8 things about having a baby in Dakar

Okay, so what do I blog about now? Baby stuff? (I saw that. One of you just stifled a yawn.) Senegal stuff? Both? Okay, I can do that.

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1. Take a couple cultures and mix well.
The clinic was a surprising blend of cultures and their priorities. Meals and French pastry snacks were served to me by waitstaff in bow ties. But my private double room’s toilet did not have a seat. An occasional smoker puffing in the hallways? Sure. Carrying your baby in your arms as you stroll out the door a couple days after delivery? No prob. (And no one’s going to check to be sure that the baby is actually yours either.)

2. Bismillahi…
Each time I was given an injection, the nurse would say, “Bismillahi,” which is an expression used in everyday Muslim life here. It’s said as the opening of an action (like eating a meal or entering a home) in order to receive blessing from God.

(If it sounds familiar to you, start singing Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody… There it is.)

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3. Where the sun doesn’t shine…
Medical care here is generally based on the French system, which means… Why give it in a pill form if they make it in a suppository?

4. Baby bling!
Ear piercing and the studs are available in the hospital nursery for 10,000cfa (about $20). Never before has buying cultural favor been so inexpensive. People spot her bling from 20 paces away and LOVE that her ears are pierced à la sénégalaise.

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5. Rx for a Band-Aid
On leaving the clinic, I was given two lengthy prescriptions: one for me, one for bébé. They included EVERYTHING we might need, even OTC meds, little gauze squares and cotton balls.

6. Ol’ what’s-her-name
Senegalese babies are given their names at their ngente (baptism) when they are eight days old. Since bébé is not yet that old, no one asks her name!

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7. Tuurando
Not the same as ‘Geronimo!’ in case you were wondering. A ‘tuurando‘ is a namesake. We have chosen a wonderful woman I admire very much and bébé‘s Senegalese name will be hers. Stay tuned…

8. No comment.
Traditionally in Senegal you would not comment on a baby being cute or pretty because it might attract attention from evil spirits who would then harm the baby. But either Dakar has really become modern OR this bébé is just gorgeous because our friends keep telling us so. Coming from a Western culture, that’s a lot easier for me than hearing my kid is ugly!

She’s here… and she has a name!

I’m not really big into sharing birth stories* and there are some keywords I just don’t care for Google to find on my blog, so I thought instead I’d write about how we chose the name for our baby girl.


Yvia Ruthe, born in Dakar on Tuesday and livin’ it up since!


- We wanted a name that was unique, but not weird. So top-ten names were out, as was anything that had a ‘silent X’ in it.

- We wanted a name that worked in French and (Southern) English. There are many beautiful French girl names that just sound horrid when you say them in Georgian. Those double vowel combinations (ae, for example) wind up twice as long as they should be.

One would have thought with only those two criteria, coming up with a name would have been easy. One would be wrong.

Lists were made and cut, reworked and revised… Still no good leads up until a couple weeks ago when I thought up Yvia. Now I’m not saying I invented the name, but I hadn’t seen it anywhere before and a quick Google search didn’t find it on any baby name websites. Google did find a couple women named Yvia in Brazil and Russia, but this was definitely not a top-tenner and it worked in both English and français


When we’re still making the final decision, my friend Jenn (appropriately also the one behind the ‘Dear ______‘ movement) suggested we try the names we were considering with phrases that would fit throughout her life, so things like “This is my daughter…” or “This is my girlfriend…” and of course, “The president of the United States,…” Yvia sounded good with all of them!


The middle name was actually much easier and we decided early on to name our daughter after Cheikh’s grandmother Ruthe. I don’t know why her name was spelled with an E on the end, but I loved it. And it’s not the same as a silent X.

In retrospect, one tip I’d share with parents choosing baby names is to consider the autocorrect world we live in. It’s a little embarrassing to realize you’ve sent out an email about your kids ‘Alex and Yves’. Oops.

Loads more photos coming soon!


What does her name mean?
As Cheikh put it, her middle name means ‘compassionate friend’ and her first name we made up. So you could say that it means ‘imaginary compassionate friend’. ;)

How do you pronounce it?
Think ‘eve-yah’.

