Things you learn when you live in Senegal

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5 things you learn right away

  • ‘That sound’ is the call to prayer. Five times a day. It will become the background music to this stage of your life.
  • ‘That smell’ is incense. Or garbage. Or fish market. But probably all three.
  • ‘That hand gesture’ means slow down, I’m going to cross the street here in front of your moving vehicle.
  • ‘That feeling’ is your skin frying in the sun.
  • ‘That thing’ in his mouth is a chew stick, a traditional toothbrush.

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5 things you figure out quickly

  • The going rate is probably half the first price given. Bargaining is expected.
  • Making balls of rice to pop in your mouth as the oil runs downs your arm.
  • Power cuts happen.
  • How to say, “I have a husband.” in Wolof.
  • Attaya packs a mean caffeine punch.

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5 things you pick up along the way

  • Tying a wrap skirt so that it stays on, but loose enough to walk in.
  • The urge to shake people’s hand every time you walk into a room.
  • Dressing more modestly.
  • A more relaxed attitude about being on time, but higher value on time spent with people.
  • Giarrdia.

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5 things you never fully master

  • Walking with the elegance and fluidity of a Senegalese person.
  • Fluency in four local languages, like everyone else.
  • Dancing like THAT.
  • Making ceebu jenn as wonderfully as the woman who taught you.
  • Explaining life in Senegal to someone who’s never been here.

2015 DWG Art Show

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When we lived in France, I worked in an office with British colleagues. I learned quite a few things, not the least of which included these language differences:

  1. When your boss asks you for a ‘rubber’ in the middle of an editorial meeting, she means what I as an American would call an ‘eraser’.
  2. In America we say someone is ‘artsy fartsy’ but in the UK they are ‘arty farty’.

Now here’s something I learned two years ago here in Dakar: the DWG Art Show is not at all artsy fartsy, nor arty farty. It’s just plain awesome.

I have to be honest and tell you that Jenn and I dragged our husbands along to the Art Show largely because it was something (free!) to do before going out to dinner on our first night out with a babysitter.

Two years ago!

Two years ago!

But we loved the Art Show. I went back twice that weekend. And I have been anxiously awaiting the opening of the 2015 Art Show that Raquel and her team have been putting together, and even moreso after seeing the sneak preview photos Wendy has been posting online.


Sneak peek from 2015

All of the pieces are for sale and there’s a selection of square canvases by each of the featured artists that are 25,000cfa each. (There’s also this table with two chairs painted with a thieboudieune theme honoring Penda Mbaye that none of you should buy, okay?)

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So whether you consider yourself to be ‘into art’ or not, I definitely recommend you check it out this weekend, Friday thru Sunday from 10am to 7pm. Date night with your sweetheart, after grabbing coffee with a friend, field trip with the munchkins… This event only comes around every two years!

The 13th edition of the DWG Art Show will be March 13-15, 2015, at Pavilion B of the Musee Theodore Monod d’art Africaine (former IFAN) in Plateau. Admission is free.

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The first DWG art exhibit was 23 years ago, in the home of a member whose name is now lost somewhere in the dusty records of Dakar Women’s Group. From these modest beginnings, with only a handful of artists, the DWG Art Show has evolved to become one of the largest privately-held art events in Dakar.

More than 70 artists will be represented this year, including painters, sculptors, and photographers. We are very proud of the work we put into exhibiting some of Senegal’s best-known artists, as well as encouraging new, young talents.


My multicultural medicine cabinet

We got hit by the chickenpox and the Dakar Plague this past week. If you’re not familiar with this particular plague, two pieces of advice: don’t ask for details and wash your hands all day long.

Here in Dakar we have this wonderful service called SOS Médecin which is basically doctors who do house calls 24/7. Let’s just say that we scored a few more punches on our frequent users card this weekend…

When doctor #2 came at 10pm on Saturday, she started asking me what kinds of medications I had on hand in our petite pharmacie. I had a hard time answering her questions, even though I knew what was in our massive medicine cabinet for the most part. The problem was that most of the medications are from the US, so not necessarily brands or formulas she would recommend. For example, Pedialyte in America comes in grape flavor liquid. Here you mix up a chalky nasty fizzy powder in water. (Can you tell I’m partial to the American version on this one?)

Definitely got the 'chickenspots'. That red stuff is the French version of Calamine lotion and it stains your skin red for a couple days. Lovely.

Definitely got the ‘chickenspots’. That red stuff is the French version of Calamine lotion and it stains your skin red for a couple days. Lovely.

When she saw I was having a hard time listing what I had that might work, she started suggesting things. “Do you have Vogalene in lyoc?” Umm… I’ve heard of Vogalene, but no idea what ‘in lyoc’ is. Turns out it’s a dissolvable that goes under your tongue. “What about suppositories? Which ones do you have?” Umm… I’m American. We don’t do suppositories. (This one is always a shocker to the doctors.) “Okay, well would you rather have the injection?” Umm, yeah!

Anyway, she was very patient and kind and it got to be kind of funny that we were very obviously speaking a different language when it came to medications and supplies. At the end of the conversation, she suggested that once I felt better I should go buy a few things to round out my petite pharmacie. I asked her what she’d recommend, but to be honest I tuned her out when the list started with a suppository.

Today we are feeling much better, just moving a little slowly. (Well, the adults are moving slowly. The kids seem to be going double speed.) My Senegalese friend called to check on us and when I told her we’d all had a stomach bug she kindly offered to make one of her favorite recovery remedies: fish soup.

To each culture its own!

Quick Tips

SOS Médecin: 33 889 1515

Dakar Plague’s nemesis: Vogalene in whichever formula you can tolerate + Gatorade from the American Food Store in Les Almadies

Sen Express: 77 615 1313. They will go to the pharmacy/store to pick up what you need and deliver it to you. Costs 3000cfa per errand.

They said to me…

Our sunrise view

Our sunrise view

“Oh, but I love your apartment. The walls are actually straight.”
– my friend on why we shouldn’t look to move anywhere else

Attempted family photo.

Attempted family photo.

“He looks like a real little American today!”
– one of the guards when my son wore cowboy boots, sweatpants, cowboy hat and sunglasses

Tubs of karité for gift bags for women in prison.

Tubs of karité for gift bags for women in prison.

“Try it. It will lighten your skin.”
– the woman selling karité (shea butter) mixed with olive oil and lime juice

Beef delivery!

Beef delivery!

“The label makes it taste better.”
– my friend on the Beer-Sheba packages sporting the labels I designed

Works for me.

Works for me.

– my son every evening when he finishes setting the table

My "winter" shoes

My “winter” shoes

“It gets even colder than this in America, right?”
– a Senegalese friend on a 65-degree morning



“Your husband says you dress him. Nice job.”
– a friend at church

Attaya, Senegalese tea

Attaya, Senegalese tea

“You have to accept that you will be misunderstood at times and be okay with that.”
– a fellow expat here in Senegal on cross-cultural relationships

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!


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.


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.


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!


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.)


Unsuccessful selfie showing the phone charging above us.


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.


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


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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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

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

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WOLOVE Market’s wares


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