Joy comes in the morning

I am not a morning person by any stretch. Just ask my husband. Or my son. (“Mama, what wrong with your face? You need coffee?”)

But there is something incredible about 5:30am in Senegal.

Three o’clock in the morning is a dark hour, physically and spiritually. Having had two babies here in Senegal, I’ve spent my share (and maybe yours too) of time awake and pacing at 3am, looking over the neighborhood from our balcony. There’s a heaviness I can feel in my soul and I can taste the darkness. It suffocates me. It’s an hour that lasts so long with its inescapable evil hanging in the air.

But then 5:30am comes. Before the first rays of sun change the city’s physical appearance, the creepy stillness changes to a calm one. A brief moment when everything seems at peace, jamm rekk. One by one, the mosques wake up and call gently for people to pray – and I do. The sweet, gentle smell of bread baking in the boulangeries floats in. A solitary rooster crows in the distance. The soft sounds of someone sweeping their courtyard (yes, before the sun is even up) lull me into thinking I want to go back to sleep.

But I fight it so that I can savor this perfect moment that comes every morning in Senegal. Jamm rekk. Peace only.

Psalm 30:50 …weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

5 ways I will fight terrorism 

1. I will not be ruled by fear, but will be vigilant. We will continue to go out for romantic dinners and fun family outings and boring grocery store runs… We will live our lives, paying close attention to updates and alerts issued by credible sources (ahem, not Seneweb) and using the common sense that God gave us.

2. I will cooperative, patient and appreciative when security procedures and searches slow me down. 

3. I will provide an education for girls in Senegal in every way that I can. This article by Nicholas Kristoff was the catalyst for us to pay school fees for girls at risk or in vulnerable situations.

4. I will not spread misinformation. When I hear or read something – particularly if it makes me fearful – I will first confirm the source as credible and then verify that they actually issued the information before passing it on. (For example, all security updates from the French Embassy in Dakar are available on their website.)

5. I will remember the One who made me, who knows me and will never leave me. And I will love and serve Him freely in this country that is our adopted home, where all faiths are allowed to be lived out.

Observations from a Senegalese wedding

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Basse & Khaiba in the wedding tent

1. There is no such thing as being overdressed or overly made up – for the women at least. Got sparkles and jewels and spike heels and a massive head wrap? Wear ’em. And walk slowly enough that everyone can appreciate your ensemble.

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With Khaiba before the ceremony

2. When the guy with the camcorder and bright spotlight comes by, you are not to look into the camera or smile. Just stare straight ahead. Maybe check your phone or fix your earring.

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The bridal party

3. It will start several hours later than announced. And last much longer than you think. Come ready to sit, come ready to party!

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The guys just chatting away

4. There will be music and it will be loud. I SAID IT WOULD BE LOUD!

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Here she comes! They met in the middle of the aisle with a KISS! I was shocked. But was later told this is young folks in Dakar in 2016 and I should have expected it. :)

5. Don’t give the bride and groom glasses or plates as a wedding gift. Everyone gives glasses or plates. Other good ideas include kitchenware (sturdy knives, grill utensils, kebab skewers, grater…) and bed or bath linens in rich colors.

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Our wedding wear, which turned out to be on the very understated side.

Bonus observation: the most romantic (sounding) song in Wolof is Biriham’s Kima Doon Seet remix. And it’s 89 cents on Amazon. You’re welcome.

Basse & Khaiba, we wish you all the best and many wonderful years together!

5 things I learned in the Bradt Guide to Senegal

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One would think that after living here for a cumulative seven years, we’d have a pretty good idea of what’s fun to do in Senegal and how to go about doing it. Yes. One would. But they might be just the teensiest bit mistaken. The more we learn and experience, the more we realize there’s a a lot more to learn and experience!

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Flipping through the newly published Bradt Travel Guide for Senegal, we both came to the same conclusion: we gotta do more of this stuff. And armed with this comprehensive and handy little guide, we just might.

