Thursday, December 31, 2009

Who's in charge? by Rich

The twins are small, but they’re definitely pulling the strings around here.

On Tuesday, they decided to stir up some trouble by triggering some strong and regular contractions in Kelly’s belly.

On their cue, Kelly was readmitted to the hospital – the same room in which she’s laid flat in in for most of the fall – and I jumped back on a plane from Senegal after just 36 hours on the ground since returning from Christmas vacation in Maine.

When I got to the airport in Portland, my Mom and much of my family were waiting for me, thrilled I’d made it in time for the birth and excited as can be to meet the new ones – certain to come within hours! We drove in a convoy to the hospital, weaving in and out of traffic, fueled by adrenaline.

When I got there, I found my sweet wife getting checked out by nurses. She was having contractions every six minutes and had signed a consent form for a c-section that could happen at any minute. The twins, both over four pounds despite their early gestational age, were gearing up to join the planet earth.

But this adventure has been full of baby-driven U-turns, and so there was another. Within a half hour of my arrival, the contractions stopped and things stabilized. Kelly and I sent the family home and spent the rest of Wednesday watching soap operas and movie videos, and eating Thai food.

So far, on this wintry New Year’s eve day, things appear to be staying quiet.

Will the babies come today? Tomorrow? Next week? In two weeks? Its unclear. A big storm is coming – and some people say the drop in barometric pressure will trigger it for sure. Also, it is a full moon – and amazing things happen during the full moon. But the truth is, no one can know for sure.

The people in charge haven’t arrived yet.


Getting discharged from the hospital was bittersweet. It took a few days to relax at my mother in laws house, as anxiety of not having constant medical care at my bedside alarmed me. But after a few days I began to relax with Richard at my side and beloved family at Christmas. I also realized that bed rest at home is far easier emotionally; eight weeks in the same hospital room really can make you go a bit stir crazy. My 're-entry' to the real world after leaving the hospital was quite bizarre...seeing people walking around, driving past shops, and seeing the daily routines of normal life outside that of an 8x8 hospital room. It certainly reminded me of our week long canoe camping trips where we were in complete isolation with wilderness and no human contact...the reentry can take some adjusting.

Bed rest at home did not last long. Tuesday I was readmitted to the hospital at 3cm dilated and 100% effaced. What a pregnancy this has been! I am 32 weeks and 1 day, and my mom reminded me of a blog entry I posted when I had just hit 23 weeks. I wrote that I would be blessed if I could make it to 32 weeks.

Well, I am certainly blessed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

8 Weeks and 2 days (But who is counting?)

Me! I'm counting! I have counted every day and every week since I have arrived at Maine Med. In fact, the first thing I do when I wake up is get out my red crayon and cross off a day on my calendar.

On Friday or Saturday, I will be discharged from the hospital. Some of you may be thinking that I must be thrilled and very happy about this. I have to admit, part of of me is excited for the change and part of me is anxious to be leaving my safe zone.

During my early weeks here and even up until now, nurses and doctors have only been steps away from me. They constantly check in with me and monitor my contractions and the babies heart rates. There is so much comfort in knowing that the experts are in charge now, and all I had to do was lay here and listen. I have a call bell in room which at any point in the day or night, I could call for any reason at all...a pain I'm noticing, heightened contractions, shortness of breath, etc.

I am also ambivalent about leaving as I have depended on some incredible nurses to emotionally support me as well. There certainly have been some dark and scary days here, especially when I first checked in. There are some special nurses here that have certainly gone above and beyond the call of me pep talks, wiping my tears, giving hugs... What an amazing staff here at MMC.

Leaving is bittersweet. I can't believe we survived this. I'm nervous about the upcoming change... But in my heart I know that my amazing doctors would not release me if they were worried. I have promised to act the same way I have here...strict bed rest with shower/bathroom privileges. (Crazy to say that going to the bathroom is a privilege!!) However, I am allowed one 2 hour treat a week... I can sit for 2 hours at a dinner table, or go to a movie. I have already decided that my first 'treat' this week will be to the salon...

One thing I will certainly miss though are my wheelchair rides with Sweet Liam on my lap and Lindy pushing us. His excitement about those rides were priceless. I wonder if there is a way to accidentally 'borrow' a wheelchair...

Today I am 30 weeks, and my husband is finally arriving from Africa. Life is good.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And a quote...

