9 ways our Thanksgiving meal is Dakarified

In a few hours we’ll pick our son up from school in time for our Thanksgiving meal. When Pape woke up today, he was so excited to celebrate ‘the American holiday!’ they’ve been learning about at school, but disappointed to find out that we will not be killing a fatted ram. Bummer, I know. But we will be celebrating in true Dakar fashion…

1. The cream of mushroom soup for the green bean casserole was made with butter, flour, powdered milk, water and frozen mushrooms I went to four stores to find. 

2. The deviled eggs have finely chopped cornichons pickles + pinch of sugar instead of pickle relish, which I forgot to buy at the American Food Store. 

3. The tablecloth is handpainted batik, decorated with faux autumn leaves that my friend’s mom brought me from the US. 

4. The fried onions were obtained by exchange with my friend Valerie. I traded her a can of Libby’s pumpkin and the trade was carried out by a taxi driver who was making the four-hour drive from Saint-Louis to Dakar. 

5. The Kirene water is chilling in the fridge, right next to the bissap (hibiscus) drink. 

6. Shady Shack hummus with pita bread is one of our sides. Our own tradition since 2011. 

7. Our ‘turkey’ is two smoked chickens. 

8. The pumpkin cheesecake was made with homemade cream cheese, a five-day process requiring a pot of yogurt, a pound of powdered milk and a cheesecloth for straining. 

9. The coffee is… Nevermind. Some things you just can’t change. It’s the good, imported stuff. 

Happy Thanksgiving to our family and friends, near and far. Whether your day is Dakarified, KCfied, Jerseyfied, Parisfié… may we all be thankful for every gift God has given. 

Come together

A Swede, an American, a Moroccan, a Turk and a Panamanian walk into a spa. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. Or maybe a brilliant one. I mean to top it off, there’s Islam, Christianity and Baha’i in the mix.

But it’s not a joke at all. It’s actually beautiful and wonderful. And it’s my life, my friends. These are the ladies I have come to lean on and grow with. We could easily dissect every difference of our cultures, faith, language or appearance – but why? Sure, these differences come up. But in this circle, they are safe and respected. As I looked around from one face to the next while we sipped mint tea, I prayed for their families who are literally around the globe and for their children who are growing up with mine.

This week has had more than its share of ugliness and division. This morning with my friends exactly was what my heart needed. And a serious dose of steam and scrub for good measure.

Truly feeling American in Dakar


Anyone who has spent time around me recently knows that I am a huge Marie Kondo fan. She authored the book (THE book) on decluttering your home and your life and after reading it this summer, I was sold. Purge, purge, clean out, discard, give away, purge… Repeat until clutter is gone and order in its place.

Happy sigh.

Until last weekend.


At some point in the decluttering  process I got rid of all my formal dresses from events past. I hadn’t needed them recently and they were taking up space, so out the door they went, alongside books I’ll never read and tshirts I really should have gotten ride of two holes ago.

But last weekend my plans changed and in the blink of about three texts messages and fifteen minutes, I was going to be attending the Marine Corps Ball at the US Embassy.


Oh Marie Kondo. What had we done?? I had nothing even passable as a formal dress, not to mention I had chucked all my real heels in favor of more sensible-in-sand wedges.

Fortunately my petite Panamanian friend came to my rescue and dressed me nearly from head to toe. Happy sigh again!


The Ball was lovely and it was so fun to see so many people from different corners of my life in Dakar all together, all dressed up and dancing away. One big highlight for me though was when we stood for the US National Anthem and I felt so incredibly, truly American.


Because we choose to live and raise our kids abroad,  I am conscious that we are different from many Americans. And when we go to the US, I feel even more aware of how not-American I am. But in that moment tonight at the Marine Corps Ball, I felt more American than I have in years. It was such a special moment for me that I will hold on to for many years.

That and one formal dress. Just in case…


Sometimes I can’t believe this is my life.

When I’m sipping café au lait with the ‘Real Housewives of Dakar’ at our usual spot overlooking the ocean.


When I’m picking up three garbage bags-worth of trash from our parking lot so the kids can have a clean(er) place to play.

When I can have my produce, poultry, meat, seafood, dairy products and eggs delivered to my door each week.

When my son is playing soccer with talibé boys and a passerby asks one of the boys if he knows his parents and he answered, “It’s been a long time since I was home. But I think I would know my mother. She has light skin.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 8.36.46 PM

When my 18-month-old daughter shakes and nods her head to respond appropriately to questions she’s asked in Wolof.

