17 things I love right now…


1. Captured in the wild.
Considering bébé Ndeye is now seven months old, we decided it was time to have some family photos with all four us taken. We were able to get one of Ashley‘s very last photo session slots before she leaves Dakar. I’ve only seen the sneak preview above, but love that it truly captures our family at this stage in life. Plus many of my family photos growing up were taken in front of banana trees, so that’s a special touch that’s significant to me.

2. Loo wax?
Wolof immersion has begun. Our apartment is now a ‘try saying it in Wolof first’ zone, which means all day long I’m asking people what they just said to me, “Loo wax?” and to speak more slowly, “Waxal ndank.” But it’s working and my Wolof is slooowly coming back and getting stronger.

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3. Pumpkin-n-spice, and everything is nice.
My friend Jane surprised me with a bag of pumpkin spice coffee that is perfect for drinking by the Christmas tree (yes, it’s already up.) as I de-groggify myself in the morning. When it’s 80 degrees out, you do what you can to create holiday spirit!

4. Water.
We have it! Enough said.

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5. Shopping.
Lots and lots of shopping. The biggie for me is this weekend’s Christmas Bazaar put on by the Dakar Women’s Group. But so many other good shopping events this time of year!

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6. Listening.
Every morning after breakfast, as a family we take a couple minutes to stop and listen to what God has to say to us. Sometimes it’s clear and big, sometimes it’s quiet or we don’t hear anything. But it all gets written down in this notebook.

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7. Fruit & veggies.
Along with cooler temperatures come a wider variety of produce. Melons, green beans, papayas the size of my melon and more…

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8. Monday morning dates.
It’s on the calendar for each week. No matter how tired we are from wild parties kids waking us up or how many things on our to-do lists for the week, Monday morning is either a coffee date or brunch date for us.

9. Electricity.
We have it! Enough said.

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10. Jeans.
Cool season is arriving and we welcome it with open arms and legs covered in denim.

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11. Frozen and packed solid.
My freezer, that is. We’ll be celebrating with a small crew of friends, but the meal is still, of course, a full-on production. Just the way I like it! So my lists are going, my shopping and prep started and my freezer is getting filled to the brim with everything that can be done in advance.

12. Naps.
Not for me, don’t be silly. Kid naps. At the same time. Like they are doing right now. Which means I can actually type this whole post in one sitting.

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13. Do you dashiki?
I’m a little lot obsessed with dashiki wax print fabric these days. And I got a little more obsessed when I found out it’s in short supply in Dakar markets. I’m like a dashiki hoarder now. Interesting tidbit: Locally this print is called addisébé, because the style comes from Ethiopia. (According to my tailor.)

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14. Baskets.
These are one of Senegal’s best inexpensive treasures. Good for storing toys, piling in laundry, keeping bread fresh, organizing junk… Love them.

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15. Soup’s on!
I made a giant vat of roasted vegetable soup. Onions, green onions, carrots, butternut, sweet potato, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, peas, red beans, blackeyed peas, corn, celery and herbs. Pape had three bowls in one sitting.

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16. This kid.

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17. And this one.

Dakar Christmas shopping guide – UPDATED (again!)

I’ll update this list as I hear of more shopping events (anyone have the scoop on CAEDAS or the Base Militaire Christmas markets?). But here’s a start!

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DWG Christmas Bazaar
When: Saturday, November 22nd, from 10am to 5pm
Where: ISD on the Corniche
What: The Dakar Women’s Group presents the 2014 Christmas Bazaar, the best shopping day of the year! This year there will be 100 vendors and a bake sale. Entry fee is 1000 CFA/adult and 500 CFA/children up to age 12. Bring the whole family! Proceeds go to charities in Dakar and surrounding areas. Download the DWG Bazaar poster here.


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Atmosphère Marché de Noel
When: Shop anytime now, then go back starting November 26th for their Christmas market
Where: Their shop in Almadies, back behind UBA. atmosphere@orange.sn
What: Beautiful home décor, gifts and accessories from Senegal


Marché de Createurs et d’Artistes at Little Art House
When: November 29th from 10am to 7pm
Where: Little Art House in Cité Mamelles
What: Works by Design by Do, Anne Calfo, Wendy Spivey, Jackie Di, Marie Jampy, Les Mosaïques de Sophie, Isa Mauro, Deborah, Caroline Gueye and Sebastien Bouchard


Pop-up Christmas
When: Saturday, December 13th from 11am to 8pm, and Sunday, December 14th from 1pm to 7pm
Where: Hotel Fleur de Lys in Almadies
What: The best of African fashions for adults and children, featuring Bélya, Denine, Miss Wudé and Studio A


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When: Saturday, December 13th
Where: Portuguese Ambassador’s Residence in Fann. 77 613 0582.
What: gifts from around the world, international foods, special activities for children. Entry is 1000 cfa for adults and those over 12 years old.