My Aunt Darlene gave me a Christmas decoration that was so meaningful...

A silver bird with a quote from Emily Dickinson:

'We never know how good we are until we are called to rise'.

I love it.

Tomorrow is 30 weeks and my husband arrives from Senegal. Finally.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Day to Celebrate...

What a wonderful day yesterday was...a day to celebrate the twins! After all this time, especially the last two months here at the hospital, my days have been filled with worry. Today, it was time to finally celebrate the upcoming arrival of these two miracle boys. It was quite emotional to have a day like finally feel excited and not so anxious.

The 'Thing 1 Thing 2' shower was here at the hospital, planned my sister and mom. The details, time, effort, creativity, and thoughtfulness they put into this celebration were incredible. Thing 1 Thing 2 Dr. Seuss decorations everywhere, homemade cookies and cupcakes, games, gift baskets, red and blue decorations, delicious food from Aurora... not to mention they both went shopping to find an outfit that I felt comfortable in.

It was overwhelming to go in to the room, and see my beloved friends and family, a room decorated with love, and excitement on everyones faces about the twins. I couldn't help but to cry as I felt the love and support for these two boys.

I am still reliving every moment of the shower... Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am so grateful.

Thing 1 Thing 2 Red Velvet Cupcakes with handmade Tindy decorations.

I had never seen this game before and it was quite hilarious to watch. Its called 'Guess the Poop' sister had 5 diapers in which she melted 5 different candy bars in. Friends and family had to 'sniff' and 'taste' the diaper 'poop' and guess the candy bar. I have not laughed so hard in a long long time...watching friends and family sniffing and tasting these diaper samples. The winner.....Cathi Landry! Well done!

And surfboard homemade cookies by Mumma.

Me and my guy. And yes, something happened to my belly this week...It really grew.

Today is 29 weeks and 5 days...


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

29 weeks!

And today I hit 29... The proof is in the photo that Ange took!

I never thought I would make it this far. The boys weigh 3lbs now, and usually during any given minute of the day, one of them is awake and kicking up a storm. Just last night, Baby B knocked the remote control off my stomach. I'm lucky to be so tall, as the boys have a bit more room to wiggle around in...not to mention my own size is not yet in the 'whale' category.

Today is also my 7 week anniversary of laying flat on my back here at the hospital. I still can't believe so much time has passed, or even how I made it through those early weeks. Some days are extremely difficult, some are not so bad....but every day still contains worry and wondering.

It's crazy to think that in a short time (hopefully longer rather than shorter)I will be a mom. My life will be completely different... I can only imagine what it will be like. I can't wait to have these sweet little boys in my arms and healthy.

Lindy, Mom, and Sandra...I don't know what I'd do without your regular visits. Thank you for all you do, your listening, your advice and support, and your laughter.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's the little things...

And this is what I look forward to everyday...

And some fresh air too...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Angora Baby Booties

My friend Lolly, passed along this adorable baby bootie pattern. She found it in “Last Minute Knitted Gifts” (by Joelle Hoverson of Purl Soho).

The pattern was intimidating at first, as I have never done 'double knitting' before. Double knitting is working in the round with two needles, or also a way to create a reversible garment.
After spending some time reading and re-rereading the pattern, and even a phone call to Lolly, I finally figured it out.

Would you believe that both booties took an hour total to make?! They are newborn size, but you can adjust your gauge/needle size to change size of the bootie.

I used an angora yarn my sister found for me at Central Yarn shop here in Portland Maine. Believe it or not, she had a difficult time finding 100% angora at the shops. The brand is Fox Brand Superchoice French Angora made in France. It is so soft and had some nice amount of fuzz. One skein is 10 grams, and both booties take exactly one skein if you follow the gauge from the pattern.

Pictured above are the booties that Lolly made, as my camera is in Africa. Lolly added a finishing touch of a two bows to the bootie. The chain pattern can be found on

Youssou N'Dour

One thing that Senegal does not lack, is music. And really really good music. On any given night, there are several music clubs that have live African music that start around 10 and play in to the wee hours.

Just 1/2 a mile from our house lives Youssou N'Dour, who in 2004 Rolling Stone magazine named the most popular musician from Africa. He created a style of music called 'mbalax' (or Mbalakh) which is the national popular dance music of Senegal and The Gambia. Mbalax is a fusion of popular Western music and dance such as jazz, soul, Latin, and rock blended the traditional drumming and dance music of Senegal.