Will she have a Senegalese name?
Absolutely. But that’s another post…


* Although I’m not into blogging about birth stories, I’m happy to share my experiences one-on-one if it’s helpful. So if you’re considering a C-section in Dakar at Clinique de la Madeleine, feel free to contact me.

Life hacks: Dakar edition

1. Phone credit back-up plan

Coolest phone card vendor on the block. He taped a bunch of cards together in the shape of Africa.

Coolest phone card vendor on the block. He taped a bunch of cards together in the shape of Africa.

Considering there are phone card vendors on nearly every corner, it’s surprising how often I run out of credit and there’s no vendor in site. Augh.

But my brilliant husband came up with a solution for me.

Buy a phone card and save the credit code in your phone. I have mine saved as a note, but you could also save it as a phone number under the name Emergency Credit. Then when you run out, just copy/paste, send and voilà! Just remember that the cards do have expiration dates, so you may want to note those too.

Bonus hack: This is a way to be easily enter in more credit on bonus days without having to track down a vendor… you know, a whole block away.

2. Getting the sticker off wax print fabric

Wax prints from HLM market

Wax prints from HLM market

This tip I picked up from Fatou Kiné in St-Louis. Before you try to peel the sticker off, lay another thin piece of fabric over it and iron it with a very hot iron. The iron melts the glue and it just slides off.

3. Getting rid of paint smell the Senegalese way

Onions + water + basin

Onions + water + basin

We recently had a room repainted and got a free tip in the process: place a small basin of water in the freshly painted room and add a sliced onion. I know. I know. But it worked!

(That said, the tip I got from women in my village about putting a slice of onion on your head while cutting onions does not in fact seem to stop the tears. At least for this toubab!)

4. Don’t forget to de-worm!
My friend Julie also grew up in Africa and her parents came up with a great way to remember to take your Vermoxx, a de-worming treatment, every six months. Take it on New Year’s Day and July 4th! Easy dates to remember, eh?

5. Sending Orange phone credit to another number

One for me, one for a friend!

One for me, one for a friend!

Enter *116*1* followed by the destination phone number * followed by the cfa amount you want to send * your four-digit PIN code.

So it would look something like this: *116*1*775551234*500*1234* Then hit send.

Again, this is great info to store in your phone as a note so you always have it on hand!

6. Stopping the itch of mosquito bites
Dab a bit of (preferably clear) nail polish on the bite. Let it dry, then go on in peace.

7. Keeping bread fresh

Sam's Bread

The best way to store your breads

You know those awesome Senegalese baskets that are even popular in the US? Yup. They are ideal for keeping breads fresh. Just wrap the bread in a clean tea towel and store it in the basket. This tip is courtesy of Sam’s Bread and Pizza, but tried, tested and approved by yours truly every week.

8. Dates on water bottles


Excellent vintage!

Like many of you, we store filtered water in empty Kirene bottles. But over time, the plastic can begin to deteriorate, so it’s best not to reuse them for too long.

When we add new bottles to our collection, Cheikh writes the date on the bottle in Sharpie so that it’s always easy to rotate out our stock.

9. Learn to use lait caillé.

These are just some of the things you can do with unsweetened (non-sucré) lait caillé. (Tip: Ardo brand is the best!)

  • Add a small spoonful of jam for a sweet snack.
  • Use in place of buttermilk in recipes. (Especially good for recipes using whole wheat.)
  • Strain in a coffee filter for 2-3 hours to make Senegalese-Greek Yogurt.
  • Keep straining for another couple hours (until firm) to make Senegalese Sour Cream.
  • Keep straining overnight and you’ve got a great cream cheese base for cheesecake.

10. Add your own!


So this was a fun little sign to come home to this evening.


Welcome home! Here’s what you missed…

Remember last week when we took family photos out back behind our building? Apparently a cobra was killed back there. An adult cobra, as the sign posted in the entryway of our building specifies.  Shudder, shudder…

This has been our topic du jour (well, du soir) ever since Cheikh told me about it. The sign is informing residents that as a result of finding the cobra, an urgent meeting has been called and we are invited to attend. Actually we even got a hand-delivered invitation to the meeting tonight.