Marché de Noel
When: Saturday, December 13th at 10am
Where: the Institut Francais in Plateau
What: clothing, accessories, glass paintings, natural beauty products, leather goods, organic food, etc…


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African Fabrics, Accessories and Products Pop Up Store
When: Sunday, December 14th to Tuesday, December 16th
Where: Sign up for the event on Facebook to receive the address.
What: Nafi is bringing original Ghanaian wax to Dakar this Christmas and will be selling them along with other accessories and products. Several patterns are available but not in big quantities so hurry. Some natural products for hair & body will also be available. Don’t hesitate to add your friends and family to the event. The more the merrier. :)


FIDAK (aka ‘the Foire’)
When: December 18th-29th
Where: Just off the VDN at the Foire (CICES)
What: A huge gathering of vendors from all over Senegal and West Africa (and beyond!). A great place to buy fabric, local food and beauty products. Also some great décor items. Entry fee is around 500cfa and parking is available.


Diami’s Jewels
When: By appointment
Where: Your house
What: Diami brings you her current collection of beaded jewelry, including necklaces, earrings and rings for women and girls. Her prices are excellent (starting at 500cfa for handmade beaded earrings) and go up to around 7000cfa for her chunkier necklaces made with traditional beads.


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Christmas cards by students at the deaf school
Beautiful cards, packages of 4 all occasion cards plus 3 Christmas cards and envelopes OR 7 Christmas cards/envelopes. All cards are prints of original paintings done by deaf children. All proceeds will go towards the construction of their new school for deaf children. Suggested donation of 5,000 cfa per pack. Larger orders can receive reductions.

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Reserve your cards today by email or by phone: ecolerenaissance07@gmail.com / Jerome 77 613 9713 or Jane 77 609 9376

It’s beginning to look…

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Cool season is coming! See, we don’t even have the fan on.

A few nights ago we saw our first Christmas commercial while watching a US tv show online. I rolled my eyes. Then on Facebook I saw that one of my friends had put up her Christmas tree. I snorted.

Then I realized today was a holiday (Tamxarit, Muslim New Year) so we’d all be home with no big plans. Can you see where this is going?

If you guessed that we spent the day unpacking the ol’ artificial tree and splashing away at our favorite pool spot, you’d be correct. Nothing like a little coconut-oil-scented sunscreen to get you in that Christmas spirit!

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Roll your eyes and snort if you’d like, but I think we’re going to need this extended holiday season to help get a few things straight. When we were unpacking my nativity scene from Mali, Pape pulled out all the pieces and went through calling out what they were: “Camel, sheep, Jesus, baby Jesus, cow, ‘nother camel, big Jesus, ‘nother Jesus, sheep, Jesus, ‘nother Jesus…”

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In the blink of an artistic eye…

Keep climbing, little guy. Reach for the stars!

Keep climbing, little guy. Reach for the stars!

Sometimes your entire life changes in just a moment. What you thought your future, or your child’s future, would be is transformed in the blink of an eye. Or in our case, with the stroke of a Sharpie marker.

I don’t know that we’ve ever really talked about what our son might be when he grows up. I mean, of course, president of the US is always an option. But in the realm of the more realistic, maybe a brain surgeon (he did say that he wants to wear a white shirt when he grows up, just like his pediatrician) or a lawyer who defends children.

This morning, all of that changed. He drew this:

This changed everything.

Changes everything.

My son, the soon-to-be-famous artist. You can look for his works of art on your Christmas cards this year, and I’m guessing he’ll be a featured local artist at the upcoming DWG Art Show. After that, the sky is the limit!

My budding artist

My budding artist


Interacting with talibés, an interview with Trevon Rainford


Trevon in Ouakam, a neighborhood of Dakar

To be honest, I don’t remember the first time I met Trevon Rainford. He just kind of seemed to pop up here and there, plus he had a great Instagram feed that I started following. Unfortunately, right about the time that I realized how cool he was and the cool things he was doing as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ouakam, it was nearing the end of his time in Senegal.

Two things stand out in my mind about Trevon. First, although it was obvious that he was miles (and miles and miles) ahead of me as a runner, he was always encouraging and friendly when our running paths would cross. Second, he interacted with talibé boys in such a kind, respectful manner that it truly impacted and challenged me.

I asked him if he’d agree to an interview so that I could get a better understanding of his view of the talibé world and how those of us who are shocked, then numbed, then shocked, then numbed by it can make a positive difference in these boys’ lives.


Talibés studying the Quran

Trevon, thanks for agreeing to this. Let’s jump right in. What brought you to Senegal?
I was invited to Senegal to work as a Community Economic Development (CED) Agent for Peace Corps Senegal, West Africa.