When the doorbell rings at 7:30am and it’s someone bringing us a gift -a beautiful, massive squash grown in her home village.

When we finally get a new water pump system installed, but now get alternating hot/cold every 20 seconds. And that’s the fix. There is no further solution.


When my son is learning to make pottery from a deaf teacher who holds his hands to guide them as he looks into my son’s eyes to communicate.

When making ice means filling the bucket filter, waiting for the water to drip down at a rate of 1 liter per hour, filling ice cube trays and then freezing them.

When I realize I’ve adapted and now walk behind my husband and don’t initiate handshakes with men.


When I can have massages, facials, manicures and pedicures, henna or waxing done in my living room.

When I shut the taxi door and pull my child onto my lap as I pray because there is no seatbelt. And the efficiency of the brakes is yet to be determined.

When I realize that I will lose another five good, kind, funny and special friends here in Dakar over the next three months.

Parent-child dates in Dakar

Did you hear that sound this morning at about 8am? It was a cross between a joyful exclamation and a groan as parents around Dakar realized that the two-week fall break begins today. That’s right. If your kids are in French schools, you just won 16 days of having them home with you! Along that choo-choo train of thought, here are some ideas for getting out and about with your little one(s) in Dakar.


  1. Share a crêpe at Noflaye beach.
  2. Take the pirogue over to Ngor Island. Stay for a Coke and a walk around, or spend the whole day splashing around and eating brochettes de whatever et frites.
  3. Rent a horse cart for a ride around the neighborhood.
  4. Go to Yum-Yum for donuts. And remember that donuts are not just a breakfast thing. :)
  5. Walk to the top of Mamelles lighthouse.
  6. Go to the buutik and buy bread & spread to give to talibé boys in your neighborhood.
  7. Take a djembé lesson together with Djiby.
  8. Find the smoothest section of street in your neighborhood. Enlist some help watching out for cars and spend some time helping your little one reach their next goal in wheeled riding, maybe how to turn better on their scooter, bike-riding without training wheels or how to rollerblade.
  9. Enjoy a scoop of ice cream at Mami Mia’s, soft serve at Carimoux or fro-yo at Yogurtlandia.
  10. Get matching henna tattoos with Bathie  / buy matching Senegal soccer jerseys at Marché Sandaga.
  11. Take surf lessons together.
  12. Get out of town: day-trip to Bandia in the early morning to see the animals + climb some trees (and more) at Accrobaobab.
  13. Make a ‘Break Bag’ together for one of your child’s friends. Fill a bag with toys, books, puzzles (they don’t have to be new) and add some craft supplies or other treats. Send the bag to the friend so they can enjoy some new-to-them items… and give their parents a break from the break. ;) You can deliver the Break Bag yourself or have Sen Express do it for 3000cfa.
  14. Get thee to Sunugal Beach in Ngor. Bring sand toys, a little cash for the resto/snack bar and enjoy the little tide pool or the bigger waves.
  15. Take your child + 5000cfa to the quincaillerie (hardware store). Buy a selection of ‘parts’ and mechanisms. Hours of fun for little fingers afterwards.
  16. Fly a kite along the Corniche near the mosquée de la Divinité. The fall winds are here!

50 life hacks and tips for Senegal

With a little lot of help from my brilliant friends…

“Let your houseworker or guard give directions to your house to Senegalese. The landmarks locals think of as obvious ones are ones I would never think of.”
– Danielle, 5 years

“Before you go to the market, separate your money. Put only a few bills and coins in a second wallet to use in the market so you are not flashing everyone your wallet with a lot of bills in it.”
– Paula, 16 years

Orange Money is my thing now. My life is so much easier now that I don’t have to wait hours in the Senelec, SDE or Sonatel buildings. If I owe my tailor money, I just send it to her via Orange Money. If I want someone to go buy something for me, I send them the money via Orange Money.”
– Raquel, 5 years

“If you’re a newbie, go to HLM market on Sunday. Fewer people and more manageable.”
Diana, 2 years

“Always have a malaria treatment on hand for each age group member of your family and to know how to administer it.”
– Paula, 16 years

“Freeze your flours, oatmeal, semoule and any grains to prevent bugs from hatching.”
– Lauralyn, 20 years in Africa

