My 37th birthday

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The theme of the birthday lunch: wax print, of course!

As it’s been stated before, I’m not usually big on celebrations. But when Jenn informed me she was organizing a birthday lunch for me and that it was going to be a wax-print themed little event at Noflaye Beach… Well, of course I was totally on board and loved the idea!

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Noflaye Beach restaurant

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In case you ever wondered who I roll with in Dakar, it’s this lovely, wonderful, sweet crew.

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Very sunny and beautiful. (My apologies, snowed-in Americans.)

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Birthday lunch ladies

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Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice is apparently THE drink these days.

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She has the best laugh ever.

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Celebratory signage by Jenn

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Opening my gift and I was SO SUPRISED!

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Thank you, Jenn! I don’t know what I’m going to do when you leave Dakar.

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I love it. Love, love, love it. It’s an aquamarine quartz set in silver on a black leather bracelet, designed by Wendy of My African Heart. (Thank you, Wendy!)

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Jenn in her top by Bapribap

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Monica with her bogolan (mud cloth) bag she designed and had made herself. Maybe for my next birthday… ;)

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The view towards Mamelles

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Saoussan in her wax print dress by Seydou

Danielle in her pocket skirt by Seydou. Gotta' love a good chicken print!

Danielle in her pocket skirt by Seydou. Gotta’ love a good chicken print!

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‘No Woman, No Cry’ performed on repeat. But hey, it added to the ambiance.

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Diana in her accidental-miniskirt by Barry

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My dashiki print ‘twirly skirt’ made by Marietou of Khady Couture.

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Michelle in a wax print dress by Seydou

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Love this view.

PS. I’m not really 37 yet. So if any of you read this and thought, “Wow, I thought she was younger than that!” well, that’s enough of a gift for me.

Merry Valentine’s Day!

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Thiof dinner with my super thiof! Thiof is a very prized local fish. And to say your husband is a ‘super thiof’ means you have a good catch.

We’re really bad when it comes to celebrating romantic events like Valentine’s Day, our anniversary, our other anniversary or, um, even our tenth anniversary that kind of just slipped by. The good news is that we’re both really bad at it and neither of us gets upset if these big moments pass without chocolates or flowers.

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Maman Awa Dione’s roadside grill

But I got inspired this Valentine’s Day. And I mean that literally. It was about 7am on Valentine’s Day when the idea struck. I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and came across a photo of a fish grilling over hot coals and the caption said it was at a little roadside spot a couple miles away. Bingo. That way we could skip the overcrowded restaurants with their special fixed menus and slow service and just get some good food in a relaxed atmosphere. (And maybe even make it to bed early! That’s a great gift for parents of two little ones who like to beat the sun at waking up.)

All I had to do now was secure a babysitter (check) and convince Cheikh that he really could just wear jeans and a t-shirt for this surprise outing (more challenging check). We hopped in the car and I told him to head to Almadies.

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In her kitchen

Along the ocean at the very westernmost tip of Africa, there’s a strip of little stands and restaurants selling seafood and rice dishes, but apparently Maman Awa Dione’s grill is pretty well known among them because we found it after asking just one person. And we found Maman Awa as well, standing in the open-air kitchen behind a row of condiment bottles stabbing gigantic shrimp on a skewer.

Merry Valentine's Day!

Merry Valentine’s Day!

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Aw, our thiof are kissing. And there were even tie-dyed hearts (well, wonky circles) on our tablecloth.

The evening was perfect.

Grilled whole thiof with attieke (fermented cassava) and aloco (fried plantain bananas). But it was better than just the good food. It felt like the good old days of us in Dakar, sitting at wooden tables in a tiny little restaurant that was open on two sides and decorated with old calendars and not just one but TWO little artificial Christmas trees with tinsel garland. Apparently we chose a prime table too – the one next to the wall outlet where people came to charge their cell phones. Score. (And Djibril, you have another text message.)

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Unsuccessful selfie showing the phone charging above us.

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Maman Awa in her kitchen. One side opens to the street and one side to the restaurant.

We laughed that all that was missing to complete the evening was a woman selling roses tableside, but… even better! During the course of our dinner a guy came by our table selling phone accessories, a woman selling beaded jewelry, a guy selling butterfly wing art, a guy selling soccer jerseys, a guy selling wooden instruments and another woman selling jewelry because I bought a little something (okay, three little somethings) from the first one.