For those who don’t know, how would you explain the talibé system?
It’s a system in Senegal where boy children leave their families to study the Quran (typically in larger cities like Dakar or Saint-Louis) with a marabout (their teacher) inside a daara (which is the school for the talibé boys) where they often live as well.

What are their living conditions like?
Some daaras are state regulated but many talibés live in dilapidated shacks, sleep on the ground, and lack suitable resources to keep them warm during the cold season and cool during hot and raining season.


Talibés watching a soccer match, part of the Annual Talibé Day that Trevon organized

What’s expected of them?
Again, the kids are sent from their families to learn the Quran, taught by their entrusted teacher (marabout). Many marabouts cannot support these children and require them to walk around the city for hours in search of food and money. This is supposed to assist with their cost of living as well as teach humility.

Do you remember your first encounter with a talibé
Yes, the first time I truly interacted with a talibé at my site was during my daily walk to the bus stop. He did the typical (cut you off and force you to be face to face with him, no eye-contact hand gesture, and asked me for money). I gave him about 50CFA and asked him his name. I told him my name and that I now lived here. I also told him that I thought we should be friends.

From that day forward, each time he saw me he raced towards me screaming my name asking me where I was off to and only periodically asked me for money. It was never a big deal if I couldn’t give him money. He continued to acknowledge me every day and even introduced me to his other friends.


Annual Talibé Day activities

For many of us who live in Senegal as expats, we don’t know how to interact with talibé boys. From your experiences, what are things you’ve seen expats do that were good? 
I’ve seen a few expats simply acknowledge the kids, which means a lot. Getting to know a kid and spend even 60 seconds asking him questions and explaining that you may not always have money or food for them but that you want to be friends with them will normally create a genuine bond.

Remembering that they are KIDS is what helped me engage with them. I also always thought about the realization that it must feel awful for kids, or anyone, to be shunned away, when they are just following directions and doing what they’re told.

Side note: If you’re ever feeling adventurous, jumping into one of their sporadic soccer games on the street will throw them for a loop and instantly give you cool points! Haha.

I know some people give money, food, clothing, shoes, medicine, etc… Do you think these are useful or does it ‘all get taken away by the marabout‘? 
I have given all of the above. Whether or not each gift benefited the children, I cannot tell you. I haven’t heard of food and medicine being a regretful purchase, but I have heard of issues with giving large amounts of money and shoes. For other reasons, I would also stay clear of giving bulk quantities of medicines.

Personally, I prefer to give the children food face-to-face. More often than not, they will eat the food right away and you can see that your purchase is indeed going to their well being. If the food is something that can be divided into portions easily, I would recommend doing that before hand and then giving each person their fair share. Lots of people give the oldest the food to split up and I haven’t heard of many problems with this, but at times there may be some arguing that goes on with this method and can be easily avoided if the food were to be split up beforehand.

Are there things you would suggest we not give talibés?
I would suggest not giving large bills, or anything too expensive. Personally, I haven’t had a good experience with giving shoes.


Trevon with the chefs preparing meals for the talibés

Let’s talk about just plain ol’ goofing around with the talibés. I mean, we’re talking about kids here. They love to play. How did you engage them?
Exactly my point! Most people forget that talibés are kids and treat them with contempt. Again, I got to know them and engaged in conversation with them every chance I had. We even high-fived one another during my runs and danced in the streets for a few seconds on occasion. But being consistent with greetings and asking them how they were each day was the least I could do and really created a bond between us.

Also, learning a few Wolof or Pulaar words/phrases are pretty essential, as many talibés don’t know French.

Tell us about the Annual Talibé Day you organized.
I just wanted the kids to get to be kids for a day and also raise awareness for talibés’ rights in the Ouakam community. The event was held last March and we had over 100 attendees who joined in a prayer and breakfast followed by activities and lunch. I felt the event was a huge success as the kids ate extremely well the entire day, played and won their soccer games, and were baffled by the amount of resources we were able to donate to their daara, thanks to the event’s sponsors.

Any final thoughts to share?
These kids are just kids doing what they’re told. I would ask that everyone remembers this before they pass judgment on them or shun them.

Thank you, Trevon. Best of luck on your new paths.


Trevon helping with the Annual Talibé Day meal

All photos courtesy of Trevon Rainford.

For more information on Peace Corps/Senegal talibé projects, you can join https://www.facebook.com/groups/pcsenegaltalibe/ or contact Timothy Van Vliet.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions reflected in this post do not represent the position of the Peace Corps.)

Raising a baby, à la sénégalaise

With Tantie Marietou

With Tantie Marietou

Questions I’ve asked my Senegalese friends along the way and their answers. Of course, as is any culture, parenting differs form family to family. But these glimpses into parenting Senegalese style were interesting. And I’m learning a lot!