He sings in Wolof, the language of Senegal...a language that Rich is quickly learning from our guard Sonko. He has a club in Dakar in which you can see him on any given night when he is not touring. We have yet to see him, as he typically takes the stage at 3 am.

Below are two sample songs of his music. (Great video! Ha!)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

28! 28! 28! 28!

Today is week 28...the milestone that we were hoping for. I got up at 6 am because I couldn't wait to cross off today on my calendar with my red crayon. The boys now have a 90% chance of survival with a good NICU. I can't believe I made it this far, considering I checked in here to Maine Med over 6 weeks ago with the situation looking grim.

The boys are very healthy. In fact, they both started hiccuping just a day apart from one another. At first I had no idea what the constant rhythm was hitting my ribs, and had to call a nurse to ask what was happening. The next day, Baby A had the hiccups while I was on the monitor. Talk about amazing.

Baby A is breach, butt down. Baby B is transverse near my ribs, and all of their legs and arms meet in the center of my belly. Because of this, they are constantly pushing against one other, kicking one another, fighting for more space.

For 6 weeks, I have been laying down, shower occasionally, and have only walked five feet to the bathroom. Today, my doctors have told me it is time to sit in the wheelchair once a day for a short while to get out of the room for some 'fresh air'. I suppose they are right, despite how nervous it makes me. I wonder if they think I have lost my mind.

The staff here is amazing. In fact, I adore my doctor here and have become quite attached to a few of the nurses. They see my every mood, and help me fight. They are not just a medical staff, but caregivers. They cheer you on during your darkest days, and are there to celebrate during the milestones. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

My sister and Liam are coming in today for the big wheelchair ride. For the first time since my stay here, I hugged sweet Liam on a trip to the bathroom yesterday. That one hug made me so happy. It felt so good. Today I have decided to go to the gift shop and buy myself a treat in celebration of today.

Rich and I are so lucky to have made it this far. Every day is a gift.

30 weeks is the next goal....And even more better...Rich arrives on that day.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Every year, around the time Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, the world’s Muslims celebrate Tabaski.

I’m not talking about the hot sauce of a similar name, though you’ll soon find out Tabaski can be equally tough on the senses of a novice.

The main feature of Tabaski is that each male head of a Muslim household is required to slaughter a ram, a nod to the Old Testament story of Abraham who demonstrated total faith in God by nearly plunging his knife into his own son.

“It is extremely important to find the means to get a sheep before Tabaski,” a local friend of mine named Sonko told me. “It is either a sheep or your first born male child,” he said half-jokingly.

In the days leading up to Tabaski, the Muslims of Dakar are in a bit of a frenzy. Lots of deals are taking place – people borrowing against future wages to buy a good ram, family members shipping in well-fed sheep in from grassier Mauritania and Mali , people taking their animals down to the beach for a good cleaning in the sea before the big day. I even saw a man in a Toyota Corolla chauffeuring a sheep, standing awkwardly in the back seat, down the highway.

On the morning of Tabaski, the first call to prayer wafts through the windows before sunrise. Muslims put on their finest clothes. Colourful dresses and headscarves for the women, and long shiny tunics for the men called booboos. At about 9am, everyone goes to the mosque for an hour of formal prayer, largely centered on lessons in compassion, laying the groundwork for the day and year ahead.

Tabaski is about faith and generosity,” said another Muslim friend. “The compassion is not just for people – Muslims, Christians, black, white – but also for animals. It sounds strange on a day when we must slaughter sheep. But we believe, because it is killed on a sacred day, that it is going to paradise. We also ensure that we kill it quickly and humanely, which is something that we can not ensure when we go to the restaurant for a burger or a steak.”

After prayers, around 10am, is the slaughter. I don’t need to describe it in too much detail, but I can tell you that the next few hours of the day are intense. Things happen on the streets of Dakar that U.S. law would restrict to a federally licensed facility.

Allasane is host to my brother Rob and I for the late morning events. Walking around the corner to his family’s abode – a maze of alleyways and modest rooms in downtown Dakar -- I see young men and women hard at work chopping, cutting and cleaning. Fresh sheep hides are drying in the sun, a pail of intestines is being sorted for sausage skins. Bigger chunks of the animal are being brought inside for food preparation. The head rests on the sidewalk. Nothing is wasted.

