Friday, November 28, 2008


We just celebrated Thanksgiving here in Dakar, as you all did in the states. My expectations for the day were rather low given and figured that the day would go past with some sadness, and perhaps a trip to Caesars to get some fried chicken for the day, the closest equivalent to a turkey dinner we would get.

However all expectations and hopes were greatly surpassed. The Baobab Center, which runs my program, put on an amazing meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, macaroni and cheese, bread, cornbread, and other great things. Students also added to the meal by making bringing in additional food such as green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, WHITE GRAPE SALAD and pies. I was so impressed, not only with everyone’s baking and cooking but also with their ability to find all the ingredients and deal with cooking with limited utensils and cooking supplies.

            A trip to the largest “Casino” (a French supermarket chain) felt like I was stepping back into the states. There was so much selection, a whole row devoted to toilet paper and another just to cereals. They also had a real deli counter, which was something I hadn’t seen in a while. In all of the things there I was able to find MARSHMELLOWS!! which meant that I would be able to make white grape salad. I was also able to pick up whole milk and whipping cream for mashed potatoes and white grape salad.

            Amelia and I spent the morning peeling ten kilos of potatoes without the aid of a potato peeler. After that came the challenge of cooking them all. Surprisingly, it was relatively easy just cooking them in batches and combining them into one big bowl when we were done. However we were presented with the challenge of actually mashing them. Amelia was imaginative though and we used the mortar and pestle, leaving behind the base in favor of just shaming them in the bowl we already had. It was lot of work but we made it happy. We kept “sampling” them as we were working because we were so excited.

            I also had to whip the cream by hand, without a beater or whisk, which was rather difficult, and therefore it kind of ended up like clotted cream rather than whipped cream.  I didn’t mind though, because it still had the right taste.

            In the end the white grape salad wasn’t a huge hit with people but that didn’t matter to me because I liked it a lot. The mashed potatoes were devoured however, which was good.

            Funny enough one of the largest hits was the felt turkey head, which sits on top of a pineapple usually as the centerpiece each year. Everyone really enjoyed it and thought it was funny. Everyone really enjoyed the day and it was a great chance for us all to get an American meal in and chance to feel like we were back in the states. Overall the day was a success.

            In the days to come I have several assignments due, and the days will be very action packed as the first group of students now leaves in only 3 weeks. It’s hard to believe that time is approaching as it always seemed so far away for all of us. For myself today’s starts the hundred-day countdown until I leave with Decmeber 7th marking the middle of my program. It’s hard to think that we’ve come this far. In less than a month I will be in Europe visiting friends in London, Aberdeen, Dublin and Paris for the next round of holidays. I hope you all had as great of a thanksgiving as I did, and as Steve said, “I am thankful to have great family and friends at home and abroad to miss.”

Thursday, November 20, 2008


So nothing special is going on here. After having little to no school work for the last two and a half months, it's all now piling on. In less than 30 days the first group of students leave to return home. Thanksgiving marks the 100 day countdown for those in my group and December 7th marks the halfway mark of the program. 
I've been busy helping to plan Thanksgiving dinner here with the other students, trying to figure out where to buy different ingredients and the like ( apparently you can get marshmallows in dakar, which might allow for white grape salad!). I've also been planning for Christmas break in London, England (one day); Aberdeen, Scotland (about 6 days and Christmas day there); Dublin, Ireland; and Paris France (about 5 days and New Years!). It's going to be a very exciting, and action packed time coming up and I'm sure 'll have lots to talk about after the new year, but it will probably be slow for a while. I hope all of you holiday plans are going well, whether they bein the States or abroad.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


So of course I invite you all to visit me in Senegal, but I realize that is not feasible for the majority of people. 
Luckily, the frequent business trips of my dad to South Africa have allowed for a quick two day visit this weekend. South African airlines flights to South Africa stop in Dakar for a quick drop off of some passengers and a refueling making this visit possible. 
Basically the point of this post was : I'm excited to see my Dad! 
and introduce him to my host family
and make him eat some senegalese food
and eat some real food with him!
Lots of love to everyone!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obama for Africa?