When can I start carrying my baby on my back?
Our 19-year-old Senegalese babysitter told me I could start carrying Pape on my back at three months of age. A mom of three told me that most people wait until the baby is one month old, but that she waited until almost two months for her kids. And a mom of four boys told me starting at one week old! I’m wondering if that had to do with her needing to keep up with all her older kiddos…

I put Ndeye on my back for the first time at five weeks old and it worked great. She fussed and cried a bit at first and Marietou told me not to leave her tied on too long if she didn’t like it, but within three minutes she was asleep! She napped really well the rest of the day and Marietou said it’s because being tied on my back relaxes the babies ‘like a massage’ but that since it’s a new experience for her, it also made her tired.


With Maman Ndeye

How do you cut their fingernails?
Give them a basket or something woven that’s a little rough to play with. That will file them down.

How often should I nurse my baby?
Anytime they want to eat! If she’s hungry, feed her. If you’re not sure if she’s hungry but she’s fussy, try feeding her.

What should moms eat to increase their milk supply?
One mother told me to she ate oatmeal or millet everyday. Another told me raw peanuts worked for her.

Several women have told me I should be eating more in general. “Eat for the baby, not for you. Once the baby is eating solids, then you can go back to eating normally.”

When do you start feeding babies solid foods?
Anytime. Whenever. Some moms now wait until six months because it’s what’s being taught in the cities, but in the village they start babies on mushy boiled rice or millet earlier. Starter solids also include butternut or pumpkin type squashes and mashed potatoes.

What do you do if breastfed babies are constipated?
Eat a couple oranges or drink oj. It will have a laxative effect on baby.

Or give the baby a spoonful of honey and milk. (This is where American jaws drop to the floor.)


With Tantie Oureye

How can you help babies sleep better?
Give them a warm bath and then massage them with karité shea butter. As you massage them, gently stretch their arms and legs and move them around. This builds muscle strength and control (and has the added benefit of making the baby tired) and also helps relax for better sleep.

(I didn’t have karité on hand, but my friend did about a ten-minute massage/gentle stretching for Ndeye and she fell asleep quickly afterwards.)

Do you put babies to sleep on their backs or stomachs?
Either one, whichever the baby seems to prefer. Putting them on their stomachs may cause stomach aches or discomfort, but some babies really sleep better that way.

How do you get babies to nap when there are other kids making noise around them?
Put the baby on your back until she falls asleep, then transfer her on to a bed. Have a young child sit in the room with the baby until she wakes up. This child can be sure no one else comes in the room, that the baby doesn’t roll off the bed and also bring the baby to you when she wakes up.

(I so cannot imagine my son helping to watch over a baby to help her stay asleep!)

How do you get toddlers to nap?
This one got me laughed at. “We don’t make them nap. If they’re tired, they’ll sleep.”


I’d say he needed this nap.

So my shopping list now includes karité for massages and raw peanuts!

My 15 seconds of BBC radio fame

So the BBC World Service called me today. Not exactly every day that I can say that.


They were doing a programme on Ebola in Senegal and Nigeria and I guess found this blog and asked me to be a part of the discussion. However, there was just a wee little mix-up about the time of this live broadcast, so at about 4:22pm I was suddenly and crazily grabbing the kids, my laptop and charge cord and hauling it across the street to our friends’ house where their nanny could watch Thing 1 while I put Thing 2 in a carrier. She amazingly fell right to sleep just in time for sound checks with the BBC. I guess it is kind of old hat for her

photoListen to the episode here.

At 10 mins 50 sec they tried to go to me with a question, but Senegal internet had other plans and Skyped dropped the call.

But you can hear my little clips from 13:15 to 14:05 and from 16:07 to 18:02.

Fortunately you don’t hear bébé Ndeye waking up from her nap just a minute later!

The nutshell version of what I said is that the Senegalese people are relieved but still concerned about Ebola. They stepped up and took responsibility for themselves and listened to health officials, not giving in to panic.

And at 38:30 they talked with our good friend, Dr Tabitha Kieviet who is doing amazing work at Keru Yakaar clinic here in Dakar.

What Can We Learn About Ebola Treatment From Nigeria and Senegal

Nigeria has been declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation after going six weeks with no new cases. Nigeria won praise for its swift response after a Liberian diplomat brought the disease there in July. The outbreak has killed more than 4,500 people in West Africa, mostly in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. The World Health Organisation also said Senegal is free of Ebola – after a case of the disease occurred in late August. What can we learn from Nigeria and Senegal in how they treated Ebola? What is life on the ground in Nigeria and Senegal? Do people trust the information from WHO?

Listen to the episode here.


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