I see Allasane and he offers me his forearm to shake instead of his gore-stained hand.

“It gives me and my family great pleasure that you have come,” he says with a genuine smile. “Please come eat, we have already started grilling one of the sheep.”

He brings us into his room, furnished with a few photos, a mattress and a single plastic chair. The three of us sit on the floor and chat a bit, the sounds of the kitchen just outside and the smoke from the earliest cuts to be grilled. A woman comes in with a large metal bowl with cooked meat, onions and potatoes and sets it between us. We wash our hands in a bowl of water and then dig in, no utensils, no napkins.

The mutton is tough, but tasty. And of course, fresh. There’s something indescribably good about food – veggies, meat, whatever – that hasn’t had its vitality sucked out of it through weeks in a deep freeze. Rob’s eyes are watering a bit from the smoke, but we’re both holding up quite well to this new experience. My only serious misstep is to accidentally grab a slice of an organ that looked at first to be lean meat. I slip it back into the bowl when no one is looking.

After not too long, we graciously say our thank yous to Allasane and his family. They keep asking us to stay, offering us more food, smiling and chatting. But the socializing and the big meal have filled us up. We drive off feeling pretty happy, impressed by their warmth, impressed by the food.

I realize then that Tabaski isn’t so different from Thanksgiving after all. I wonder, though. Do their sheep meet our turkeys when they make it to paradise?

Friday, November 27, 2009


Ouseiyno is a master carpenter who’s own workshop is falling apart. The jumble of tin and splinters lies hidden down an alleyway in central Dakar, infused with sand and the barnyard sounds of chickens and goats.

His furniture is magnificent and his confidence is startling.
“This bed will be around long after you and your wife are dead,” he tells me with a genuine smile.

I’m smiling too. You don’t get this kind of service at IKEA.

Despite Ouseiyno’s obvious public relations challenges, he finds a great deal of work in a city where a third of people are unemployed. He makes beds, tables, and chairs for transients like Kelly and me, but he also has contracts with some of the biggest commercial developments in town. When you can’t reach him on his cellphone, it is usually because he can’t hear the ring tone over the scream of power tools at the new shopping complex he’s helping put together in the Plateau.

He’s interesting in other ways as well.

“I’m going to Lingue for Tabaski, to be with my wife,” he says. Lingue is a several-hour drive to the interior, and Tabaski is a Muslim religious day (Nov. 28) in which every head of a household must slaughter a goat.

“You should come to Lingue some time. There is a woman there – how do you say – who is taken by the devil. She sits under a large Baobab tree and can turn into a serpent or a cat.”

I tell him a trip like that sounds absolutely fascinating. I also tell him I don’t believe in sorcery.

“If you come, you will believe.”

“OK, cool,” I say, feeling a bit like we’ve slipped into a new dimension.

A few awkward seconds go by.

“So when do you think the curtain rods will be done?” I asked.

(As soon as our shipping container arrives, we will be able to download pictures of the gorgeous custom made bed and two matching tables for $700 US. It is stunning.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mafe (West African meat in peanut sauce)

Mafé is a famous and popular West African dish, particularly in Senegal, Gambia, Mali and the Ivory Coast. It is a stew with meat simmered in a sauce thickened with ground peanuts and has a wonderful sweet-salty flavor. Mafé is known by many names, including groundnut stew, mafe, maffé, maffe, sauce d'arachide, sauce z'ara, tigadèguèna and tigadene.

Rich has discovered this tasty specialty, as well as my friend Annette, who can't seem to get enough with it. It can be made with chicken, beef, or lamb. Variations are also listed below.

Mafe (6 to 8 servings)

Oil -- 2 tablespoons
Stewing beef, cut into cubes -- 2 pounds (or chicken or lamb)
Onion, minced -- 1
Garlic, minced -- 3-6 cloves
Ginger (optional), minced -- 1 tablespoon
Tomato paste -- 2 tablespoons
Tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped -- 2 cups
Water or stock -- 1-2 cups
Natural, unsalted peanut butter -- 1 cup
Salt and pepper -- to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high flame. Add the meat and sauté until lightly browned on all sides, 5-6 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Add the onion to the oil in the pot and sauté until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ginger and sauté another 1-2 minutes.