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Bargaining for bijoux spread on our table while waiting for dinner to be grilled. And our box of Kleenex/napkins.

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A little mood music. He sang a song called ‘Bon appétit!’. Those were the lyrics AND the title.

Happy Valentine’s Day, sama super thiof!

5 things I learned while sorting your clothes

Calm before the SWAP-storm!

Calm before the SWAP-storm!

During the month of January, much of my time was spent sorting and folding clothes. No, not because of toddler + baby laundry (although some of it was), but because our home was the central drop-off location for women donating clothes for our third Gazelle Skirt clothing SWAP to benefit women in prison.

Our first SWAP event had about 50 participants. The second SWAP grew to about 75. This year we passed 100 participants and received over 3000 items of clothing! All of these items were then sorted and folded, and eventually made their way either to the prisons or into the SWAP and found new homes with happy fashionistas.

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SWAPpers!

In the process of sorting all these clothes I learned a few things:

1. Somehow a lot of you manage to wear white in Senegal – and keep it white! Very impressive, ladies. Very impressive. (Or maybe you brought white clothes here, realized they were unwearable and that the clothing SWAP was the perfect solution?)

2. Wrap dresses must be hard to fit or wear well because they are one of the most donated items.

3. The two cultures I now feel pretty confident I could identify by their clothes: Dutch and Lebanese.

4. Often in a bag of clothes I would find one or two items in a much smaller size and usually a bit outdated. Yup. As we get older, sometimes we have to say goodbye to those cute shorts we wore all through college. But hopefully you found a beautiful new item in the SWAP as a consolation upgrade. (I did!)

5. American clothes are the softest (dryers, I suppose) but Senegalese smell the best (thiouraye incense!).

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Look at all those clean stacks! So pretty.

Over 150,000cfa 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 nearly 15 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. (And she also happens to be my daughter’s Senegalese namesake.)

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A very big thank you to all the participants, vendors, organizers who volunteered and to NTM-SLT for the use of the conference room. Jeana, Christie, Candace, Nour, Polly, Danielle, Saoussan, Stina, Damaris, Josefina, Monica, Anne Marie, Marietou – thank you!

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SWAP organizers and helpers

Our vendors this year were wonderful, and we were very excited to host the launch for Bapribap’s new line for women (more info on WOLOVE Market‘s site soon!). Below you will find contact info for our vendors and details about their work.

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Bapribap’s new line for women launched at the SWAP!

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Three hours of non-stop SWAP action

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Original Gazelles

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Swappers and little swappers

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Our most popular section: wax print and Senegalese styles

Rama Diaw (Saint-Louis)
Clothing and accessories

Anne de la V. boutique
Clothing and accessories

WOLOVE Market
Clothing for adults and children, accessories, home goods and gourmet foods

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WOLOVE Market’s wares

Kaflllppthhht…

It had to happen sometime, right? To be honest, I am amazed and impressed that it took this long! Today we had our first power cut of the year. Do you realize that’s almost a full month in to 2015? Craziness.

Unfortunately, I seem to have gotten rusty while living this luxurious, power-filled life. So when all went kaflllppthhht and the lovely little flickering lights on my appliances went dark, I was left standing in the kitchen with unblended smoothies, unheated baby food, unbrewed coffee, unrefrigerated delivery from Shady Shack and unblow-dried hair. (That last one is a hot-season luxury I would never dream of doing the rest of the year.)

For a second, I thought, “Craaaap.” But then I laughed. How awesome it is that I was able to get out of the habit of being prepared for power cuts?! I’ll take it, Senegal. Please continue to dazzle me for the rest of 2015.

Backyardigans

I grew up with a big tropical yard with lots of grass, bushes, trees, flowers and makings of mud. (Oh, and snakes). Minus the serpents in the garden, it was a great place to play and explore and imagine.

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Dakar’s rinky dink city yards in a desert climate seemed like a sad substitute for our kids. But then again, we live in an apartment so don’t even have the luxury of a rinky dink city yard, so I shouldn’t be knocking them. Instead we have a parking lot where people gather to drink tea all day and then a stretch of dry, dusty nothingness behind the building. The wall behind the barren nothingness features bad Wutang Clan graffitti and is topped with barbed wire. The only bright spots of color are the clothes on the laundry line or the trash strewn about.