My mind goes a lot of directions from here:

  • Having grown up in Cote d’Ivoire where snakes were common, eh, what’s the big deal?
  • As a mom of a toddler, AAACKKKK!!!
  • Why did they cut the snake in half? Unless you crush its head, it can still bite you.
  • What does one wear to an urgent snake discussion meeting? Python shoes to show support?

One thing was sure, this little happening was going to make the blog. So I sat down to type out this post… Type, type, ty-WHAT?!

I reread the sign, then reread the invitation.

Apparently the snake was killed back on March 14th! That’s three days before we took our family photos out back. Which means that those day-laborers who were back there hauling off branches and debris and pulling up grass while we were photo-shooting were actually there as a result of the cobra finding!

A horse cart hauling off branches during our fan photo shoot

So just in case they didn’t think we were weird (and crazy) enough… three days after a big ol’ poisonous snake is killed back behind the building, we go hiking around with our toddler and pose for photos. Sigh.

Fam photos

Silly toubabs

Water cuts: the ‘inchalla’ is implied

The rumors have been circulating and have now been confirmed by official sources: more water cuts in store for Dakar. The plan is for water to be cut starting Thursday morning and for it to come back on Sunday morning. (The inchalla, meaning ‘God willing’ is implied).

Anyone else chuckle when they read that SDE has a 'master repair plan'?

Anyone else chuckle when they read that SDE has a ‘master repair plan’?

So what have I been doing to prepare? Here’s a sampling…

  • Checking to be sure every water bucket and storage container is full to the brim.
  • Washing every item of clothing, sheets, towels, etc… that I possibly can. This includes baby clothes because you just never know how things might escalate or how long these things will last…
  • Doing messy crafts with Pape while we still have water to clean up afterwards.
  • Letting the water run just a little bit longer than needed while brushing my teeth, just because I can.
  • Watering the plants.
  • Filling all our available bottles with filtered drinking water.
  • Washing dishes as they are used so there’s no pile-up.
  • Mopping floors, then closing windows to keep out the dust.
  • Making ice.
  • Washing lettuce and soaking fruit & veggies.
Water prep

Anything I forgot?

Oh, and an extra-long hot shower. ‘Cause twice the water means the clean lasts twice as long, right? ;)


SWAP-n-shop event for the women’s prisons

This past weekend, I swapped until I (nearly) dropped. And it was awesome.


Welcome to the SWAP!

Remember the Gazelle Skirt fashion blog? My friends Jenn, Amy and I launched it last year. One of the readers suggested a clothing swap and so we brainstormed it a bit and came up with a way to make it a clothing drive for the women’s prison.


Swappers swapping


One of the many racks and stacks of clothing to choose from

It went like this…

1. Have participants bring clothes that are in good condition, but that they no longer want.
2. For each item of clothing they bring, they can take one item home. Swap!
3. Items left at the end of the day are donated to women in the local prisons.
4. Invite some of our favorite fashionable local vendors to sell at the event.
5. Invite Ndeye, an amazing woman who has volunteered in Dakar’s prisons for more than 12 years.
6. Charge an admission fee to cover expenses and transportation of the donations to the prisons.


Over 70 people attended the event!

Well ladies readers, the second Gazelle Skirt event was a very fashionable success! Thank you so much to all of you who came out to participate (ahem, drop-n-shop) in the SWAP and who helped out with setting up, folding and refolding, cleaning up and just lending a hand wherever needed. Corrie, Nour and Anne-Marie were amazing and spent hours helping us get ready.

Jenn and Nour

Jenn and Nour

Corrie putting together display outfits.

Corrie putting together display outfits.

The Gazelle Skirt bloggers

The Gazelle Skirt bloggers

Over 100,000cfa was raised through entry fees and donations to help offset the costs of transporting the clothing to women in prisons in Dakar, Rufisque and Thies. The funds were given to our guest of honor, Mme Ndeye Diouf, who has been volunteering in these prisons for over 12 years as an advocate for women who are estranged from their families and women from countries outside of Senegal and need help advancing their cases. Maman Ndeye, thank you for your tireless service to those in prisons in the Dakar region. It is an honor and privilege to come alongside you in this work.