Return the meat to the pot, stir in the tomato paste and cook for about 1 minute. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 8-10 minutes to reduce the volume of the tomatoes.

Add enough water or stock to loosen the dish to a stewlike consistency. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

Stir in the peanut butter, salt and pepper and simmer for another 40 minutes, or until the meat is tender and oil rises to the surface of the dish. Add water as necessary to keep the dish stewlike.

Adjust seasoning and serve over rice or couscous.

Use chicken, lamb, or beef.
**When you add the water or stock, stir in some vegetables such as cabbage, yams, squash, okra, eggplant, potatoes, peppers or carrots if you like. Vegetarian versions are made with only vegetables.
Some recipes call for cooking the peanut butter with the tomato paste, before adding the chopped tomatoes.

What's Two Days, Anwway?

Yesterday I found out that when I checked in to the hospital, my due date had been incorrectly tracked. I lost two days. Now this may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but I know that those of you that have been on strict bed rest can sympathize with what I am feeling.

When I found out I would be 27 weeks today, rather than last Monday, I lost it. I sobbed for about an hour, which I'm sure had nothing to do with being constantly scared, medicated, overtired, or worried. Two days feels like two years, when you are desperately counting the days to get to at least 28. Every morning I wake up, I sigh relief that I made it through the night, and as soon as possible, I cross off another day on my calendar. Two days felt like defeat.

I pulled myself together with the help of a nurse, who helped me see some sort of clarity. She reminded me that I am doing well, am still pregnant, and even though two days may feel like forever, it's really not in the whole scheme of things.

You know you've been at a hospital too long when you have worn through your hospital ID bracelet, you know all the names of all the nurses, CNA's, custodial staff, and start to make conversation with the cafeteria crew when you call in your meal order. Yes too long, but I am so lucky to be here.

Yes, this has been a very long haul, but I am grateful for each day that I am here and still pregnant.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

2-1 Habs

Hockey is not a big sport in Africa for obvious reasons. But still, people here like their sports and in the sea of jerseys on the streets of Dakar and Nairobi, I’ve spotted three quite nice NHL knock-offs. One was a shabby looking Bruins rag. The other two were the brilliant blue, white and red of the Canadiens. Not a bad showing for the Habs. Lets hope it is an good omen for the season.

If you’ve read this far, you may also be interested to know that I’ve located an African hockey rink – perhaps the only one on the continent. It is in the Paneri hotel near the Nairobi airport, just a few hundred meters from a wildlife reserve jam packed with giraffes and zebras. I was told the ice is of good quality and that teams sometimes play there. The only problem, which produces some odd outcomes during matches, is that the corners of the rink are square.

Potty Time

And here is my guy practicing for the big day...

Monday, November 23, 2009

27 Weeks

Today I am 27 weeks. I have been laying flat for almost 5 weeks now. Some days are very difficult, others are a bit easier to take. Every other day has had some sort of drama regarding contractions, etc.... But, I am a very lucky woman. I am still here, and still pregnant. Every day increases the survival rate of these two boys. I have to hang in there; I have no choice.

28 weeks is the next goal, then 30, then 32. I can do this. I can do this.

Thank you dear friends for all of your well wishes, thoughts, and prayers. I love you all so much. Your encouragement gets me through each day.


N'Gor Right

About 45 years ago, two Californians and a film crew flew to Dakar and introduced surfing to West Africa . The first spot they tried was a right wave breaking along the edge of N’Gor Island, visible from their room at the Hotel Meridien on Dakar ’s mainland. The fishermen in their trademark Senegalese boats paddled to the channel to watch the never-before-seen spectacle. The moment, immortalized in the classic surf film Endless Summer, is widely believed to have kicked off the new age of modern surf travel.

After six weeks in Dakar , I finally made it out to N’Gor with my surfboard yesterday. Instead of paddling, as my Californian predecessors had done, there are now 30-foot motorized pirogues ferrying tourists to and fro between the island and the peninsula nearly for free. There are also a handful of smaller, slightly more expensive boats catering specifically to surfer travelers that will drop you off right in the channel next to the wave.

