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!

Senegal: challenges & loves

I asked some of our friends to share what challenges them about living in Senegal and what they love about life in Senegal. Here are their answers…

CHALLENGES                                         LOVES












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Share your own thoughts below in the comments or take it a step further and post your friends’ replies on your blog or on Instagram with #senegalquestion!

A vacation from our problems… and some wildlife!

photo 4

Heading to breakfast by the pool. I could eat like this every day…

Actually, life is thankfully fairly problem-free these days. The weather is great, the electricity and water have been staying on, work is going well… but when you have the chance to quote ‘What About Bob’, you take it.

photo 5


We went away for a quick weekend get-away to Saly with our German-American comrades and their kiddos. Their daughter is in preschool with Pape and (yay!) they will be in Dakar for many moons to come. So you can expect to see much more of them on here!


The guys

In addition to picking a great place to stay, Steffen also suggested we do lunch at the nearby Bandia Game Park. We hadn’t been since they opened the new restaurant area and it is awesome! Like ‘worth the drive from Dakar just for lunch and letting the kids see some animals’ caliber of awesome. So over really good steaks and pizzas, we watched the monkeys swinging around (and real monkeys too), crocodiles sunbathing and swimming and antelope grazing. Definitely something to add to the list of things to do when we have people come visit! Or you know, we just need a vacation from our problems… ;)


Bougainvillea and palm trees


Ah, finally… a vacation from our problems!


Taking a dip in the pool

photo 2

He was pretty excited to (pretend to) ride a ‘water motorcycle’.


Playing in the water

photo 3

Early dinner for the kiddos, then after a bedtime, an amazing three-course meal delivered to the bungalow for the adults. Per-fect.

photo 3

Bungalows at sunset


The restaurant at Bandia Game Park


How many monkeys in this photo?


Lunch at the Bandia restaurant – highly recommended!


Wildlife across from the restaurant


The fam… and a monkey.


Crocodiles across the way


Entertainment for hours!


Plotting something, I’m sure!

8 jobs in Senegal that don’t exist in the US…

(…that I know of, at least.)

1. Horse cart driver

This is my son’s dream job.

Merging right in with the brightly colored taxis, brand new but banged up SUVs and little European cars are the horse carts. And every cart needs a driver. And often a co-pilot. Depending on the day, they may be hauling off a load of trash or tree cuttings, or maybe taking bags of cement to a work site. During the really bad water shortages, they delivered water to homes in 55-gallon drums. If you need to move some furniture at a cheap price or have something hauled off, these are your guys.

2. Phone card vendor

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.

Nearly everyone in Senegal has a cell phone. And on nearly every corner of Dakar there is a vendor selling prepaid credit you can enter in your phone. And yet somehow, no one in Senegal ever seems to have phone credit. (Self included.) But again, this is not due to a lack of vendors! If you buy a phone card from a vendor by your house on Monday, the odds are good he’ll be selling on that same corner on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday… A couple times a month, you may see him holding a sign announcing a PROMO, which means that if you enter credit into your phone that day, you get bonus credits of 25, 50 or even 100%.

3. Traveling tailor

You’ll know he’s coming by the sound of his giant sewing scissors snapping together. Traveling tailors are not as common in Dakar as in other parts of West Africa, but you do occasionally see a man walking down the street with a sewing machine on one shoulder and a pair of scissors in the other. The snapping sound of the scissors (you’d be amazed by how loud that sound is!) lets potential clients know the tailor is on their street, so if they have any repairs or sewing tasks to be done, they can come out and hire him.

4. Nescafé cart barista

Someday we’re going to finance one of these carts and become franchise owners. Someday…

What’s your morning drink? Nescafé granules dissolved in hot water with loads of sugar? Or is it loads of sugar dissolved in hot water with Nescafé granules? Either way, this guy can make it for you.

5. Broom salesman

Not the same as a street sweeper, but I could see where you might confuse the two.

Not the same as a street sweeper, but I could see where you might confuse the two.

Balaibalaibalai!” Much like the traveling tailor, the broom salesman lets people know he’s in the neighborhood by announcing his presence. But instead of snapping scissors, he chants/hollers, “Balaibalaibalai!” (Balai = broom in French.) And anyone who needs to buy a broom head, broom handle, dust pail, broom duster, etc… can just walk out their front door and buy one.

6. Lime vendor
There are fruit vendors all over Dakar, and all over the world for that matter. But for some reason that I have yet to understand, some guys in Dakar stand on the street corner selling limes. Just a basket of delicious Senegalese limes. Nothing else. (I also don’t understand why there is such a concentration of these vendors in the Fann Résidence neighborhood. Anyone able to explain this?)

7. Car guard/car washer

Very eco-friendly car wash... hardly any water!

Very eco-friendly car wash… hardly any water!

No sooner have you put the car in park than this guy is standing at your door. For a couple hundred cfa (under $1) he’ll watch over your vehicle and keep it safe. (In theory.) Throw in another 500cfa ($1) and he’ll wash your car while you run your errands. Note that ‘wash’ may or may not include actual water, probably will not include any kind of soap and will definitely include an oily rag.