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But Pinterest was letting me down after reading loads of articles with titles like ’20 Indoor Games for Preschoolers’ and ‘Fun Crafts for Boys’. So I grabbed a bottle of bubbles and Pape’s hand and we went to the stretch of nothingness.

Nothingness is in the eye of the beholder.

He played happily for hours, sometimes running around with the neighbors’ little girl (her English is coming along, his Wolof is… meh). They found sticks and rocks and sea shells and monkey bread from the baobob tree (and yes, horse poop and glass too) and had a blast.

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So much so that we are back in the so-called nothingness again right now. Today’s games include throwing rocks at the wall, building a ‘fire’ and racing to the guys drinking tea, giving them all high-fives and then back to me. The find du jour was a broken tape measure that served as a ‘fishing pole’. It’s been a pretty fun-filled afternoon!

On our way inside, he stopped for a quick peanut and attaya (tea) snack with the guards. “Mom look! It a picnic!”

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Not quite, little one. But I’m glad you had fun.

Harmattan activities: fun for the whole family!

Harmattan

Dust accumulated on my bookshelf in 24 hours. With all doors and windows closed.

Every morning we wake up to a new view of the Sahel Desert from in our apartment. The Harmattan winds blow the sand in grain by grain and January is peak ‘dust season’. Even my weather app just says DUST for every day’s forecast. Well, some days it says WIDESPREAD DUST.  But don’t worry, I’ve compiled….

Harmattan activities: fun for the whole family!

1. Make dust angels on the living room floor.

2. Write declarations of your undying love to your in the dust on your countertops. Bonus points for using a wet finger to make muddy ink.

3. Place bets on which room has the most dust on the floor. Sweep each one, then compare. Winner gets a clean house. For half an hour until more dust blows in.

4. Redecorate your home in sandy hues. This requires no activity on your part whatsoever.

5. Do a little Harmattan workout.

6. Write ‘wash me’ on the dishes that have been sitting by the sink since morning.

7. Be thankful every day that it’s Harmattan and not hot season. Dust washes off. Sweat… well, sweat washes off too. But I’d rather be dusty and wearing a hoodie while sipping my steaming café au lait.

2015 Dakar Bucket List

Last year I posted a list of 52 things to do in Dakar that helped me remember a) that there are some really cool things to do around here, b) to always keep exploring! I’ve decided to update the list in honor of 2015 by adding 15 new ideas at the end.

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How many have you done already? What’s on your Dakar Bucket List?