“Having spent yesterday afternoon at Virage, fending off offers of binbin, bracelets, shorts, statues, fatayas, tee-shirts and so on, when really I just wanted to watch my children surfing, I can say that my favourite phrase in Wolof after the greetings is “Amu ma xalis tey” (I have no money today). Suddenly, I’m not that interesting. No further entreaties, no further negotiation, people just melt away!”
– Adrienne, 4 years

“Shop at Casino on Wednesdays using their fidelity card.”
– Diana, 2 years

“Always buy an extra box of matches. Never get down to one box.”
– Paula, 16 years

“Introduce yourself and start a conversation with everyone even if your French is nonexistent like mine. Recently I made sure to talk to the parking lot attendant by the Institut Francais. I knew I needed a place to park everyday and I wanted him to remember me.”
– Diana, 2 years

“If your new recipe is disappointing, add a cube of Maggi!”
– Danielle, 5 years

“When there’s a 100% promo running we put on large amount of credit (the 10,000 cards). Get the most bang for your cfa!”
– Polly, 5 years

“When taking a taxi, suggest a price rather than asking how much.”
– Chris, 7 years

“Try to keep your cool when driving. Yes, yes it’s awful, but why get yourself upset. The other driver could care less if you’re spewing profanities in your car. No need to raise your blood pressure.”
– Diana, 2 years

There was one lifehack that THREE people suggested, so apparently it’s a good one!

“Freeze big chunks of ice in sturdy plastic containers, then put them in cooler with a spout and you’ll always have cold water on hand without having to open fridge (especially good during long power cuts!).”

Thanks Angie, Jeana and Paula!

“Check eggs for freshness by putting them in a deep bowl of water. If they float = they are old and may be bad.”
– Paula, 16 years

Senelec has a 24-hr emergency number. 33 867 6666.”
– Danielle, 5 years

“Cold brew iced coffee… a lifesaver during the heat. Make a concentrate and keep it in the fridge. It lasts a couple of weeks…if you don’t drink it all right away…which is almost impossible around my house! Pour it over some ice with milk/condensed milk/coconut milk or whatever you preference is and drink in the deliciousness.”
– Polly, 5 years

“Shop at Soumbedioune artisan market on Friday. Last time it seemed people were really motivated to give good prices before the weekend.”
– Diana, 2 years

“Save powdered milk bags to freeze meat in 1 lb. portions in – saves your expensive Ziploc bags, and you can toss them when you’re done.”
– Angie, 8 years

“Take photos with geo coordinates so you can find it again.”
– Diana, 2 years

“I have so many keys here! Three for the door, two for the office, the car storage, etc. You can color-code them with nail polish to easily find the right one.”
– Lauralyn, 20 years in Africa

“Speak a local language, even if it’s just some greetings or asking how much something is. It’s amazing how much better you’ll get treated sometimes!”
– Polly, 5 years

“Unplug EVERYTHING during a storm! It hadn’t even begun to rain and the thunder seemed to indicate that the storm was still far away when a bolt of lightning took out our router recently.”
– Jeana, 6 years

“Make friends with the policemen! Smile, greet, be respectful. They will go from pulling you over to try to get some money to pulling you over just to say hi!”
– Polly, 5 years

“My wonderful Orange credit guy that sends me a text every time there is a promotion. I tell him how much credit I want and he texts me the number from a phone card including the *123* part. Then I just pay him the next time I see him.”
– Raquel, 5 years

“Get everyone’s number(s). Don’t be afraid to ask. Pam-fish guy, Pasquel-Lac Rose guy…”
– Diana, 2 years

“Buy presents for kids from the Saturday or Wednesday fegg jay markets. Good quality and cheaper than the store. Go around 10ish, bargain, wash items with water and a little bleach.”
– Jeana, 6 years

“Like so many of us, I’m distressed by the rubbish in the streets and I regularly clean up the street in front of our place (creates lots of amusement and interest and makes for interesting conversations with passers by!). I’ve placed a bin out front now (which I bring in each night as it’s likely to disappear otherwise) which actually seems to be making a small difference to the rubbish around.”
– Adrienne, 4 years

“Buy in bulk. I go grocery shopping twice a month. It’s not my favorite way to spend my time. Everything else is delivered. And freeze the excess… Actually I buy everything in bulk here – baskets, wax print fabric, etc… Better prices when negotiating.”
– Diana, 2 years

“When bargaining you can generally assume the first price given is always double too high.”
– Paula, 16 years

“Get out of your house no matter how new and scary things seem. In the beginning I would drive to the Plateau and “get lost” on Sundays. Less traffic, places to park, and less intimidating.”
– Diana, 2 years