I picked the giant pirogue, which, after a surprisingly smooth ride, dropped me off on a quiet beach lined with palms and a couple of quaint restaurants commanding an incredible view of the bay and the northern edge of Dakar . The streets are narrow, cobble and sand alleyways between stone buildings with flowering vines. A five minute walk through the very pleasant maze brings you past private homes, seaside restaurants and a guesthouse before placing you on a low wall stretching toward the inside of the N’Gor reef.

The water is clear and turquoise like the Caribbean . The waves crash as white as bone over the reef, wrapping for a hundred yards around the point. This is a very small day for N’Gor, the locals tell me, but the swells are well overhead, and the surfers look like small black dots as they drop in. I try to imagine what it must have been like for the first surfers on this point in 1964 – big waves, unknown land, gawking fishermen, huge long boards without leashes.

The boys from Endless Summer got some great waves, but didn’t stay long due to a pressing round-the-world itinerary. But they clearly made a lasting impression. Here in West Africa – not exactly the first place that comes to mind when you mention ‘surfing’ – the water is filled with their legacy.

I watch as a local surfer, a kid of about 18 from the village of N’Gor across the bay, paddles out beyond the pack to the peak,, clearly the alpha dog out here. Whitewater swirls all around him and the tip of a jagged rock dubbed ‘Mami’ protrudes a few feet away, sending chills down my spine. A set comes in on cue and he spins around, stroking into the steepest part of the wave and dropping down the face as it curls over him, his buddies from the village shouting encouragement in Wolof from the channel. This is pure joy, a gift perhaps from the good old USA .

A fisherman slows his boat to watch.

(Here’s some footage from the spot I found on Youtube: )

Thursday, November 12, 2009


A poem that a friend sent that I wanted to share...

'Live with intention.
Walk to the edge.
Listen hard.
Practice wellness.
Choose with no regret.
Continue to learn.
Appreciate your friends.
Do what you love.
Live as if this is all there is.'

-mary anne radmacher

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

3 Weeks

Today is my 3 week anniversary of being at Maine Med.

For 3 weeks, I have worried myself sick, watched endless hours of soap operas, been medicated to the point of seeing double, and have fought the boredom battle.

I have relied on my friends and family, even strangers, with their words of encouragement, home cooked meals, and positive spirit.

Without getting in to too much detail, I would like to share with you that my condition has been stable for 2 weeks now. The boys are measuring perfectly, and kicking up a storm. I am 25 weeks, which is quite early....but the first goal is to make it 28, then 32.

Because I am have been stable for 2 weeks now, I am starting to feel more positive and feel that the boys will make it. Despite the torture of bed rest, I will do this as long as possible. I admire the strength of any mother that has been put on long term bed rest, especially hospital bed rest. I suppose it is strength of being a mother that gets us through...

Thank you to all of you that have reached out. Your support means the world to us. I promise to return phone calls and emails once I am feeling a bit better.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

"Wow, really?"

"Only God knows what tomorrow will bring."

I'd seen that on a sign a few days earlier in a Dakar police station, but now, back in Maine, I was living its message. I was doing something I never thought I'd do... Something I would have bet hundreds of dollars I would never do.

I was driving to Walmart to buy the entire catalogue of episodes ever aired by Sex in the City. It was only when I got back to Kelly's hospital room that I realized I'd just effortlessly shattered two of my biggest hangups: going to Walmart for anything, and trafficking in terrible melodramatic sitcoms.

"Wow, really?" was Kelly's reaction when I delivered the gift I knew would help her through the next month or two of laying flat."You went to Walmart and bought Sex in the City? All by yourself?"

"Yes," I beamed.

It's amazing what love can do.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


And a visit from the most adorable lion....

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Security Please

Despite my husband appearing to be 'mellow' and 'easy going', I've learned that he apparently likes to arrive in a room with a 'bang'!

After his long sleepless flight from Dakar, through JFK, and up to Portland, he arrived at the hospital looking as happy and wonderful as ever. However, after touching base with doctors and family, two things were on his mind: Pad Thai Takeout from Vientiane Market, and Geary's Hampshire Ale.

Rich stepped out to get take out, and also, the seasonal micro brew he had had been craving. He returned to the hospital, equipped with Pad Thai, dumplings, Vitamin C water, and of course, the seasonal ale. Immediately security instructed him to get rid of the beer, which he sadly returned to the trunk of the car for another time. You would think the saga would be over...