  1. Picnic at the Phare des Mamelles lighthouse.
  2. Watch the sunset from Hôtel des Almadies, the westernmost tip of Africa.
  3. Buy fabric (or bine-bine belly beads) at HLM market.
  4. Take a boat to Ngor Island for the afternoon. Eat at La Maison d’Italie or Sunu Makane (Chez Seck), your choice.
  5. Go to Marché Kermel early in the morning without a grocery list and just buy what inspires you.
  6. Have attaya with friends – all three rounds and don’t rush.
  7. Take a day trip to Malika Monkeys and stay for lunch and a swim.
  8. Do not miss a Baaba Maal or Orchestra Baobab concert. Ever again.
  9. Start your morning with a Nescafé from a guy with a rolling cart, aka Dakar’s Starbucks.
  10. Get an afternoon pick-me-up from café Touba vendor.
  11. Swim at the infinity pool at the Radisson Blu. (And Instagram it, of course.)
  12. Enjoy a bissap cocktail: 1/2 bissap + 1/2 bouye.
  13. Spend an afternoon sitting on a mat under the shade of a tree, just being there.
  14. Order fresh milk and yogurt from Keur Normand.
  15. Do Sunday lunch with friends at the Churrascaria in Fann.
  16. Visit Café Layal (not the restaurant Layal, not the bakery Layal) and learn about the coffees they’ve just roasted.
  17. Buy a big pile of nems from the vendor at the Hann Maristes roundpoint. (Bonus points if you burn your tongue eating them while still so hot!)
  18. Walk rue El Hadj Karim Abdou Bourgi and just look and discover.
  19. Get your legs sugar-waxed. (Don’t know where to go? Ask a Lebanese woman.)
  20. Walk the Corniche on a Sunday morning. Be sure to wear your nicest workout clothes in order to fit in.
  21. Have lunch at the Institut Français.
  22. Let the afternoon fade into evening watching the waves from Le Ngor or the Surf Shack in Almadies.
  23. Find a tailor and get out of your box. Need inspiration? Try The Gazelle Skirt… or Pinterest. :)
  24. Find somewhere to use your skills and talents and volunteer.
  25. Sample enough Warang Liqueurs to choose your favorite.
  26. Do NOT get a toubab-in-Africa sunburn.
  27. Get henna-ed up. Hands, feet, hair or all three!
  28. Pick your poison: drum or dance. Now get out there and do it.
  29. Buy fish from the oceanside market in Yoff. And bargain well.
  30. Go to Gorée Island. Even if you’ve before, just go. Once you see the colors, you’ll be glad you did.
  31. Dance in the rain when it finally starts in late June.
  32. Have a traditional Senegalese outfit made and don’t forget all the accessories.
  33. Take a day trip to Lac Rose and ride camels… or 4-wheelers.
  34. Learn more Wolof. Then use the words you learn.
  35. Escape to Presse Café for a bagel and a latte and pretend you’re in America. (Okay, Canada. Whatever.)
  36. Train for and run a race (Jungle Run 2015, anyone?) or join the Hash House Harriers.
  37. Order ceebu jen from Diami and eat it with your hands from a common bowl.
  38. Visit the Village de Arts on the airport road.
  39. Remember that Senegal is way more than just Dakar. And Saly. Make plans to get out and experience it.
  40. Shop the Monday fugg jaay (second-hand clothing market) next to the Orange stadium.
  41. Eat a thiof grillé from gills to tail as its eyeball watches you.
  42. Paddleboard off the coast of Ngor Island.
  43. Go to the DWG Christmas Bazaar and shop, shop, shop.
  44. Celebrate something (anything!) with a casual meal catered by Shady Shack.
  45. Get WAISTed in February. (Which is Dakar-speak for ‘play in the West Africa Invitational Softball Tournament’)
  46. Wear a sweater when it dips below 70 degrees. Trust me… you’ll want it!
  47. Choose a local craft (basket-making, weaving, pottery…) and learn how it’s done.
  48. Find an American food item that you get so excited about that you share it on Dakar Eats.
  49. Go to the Atmosphère shop in Les Almadies. Then go again a month later to see how they’ve changed the décor and featured items.
  50. Take a day-trip to Bandia and pose with the giraffes.
  51. Grab a chawarma royale (comes with fried egg and grated cheese) from Ali Baba’s downtown. Extra points for getting piment on it.
  52. Sunset drinks at Bayékou, overlooking Ile de Ngor.
  53. Visit the Mandjak weavers in Point E and buy some of their beautiful hand-woven scarves. (Tip: 8000cfa is a fair price.)
  54. Take a boat tour of Dakar and its islands with La Cabane du Pecheur. Their rates are really pretty good, especially if taking a full boat of friends.
  55. Attend a dinner & dancing event organized by the Dakar Women’s Group to raise funds for local charities.
  56. Spend a morning (or the day!) at Le Ryad al Sultan hammam and spa. If steam and scrub isn’t your thing, I’ll just go for you.
  57. Pick a market that you haven’t been to yet. Grab two friends and book Patricia to take you on a market tour and show you the best stuff and haggle for the best prices. Her specialties are HLM and the Malian market.
  58. Have family photos taken at a spot in Dakar that’s special to you… even if it’s a bit unorthodox.
  59. Be lazy (or productive, depending on your perspective). Have Sen Express run an errand for you that you’ve been putting off.
  60. Get a new look! Two great new hair salons are Cinq Sens near Soumbedioune (ask for Soraya) and Mylen’s in Fenêtre Mermoz.
  61. Order Yum-Yum pizza and marvel at the fact that Dakar actually has a US-style pizza (and donuts!) joint with a ‘delivery in under an hour or it’s free’ policy.
  62. Shop WOLOVE Market in your pjs.
  63. Make friends with your local fruit and veggie vendor and explore some new produce you’ve never had before.
  64. Parents: take the kiddos to Zippyland at Ngor Virage and let them play while you have a coffee date. Their café au lait is actually really good!
  65. Crêpes Nutella at Noflaye Beach.
  66. Get on Instagram and check out some of the amazing photographers (amateur and professional) capturing #dakar.
  67. Always keep exploring and learning. That’s how Dakar becomes home.

Anyone have ideas to add from your Dakar Bucket List?

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