“You can usually find chocolate chips at the American Food Store, Patissen or Omega 3. But if they are out, you can buy a chocolate bar and cut it up.”
– Jeana, 6 years

“Always keep an extra phone card in your wallet/change purse. You never know when you might run out.”
– Polly, 5 years

“Be on Facebook. I wasn’t ever into Facebook before Dakar, but now I get a lot of what’s happening in Dakar from Facebook pages and groups. New places, restaurants, galleries, etc.”
– Diana, 2 years
Editor’s Note: I’m pretty sure she meant to include a link to the Dakar Eats Facebook page;)

“I always keep my change in a small change purse. That way it’s easy accessible and I can just take that with me to the market instead of my whole purse.”
– Polly, 5 years

“You’ll get better deals as it gets closer to end of month because vendors are more in need of sales.”
– Paula, 16 years

“Find an Agnes! My house-helper saves me everyday. If you’re not completely happy with the person who spends the most time in your house and takes care of your loved ones, find someone who does and don’t stop til you do.”
– Diana, 2 years

“Have a 110V double plug in your kitchen (if you’re from the USA). It makes life soooo much easier!”
– Polly, 5 years

“To save on electricity, we your water heater on 10-15 minutes before taking showers and turn it off when everyone is done.”
– Jeana, 6 years

“I always smile and try to know a little Wolof (and now I realize I need Pular) when I go shopping for fabric, baskets, whatever. Greetings usually followed by me pardoning my French, and then think of something to personalize the moment so you can remember them and they can remember you. I always end with a smile or laugh.”
– Diana, 2 years

“Always plan a getaway every few months. Having something to look forward to can make the harder days go by faster and put me in a great mood!”
– Polly, 5 years

And the very best tip…

“Surround yourself with people who love Dakar. Negativity can be contagious. Best to avoid it.”
– Diana, 2 years

More life hacks for Dakar here!

Stuff breaks.

It’s funny, but kind of sad, but mostly funny how long it took me to realize that stuff breaks here A LOT. Actually it wasn’t until we came back from our summer in the US (where nothing broke or broke down) that I realized just how much stuff breaks in Dakar. Maybe it’s the salty sea air, power surges, low-quality materials, low voltage… or all of the above?

In our first two weeks back in Dakar we’ve had the water pump fixed, the washing machine fixed twice and the masonry on the entrance repaired and also replaced both a voltage regulator and a fan that just…stopped. The deep freezer is awaiting the repairman, as are two blenders and two other voltage regulators and one guest toilet.

I posted a question on Facebook to find out if all of this is normal or if we are just extra bad at buying things that are horrible quality. According to the responses that flew in, we actually have it pretty good. We haven’t lost any major appliances to power surges or flooding, so yay!

A few of the replies I received…

“In 6 years in Senegal we have had 5 irons, 2 TVs, 2 washing machines and 2 fridges… All surge protected.”

“My brand new water pump died 3 times in a row. Top that.”

“Thank you for posting this. I was getting so frustrated over all the repairs I’ve needed to make in the last couple weeks. The plumber and electrician need to have frequent client cards. Fix the toilet 10 times get one fix for free.”

“In the past month: toaster fried, TV fried, microwave fried, one AC possibly fried, um, toilet leak. Yes. Was similar in Rwanda, but not quite as bad.”

“You are spot on, everything breaking down all the time. In the last week alone we had to replace an AC. Repair the washing machine. Repair a leaky toilet. Replace light bulbs in a bathroom for the gazillionth time. Replace 2 UPSs that burnt out. Not to mention the demise of my BF the dishwasher. May she rest in peace. I now have the most expensive microwave oven stand in Senegal.”

“This has been our year for our electronics to go out! The iPhone, the Kindle, the computer, the TV. So frustrating!!! Sharing your pain!!”

“When we returned to Senegal after a year’s absence we quit counting once we hit 30 repairs or replacements. It was way more than that!”

“We went through two dishwashers and several blenders in the six years we were there, and I suspect some of the A/C splits need to be replaced…”

“I thank God for the B-grade materials and harsh environment that gives me frequent opportunities to build relationships with my plumber & electrician… and I’m grateful the labor isn’t expensive too!”

While I hate that others are dealing with this continual state of brokenness as well, it does make me feel better to know that it’s not something we’re doing wrong or poorly. It’s just part of life in Senegal.

Now hand me the phone. I need to call a plumber.


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