After he arrived to the room, the man at the security desk had called and alerted the uniformed secrity officer about the situation. Within minutes, he appeared in our room looking to confiscate any other alcohol, fully equipped with hand cuffs and gun.

I had never been so embarrassed. The nurse was in the room, my belly strapped to monitors, and my dear husband, trying to sort out this 'high school' alcohol raid.

In my drug induced state, I looked at the officer, belly and monitors exposed, and said, 'Listen, he just got off a plane from Africa. All he wants is to enjoy his pad thai with a beer. Is that too much to ask considering these circumstances?'

The officer left, but throughout the evening, word has spread among the floor that our room was searched for alcohol.

Is this what it's like to be a Valdmanis?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Back in the US of A

Richie is arriving today! Despite the unsettling health update here 2 days ago, Richie's upcoming arrival has definitely lifted my spirits. He will be here for almost a week, where he will then be flown to Kenya for a week long conference, then back to Senegal.

Everything will be so much easier to take and digest with him here, rather than being oceans away. I am so happy. Every day is a blessing that these boys are still with us. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

PS. Happy Halloween. Please send along pics of your costumes... Would love to see you or your little ones in the festive spirit. The worlds cutest lion with the most gentle rooaaaar is making an appearance today at the prenatal center at maine med. Any guesses who it is? And no, it is not Richard.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In Search of a Radio

With Kelly “patienter”-ing in Maine , and me about to move into a palatial villa with no furniture or television, I figure I need some form of entertainment to while away the lonely evenings. A radio, of course, would do the trick.

So today before work, I decided I would buy one. My first stop was Armena, a clean and well-equipped and intensely air conditioned store near the office that tends to draw the expat community. The gentleman, a Lebanese entrepreneur, guides me over to a glass-encased display of two radios. The cheapest one is 25,000 CFA, or $50, and has no obvious redeeming qualities to justify such an exorbitant price.

“That’s a bit expensive, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes, but this radio provides you a choice of using batteries if the power goes out.”

“Oh, right. That’s cool. Let me think about it.”

I think about it while driving off to the next spot, a little shop in Ouakam village a couple of miles up the road that I had seen a few days before. The sign reads “Electromenager” – basically a place to buy electronic devices, so that’s promising.

I park the car in the dirt near where the brilliantly clad village women are selling the morning catch of dorado and thiof that the men have just brought in. It would be hard to find a more freshly caught catch of fish, but by the smell of it, it has already ripened considerably in the powerful morning sun.

I walk into the “Electromenager” convinced I’ll find a broad selection of moderately priced radios. But all I find a man sleeping in a room that contains nothing but chairs. He wakes up.
“Do you sell radios?”

Hmmm. No.”

“Do you know where I can find one?”

“The hairdresser, just down the street that way,” he says, pointing down a crumbling road opposite his shop.

I jump in the car and head toward the hairdresser, wondering why a hairdresser might sell radios. Maybe he misunderstood me. Or I misunderstood him. It doesn’t matter because I don’t get far. A giant pile of sand had been dumped by a truck into the middle of this narrow street, blocking all traffic except for people and goats.

I do a three-point turn and head back toward the office, convinced I will not find a reasonably priced radio this morning. I’ll ask Babakar.

As I approach the office, however, I spot a young man with a table by the side of the road, a small detail amidst the chaos of Cheik Anta Diop Street . He has radios. I pull over. In Dakar , unlike New York , you can pretty much park anywhere.

“How much for your radio?”

“Lu?” he says inquisitively.

“Er.. What does this cost?”

“Five thousand CFA,” he says in perfect English. It has the choice of using batteries too. Luxurious at this price.

I’ll have my BBC and my flashlight after sundown.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

One Week

Today is my one week anniversary of hospital bed rest.

The most difficult part is the mental challenge. Not knowing the future, and trying to stay hopeful is the most difficult and stressful part. I have not taken any wheel chair rides, and shower only once every few days.

The physical struggles are mostly muscular at this point. (I won't get into the gastrointestinal issues of lying horizontal 24 hours a day!) My muscles are softening, and my lower back aches the hours away. During the last two days, I have spent almost 20 minutes trying to rid my hair of knots that have accumulated in the back of my head. Maybe a few dread locks wouldn't be so bad!