8. Raapide guy

Public transportation, Dakar-style.

Public transportation, Dakar-style.

He spends his days hanging off the back of a smoking, rusted raapide (public transportation). As the raapide approaches a stop, he yells out the destination so that passengers can get on if they are going that way. As they get on, he takes their bus fare and communicates to the driver when to stop/go by tapping sharply on the side of the raapide with a coin.

I know there are many more that could make this list. Which jobs would you add?

Cross-cultural pregnancy

I’m an American who will be having her second baby in Senegal, which has a medical system that is very influenced by the French. So what does this kind of cross-cultural pregnancy look like?

Men's shirt from fegg jaay market = maternity top.

Men’s shirt from fegg jaay market = maternity top.

Packing on the pounds/kilos.
I remember showing up for one of my prenatal visits with my first and expecting nothing short of a medal for having gained only a few pounds. Even better than the medal, I was sure the doctor would tell me I needed to start eating more (chocolate). I couldn’t wait. But instead, she said my weight gain was ‘fine’ and ‘appropriate’. What?! My pregnancy app (made in America) said I should gain 25 to 35lbs, and I was nowhere near that track. But apparently (for once in my life), I was on the French track, which recommends weight gain during pregnancy of 9 to 12 kilos (19 to 26lbs).

If you’ve got it, flaunt it! Or not.
Baby bumps are a prized accessory in American culture. We proudly wear empire-waist tops or cinch a belt up under the bulge to show it off. Random strangers ask about the due date and some even want a feel.

In Senegal, the polite thing to do when you notice that a woman is pregnant is to ignore it. Completely. In fact, women traditionally go out of their way to hide their baby bumps in looser dresses and often with a scarf worn over one shoulder like a modified toga. I asked a Senegalese friend about this practice and she said that part of it is a modesty issue, but the larger part is avoiding the evil eye, curses put on the mother and baby. As in many places around the world, the mentality in the big city is different, so I’ve been told that in Dakar it’s not offensive or shocking for me to wear US-style maternity clothes.


Gotta’ love the maternity boubou/tent.

About a month ago I was walking in our neighborhood and ran into a young Senegalese guy we know. He’s studied abroad, speaks great English and is exactly what you’d picture when you think of a modern Dakarois. He greeted me in Wolof, asked about the family, etc… Then he switched to English and said, “You know, in my culture we don’t ask a pregnant woman about the baby. But I know in yours you do, so I will ask… How are you and the baby?” I think I was equal parts shocked and touched!

To C or not to C?
My understanding is that the prevailing thought in the US towards C-sections is once a C, always a C. Not so in Senegal.

BYO… everything.
I’ve never been hospitalized in the US, but I have done my research (Pinterest articles) and the suggested packing lists for moms-to-be going into American hospitals are quite a bit shorter than the one I was given by a very kind woman here who has assisted many Americans with deliveries. For example, I will be packing a towel, Tylenol, diapers and wipes and a bandage for the umbilical cord.


This is a sample maternity ensemble from my ‘Dakar winter’ collection. Flip-flops and a scarf are in.

Picking up the tab.
A C-section and five-day hospital stay at a private clinic in Dakar came to about $3000 before insurance. All you Americans reading this can collectively pick your jaws up off the floor now. Although this is about one tenth the cost in the US, you should know that there is a 5000cfa ($10) deposit required for the TV remote control in your room.

Wrap it up.
In Senegal, after a woman gives birth she gets special massages from her female family members to help with recovery and often her stomach is wrapped to help give support as she heals. Another effect of the wrapping is supposed to be that it helps the stomach shrink back to pre-baby size. After Pape was born, a Senegalese friend asked if I was wrapping my stomach. When I said no, she kind of raised one eyebrow with a, “You’re going to regret that…” look. And she was right. I am so wrapping after this next one!

Finally, just for the record, I wouldn’t mind adopting the French way of doing a three day (or more!) spa retreat after childbirth.

Spring cleaning? Yard sale-ing?

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Over the next couple of months, many of Dakar’s expats will be moving away as their assignments and contracts here come to a close – which means that yard sale season is upon us! And then there are some of us who are staying here, but still feel the urge to do some serious spring cleaning / seven-month pregnancy nesting and decluttering.

Whatever the reason may be, if you find yourself looking at a pile of stuff thinking, “Who could use this?” or “Where could I donate that?”, this list is for you! I’ve compiled a list of 20+ local organizations and projects that are in need of non-financial donations and many of the items could be in that ever-growing pile sitting in front of you…

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You can download the PDF below to find a good home for everything from can openers to cloth diapers, cleaning supplies to children’s books!

Download the PDF list here.

The list includes current donation requests from Keru Yakaar (House of Hope) Clinic, Orphanage Lac Rose, Animal Rescue League Dakar, The Beer-Sheba Agricultural Project, La Pouponniere de Dakar, L’Ecole Renaissance des Sourds and other great initiatives in and around Dakar.

Please share the list with anyone you think may be interested.

I plan on updating the list every six months, so if you know of a project or organization that may want to be included in the next round, just let me know. Thanks!


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