm
Fabrics spread to catch my eye
Buy a scarf.
Buy a dress.
Good price today.

Hello, Madame.
Try this one.
Buy a serving platter.
Buy your baby an outfit.
Buy some glow-in-the-dark lingerie.
What’s your price?

photo 4

My catch of the day!

Sound like fun? It is! More info here: 10 things to know about HLM market

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