5 things I learned, thanks to this guidebook:

  • how to cross the borders into our five neighboring countries and what to expect at each one
  • things to be aware of when traveling during Ramadan (brilliant topic!)
  • the scoop on the most popular dailies and weeklies in Senegal, as well as glossy fashion mags to look for. #gazelleskirt
  • how to travel in a way that stimulates and develops local economy and also a great list of charities open to short-term international volunteers

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Hopefully those who pick up a copy of this guidebook will find the information as helpful as we are. In particular I hope the ‘Dakar: Where To Eat and Drink’ section starting on page 101 will be useful since that’s my turf and I love helping people experience the amazing food scene Dakar offers. Bon voyage et bon app’!

Imagine this. 

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I got really excited when I saw the electrical outlets in the walls had been covered up. I mean really excited. That meant that was really, truly a place designed for kids to be kids – something that had been very lacking in Dakar to date.

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Last week I took my two kiddos to Kër ImagiNation, the new play and discovery center in Yoff that is the work of ImagiNation Afrika. The entire villa and its yard have been converted to house the beginnings of a children’s museum. (In Dakar. I know. I’m still in shock.)

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We paid our 2000cfa per person entry fee (rates will change soon, but still very reasonable and soooo worth it) and got a quick tour of the place before the kids were let loose to explore and play with whatever caught their attention. Construction boxes, a pretend supermarket, weight and measuring stations, shape art, sandboxes, water tables, hopscotch, a play kitchen area with dishes and soapy water and an entire room filled with craft supplies and materials to upcycle into your art creation.

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Kid heaven. Parent who cried when we visited a kids’ museum in the US and I knew we had nothing like it in Dakar heaven.

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The bilingual staff had obviously been trained to work with children and their development, not just keeping them alive and also not doing everything for them. The grounds and villa were clean, and kept clean. (Along with the covered outlets, I was also overjoyed to find toilet paper and soap in the restroom. It’s the little things that are big things.)

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Kër ImagiNation had its soft launch in December, but now has fully opened to the public with regular hours and workshops each week and a café on site and membership options will soon be available. 

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Their Facebook page has all the info you need and I give it a big two thumbs up and thank you to those who have worked so hard to make this dream a reality for children in Dakar.

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You are the ground beneath my feet. 

Today we went to the world’s only (are you impressed yet?) ropes course in Baobab trees! It was so fun to do something all together that the whole family enjoyed. The ‘termite course’ for the littlest, the kids’ course for her brother and a mid-air death trap route (my interpretation) for my husband and my dad. 

Personally, I enjoyed keeping both feet on the ground and watching everyone having so much fun and swinging from above. Plus it gave me time to compose this…

Baobab trees.
Ziplines.
Wobbly planks.
I 💕the ground.
Can’t even watch.

Free advice

After five years in Dakar, I am adventuring into a new area. We’ve navigated the murky waters of finding a place to live, reworking the water system so that we actually get water, regularizing the electricity (hello, 250 volts!) and installing a back-up system for power cuts, having clothes made by tailors of varying skill levels, recovered and re-upholstered furniture with good to hysterical success and collaborated with an ironworker to add bars on every opening of our apartment.

So what’s left?

Carpentry. That is my next frontier. I’ve managed to avoid it so far, but after buying multiple secondhand pieces that just don’t work in our kitchen, it’s time to call on a professional and muddle my way through in Franco-Wolof and bargaining in the dark with my fingers crossed for Pinterest-worthy end results.

My parents are here visiting so I am drawing on their years of experience in Africa and working with carpenters in Côte d’Ivoire to help me. As part of this, my dad just drew me this ‘free advice’ diagram that I realized would have been very helpful to have tattooed on my arm or cross-stitched on a throw pillow as an ever-present reminder starting five years ago.

“In the world of craftsmen and artisans, you have the choice of work that is fast, cheap or good. You may have two of these, but not all three. Make your choice and live with it.”

Merry Christmas. Enjoy the freebie.

(And wish me luck. Carpenter recommendations welcome!)

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