The organizers and volunteers at the end of the SWAP

The organizers and volunteers at the end of the SWAP

Now back to the shopping… below you’ll find information on this year’s SWAP vendors and how to get in touch with them for placing orders.

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Tony Alves
Custom-made shoes
77 387 06 92
Tony is a very skilled cobbler who loves what he does – which is lucky for us shoe-lovers! He makes shoes for men and women in a wide variety of styles, all depending on your preferences and creativity. He is willing to visit customers at home to discuss their preferences and get their sizes. Just show him a photo or browse his images of shoes he’s already made. Prices start at 7000cfa for sandals. Speaks French.

 Anne de la V. boutique
Clothing and accessories
77 606 6162

Anne de la V.

Her boutique is located in Ouakam, Cité Asecna, near Brioche Dorée. With Brioche Dorée behind you, it’s four blocks down on your right. The boutique will be on your left. Open Monday thru Saturday, 10am to 7pm. Shop the collection or place a custom order. She speaks English, French and Wolof.

Chayas and ‘tenues de soir’
77 631 7437
You can order directly from Patricia directly at any time. Most orders can be completed in just four or five days. The chayas are 5000 cfa/pair, plus reimbursing her for her taxi fare if you want them delivered to you. She speaks English, French and Wolof.

Bathie Ndiaye
77 666 2957


Both hands: 4000cfa / Both feet 3000cfa
Bathie does beautiful henna designs that last 2-4 weeks. He’s fast, detailed and really, really good! And his prices are great. He’ll do henna parties at your home too. Speaks French and Wolof, but good at charades!

Artisans in the prisons
The women in Liberté 6 and Rufisque prisons are learning craft skills, such as embroidery and beading, that our shoppers really appreciated! To purchase more or arrange a vendor for a sale event, send us an email and we’ll put you in touch with the coordinator.

Rama of AfricaNubian
77 755 0413


Wax print bags, earrings, wire headbands {new!}, custom-made clothes, and even home accents are available. She had a shop in Sacré Coeur 1 (see pictures here), but is now selling from her home in Point E.

Rama Diaw
Thanks to Amy Farley for bringing down a fabulous selection of designs from Rama Diaw in Saint-Louis!

Just in case they don’t think we’re weird enough…

Fam out front

Fam photo in the courtyard of our building.

Taking a horse cart ride through the neighborhood was a bit weird. Toubabs during pregnancy can be a bit odd. Even the way we do our laundry may seem unusual.

But just in case our neighbors don’t think we’re weird enough, we’re giving them another reason to reconsider.

Just chillin by the electrical cabinet.

I’d been wanting to have some maternity photos taken and my friend Jenn is now back on Senegalese soil, along with her camera. Perfect. Now we just needed a venue for these family photos.

I’ve seen some great photos on the beaches, in front of colorful pirogue boats, on the rocks of Almadies, even along the coast near our neighborhood. But none of them really felt like ‘us’. So then I had what may be the best (or possibly worst) idea ever: take the photos in the empty space back behind our apartment.

Fam photo by the laundry line out back.

Here are my reasons behind this possibly great idea for a venue:

- Local vibe. Crumbly wall, some barbed wire, dry patches of dirt, probably some trash…

- Color. Odds are good there will be some laundry out to dry in the background and there may even be a couple sheep wandering in and out of the shots. (Also some graffiti back there uses some pretty colorful language.)

- Convenience. When you’re trying to get a toddler, a pregnant lady and a guy who doesn’t like to have his picture taken ready for a photo shoot, convenience is important.

- Fun! Why not? Worst case, we wind up with some fun memories and photos with the worst background ever. At least we’ll be smiling!

K barbed wire

Cause every maternity shoot needs barbed wire.

I love this one.

The stairwell in our apartment building.

K door

This storage room out back.

Just a liiiitle bit windy!

Anyone who’s been in Africa knows these bricks!

Jenn got some great ones of him!

At the top of our stairs.

Fam photo with the French military base wall behind us.

The stairwell in our apartment building.


Bonus: There was even a horse out back!


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