Since I’ve last written the monumental election has occurred.  Barack Obama will be in the next president of the United States of America. Election night was preceded by many Senegalese, including my host family, taxi drivers, and random people on the street asking me if I had voted, and if I had voted for Obama. (In actuality, voting in Michigan or New Jersey would have made no difference as Obama heavily carried both. And watching everyone else deal with the absentee ballot procedure ridiculousness was enough to keep me from dealing with it. Great idea America to say that certain absentee ballots have to be printed out, filled out by hand, scaned, turned into a PDF and emailed back to the states. That really makes sense when there are power outages each day. Seriously. Get it together. [But I would have voted for Obama and I’m bummed that I didn’t get to be that part of history.] )

Anyway, There is no sense of privacy here about whom you vote for. In the States it’s a rather hush-hush matter that is not often discussed outside close groups of friends. Or perhaps you do know someone’s political leanings, but you would never flat out ask. You have already secretly discovered or have a sense of what they would vote.

We passed Tuesday night at Club Atlantique, which is owned by the US Embassy.  If you hold a USA passport, or are a member of the club or were invited by either an American or a club member you were able to pass the night watching the returns come in on the big screen TV they had set up. It was so strange to see the club, which had a very bizarre southern 1950’s feel to it, with the warm night with a fresh breeze, white people sitting around the pool and bar and the Senegalese working the bar and snack shack.

Everyone in my program showed up for at least some part of the night, most of us stayed the whole night. The bar was serving “red state, blue state” drinks, and we found out later during the whole night only two “red states” were made. There were at most 40 people there during the night, and a group of about 25 by the end of the night. With CNN playing, we waited with anticipation, though myself and several others decided that the couches inside looked too comfortable, taking a nap from Kentucky to just before Virginia.  More surprising than the news, for we had all hoped for it, was watching American TV again. I was shocked to see skirts above the knee and kept expecting a Bocage (butter) ad to come on.  Or maybe Tem Tem (spice packet). Or perhaps Vital (butter). Or possibly Jumbo (spice packet). 

It was fantastic to watch the returns come in, seeing Virginia put Obama to 220. The whole place let out a cheer and the congratulations started. It seemed a shame though for McCain, as I believe the speech he gave afterwards was phenomenal. I’m glad it didn’t happen this way, but if he had spoken like that during the rest of the campaign perhaps he might have been elected (and if he hadn’t chosen Palin as a VP, did you know that she thought Africa was a country? I’m in Senegal, on the west coast of continent of Africa, if anyone else out there is confused).  Obama’s speech of course was fantastic. I’m sure you all watched it so I won’t bother recapping.

Given the time differences, it was just about 5:45 am when we started walking home. The sky was still dark, and we could see an airplane coming in and realized that would be the same flight we had come in on two months earlier. People peeled off slowly as we walked through Mermoz, and I was the last to arrive home. As I passed the boulangerie I saw men picking up the baguettes to distribute to the smaller kiosk type boulangeries to be sold later that day. There were men coming into the street with prayer beads in hand, heading into the mosque while the prayer call rang out.

I left a piece of paper on the table that said, “Obama a gagné,” and headed to bed.

Since Tuesday, it’s been interesting to see how people around Senegal had reacted to the news. Many people feel that it’s a new era, and chance for Africa. Some believe that immigration quotas will change and it will become easier to come to the USA. Others have said that Obama is not African, and hate the use of the term “African American” and much prefer calling him black.  One family friend said to me today that Obama is the leader of the USA and therefore the world, and can’t act in the interests of Africa while still leading the USA.

Most of all it’s been interesting how welcomed I am.  It’s such a change from the hate and disapproval that Bush has garnered abroad over the last eight years.  Now saying you’re American results in congratulations, rather than a recipe for how things should be changed, or a laundry list of what’s wrong. This shift has been so sudden. Just Monday, I would jut say I was from London or Toronto and leave it at that, rather than debating with everyone I met. It will be interesting to see how perceptions will change, especially during his first two months in office. It’s certainly the dawning of a new era, and it will be interesting to see how it unfurls.

Sorry for such a meandering post, but those were my thoughts on the election. 

Monday, November 3, 2008

Asalaam Malekum Dakar!

We’ll it’s back to Dakar. Our time in Saint Louis has finished. The conclusion of our course was group presentations given on Friday, all of which were vaguely BS. That wouldn’t be such a big task to accomplish then, except that our presentations were in French, and the groups were two American students and one Senegalese student.  My presentation wasn’t that great, but it’s done which I think is the most important part.

I was really sad to leave Saint Louis as I really loved my host family there. My mom, Marie, was an adorable old grandmother and the two kids in the house, Thany (10) and Mustapha (4) were so much fun. Marie gave me a paynge (a wrap around skirt, can either be fancy or a piece of cloth to wear during house work, mine is a nice orange waxx [type of fabric]) as a going away present, and had what I like to call Africa shorts (imagine if madras shorts were made with African prints) made for Alex and Dan.

I had a good return to Dakar, but unfortunately I haven’t been around my house very much in the last day in a half (not good manners on my part).  I was around for all of Saturday afternoon after returning, but Sunday was a day for excursions.  Myself, Alejandra and Alex decided that it was rather silly that we had been living in Mermoz (our quartier of Dakar, though here Dakar really refers to the downtown, in a similar way that people say NYC and really mean Manhattan) for a month and still really had no idea about what is in our quartier.

Our first stop was Quatre Vents librairie (Four Winds bookstore). Unfortunately that was closed because it was Sunday. Not deterred, we continued onto the Casino (French brand of supermarkets), myself, hoping to replace the peanut butter I had left on the bus back from St. Louis.  Sadly, we met the same Sunday closing fate there as well. Still we ventured on, hoping to find something new.  I am so glad that we did, because we found a new pâtisserie, which is going to replace our St. Louis hang out, Aux délices du Fleuve. Though our new pastry shop doesn’t appear to have free WIFI. Even better than just a pastry shop though, it also has shwarma, PIZZA! (though it’s always a gamble) and some other sandwich type options.

As we kept walking, not too much further was another small restaurant type place, selling about the same things as the fancy pastry shop we had just left. Prices were about the same, but it also seemed like they we less likely to throw you out for sitting at a table for 4 hours.

We took a random tour for some more exploration and found ourselves in a rather upscale neighborhood. We also noticed an abundance of Chinese people and were trying to figure out where the heck they all came from, as that’s a peculiar sight in Senegal. As we saw another ching-ching (as they are often called here) walk down the street. We decided that we needed to know why they were all there. Turns out there is some random Chinese company there and that’s where is houses it’s employees (or where they all end up choosing to live, it wasn’t clear). The guy we spoke too didn’t speak French, and only a little English and one can assume no Wolof. It’s shocking to me that they are able to function at all in Dakar. It’s necessary to learn at least French to live here, and knowing Wolof is even better. But Griff, it’s a really nice area of Dakar if it all falls through with Standard Charter, maybe you could work with the Chinese company and live there! I would be happy to be your translator, given that we get Oreos shipped to us every so often. 

Wrapping up our visit was a trip to Caesar’s. Although we’ve pasted it many times on our way to the beach, we’ve always kept walking.  I’m so glad we went in though. We had all thought the place was something different, Alejandra though a casino (Caesar’s Palace confusion), myself, I thought it was a bar.  It turns out that it’s Senegal’s answer to a KFC!!!!!! and I live five minutes away!  (So Griff, really if you did want to move to Senegal, you would be set). Not only do they have fried chicken and fries, they also have kebab, ice cream and milkshakes. While the prices are American prices, it’s still completely worth it. We were all headed home shortly after our expedition so we opted to leave the fried chicken for another day. We all got milkshakes instead which was a fantastic choice.  It’s been a long time since any of us had real ice cream. Caesar’s was clean; air conditioned and had fans, and conveniently located which puts it at a 5 stars in my book.

I had lunch at Alejandra’s and spent the rest of the day there, including dinner as well. After dinner brought me back again to Amelia’s as she had been sick all day, sick enough that she and Alejandra went out for a malaria test at the hospital. Luckily the test came back negative and hopefully Amelia will be better by Monday.

It’s strange being back in Dakar, as in some ways it doesn’t feel like we left at all.  We’ve definitely hit a landmark though, as the people on the 4-month program are more than halfway through their program.  It’s a strange idea to think their count down has already begun (ok, it doesn’t matter how long your program is, we all count down the time). The midpoint for me is December 7th, though it feels like it should be sooner, since I am gone for 2 weeks over Christmas and my last week in Senegal is not part of the program.  I think I’ve written more than enough for now, though please everyone keep me updates on life back home, (or wherever you may be).