A website on bed rest suggested that you should create a schedule for yourself while on bed rest to prevent counting ceiling tiles to pass the time. The teacher in me jumped right on board with this advice. I'm still trying to work this out but it may go something like this:

6-8 am- Wake, breathe, and await Doctors and Nurses
8 am - Order breakfast
8-9 am Eat and Internet
9-10 Knit
10-11 Osteopathic Doctor visit
11-12 ?
12-3 Lunch and Soaps
3-5 This is usually Lindy and Liam time :)
5-8 This is usually Mom, Sandra, and Ange time
8-9 Junk TV
9 -10 Bed

I have never watched so much junk TV in my life. A family member who survived 3 months of bed rest told me that junk TV was her only way to pass time and not 'think' too much. I totally agree. Please dear friends and family, do not worry about my brain going to mush... I still cannot relax enough to read.

I am learning how to type on my side and knit with arms in the air. I still have not mastered drinking laying down, but hopefully will figure that out soon. I have allowed myself to eat sitting up, but still have managed to slop food all over myself.

I have a new respect for anyone who has ever survived a period of bed rest. It is not fun or relaxing in any way. It is scary, emotional, and one of the biggest mental challenges I have ever been through.

My friends and family...I don't know what I would do without you. Your positive spirit, encouragement, advice, and help has meant the world to me. Thank you.

Today is 1 week down. I am 23 weeks. If I could make it to 28, we will be in the safe zone. If I could make it to 32 I would be blessed, and if I could make it to 35 I would be one of the luckiest mommas in the world.

I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Il faut patienter.

Scrawled in red magic marker across the white door inside the police station are the words "Commissioner of Domestic Affairs." The door itself is half-open and, from my spot in line in the hallway outside, I can see a man of barely twenty wearing a Liverpool soccer jersey and a ball cap, flirtatiously interviewing a young woman.

He’s clearly the commissioner, and I need a stamp from him in order to open up a Senegalese bank account. He’s getting goofy with this girl, and she’s acting a bit annoyed, but not enough to hurt her own chances of getting a stamp.

"Il faut patienter," says Babakar, a colleague of mine who is helping me navigate this task. "We must be patient."

That’s a common refrain in Dakar, and incredibly good advice in a place where unemployment is so deeply rooted that onion-like layers of government bureaucracy are seen as a viable means of keeping people at work.

This young man behind his desk is a lucky one, I realize. Loads of his friends and relatives are probably in the streets trying to find something to do for a handout – wash a parked car, guard a parked car, help someone park a car... He may even have nephews in the Talibes, I imagine, the swarm of pre-pubescent children who spread out across Dakar every morning with yellow bowls to gather donations for the Maribou, the Muslim spiritual leader.

"Why do you need this certificate of residency?" he finally asks me when I’ve "patienter"-ed myself to the front of the line.
He knows the answer.
"To open a bank account," I say, a bit embarrassed.
"To open a bank account," he says with a half-snarl in his voice. He looks at me and he sees money. "Come back in 24 hours."
"OK, thanks," I say getting up to leave.
The sign behind his desk reads, "Only God knows what tomorrow will bring."

Earlier in the day Babakar and I had visited an unmarked building on a non-descript road in order to get another document stamped by the chief of the neighborhood – a stamp I need in order to get the other stamp from the young commissioner.
(NOTE: I think in the U.S. you just need to bring a utility bill with your name and address on it, right? That wouldn’t work here because there’s no post. I’ll tell you about the bizarre process of paying rent and utility bills later.)

And yes… I said chief. He wasn’t in tribal attire, just a sporty shirt, pants and sandals. But he had the gravitas of a chief nonetheless. Another lucky one who’d found gainful employment in the disbursement of ink.

"Sit down," he said, pointing to a wooden chair by the wall in his courtyard.
I sat.
It was remarkably cool despite the midday heat outside. Behind him, a woman was sweeping dust and keeping the compound nice and neat. Beside him, a young man in a polo shirt wielding a stamp was standing next to a plastic table.

I wonder how you apply for the job of chief.

Babakar, a few words in Wolof. Passport goes down on the table. Document comes out, scribble scribble. "Give him 250 CFA (50 cents)," Babakar says. Done. Stamp.

No hassles here. I guess he’s going for volume.

Anyway, this was last Thursday and I still don’t have a bank account. The Commissioner was true to his word and the document was ready when he said it would be, but the bank was inexplicably closed today. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Even if I get an account, an ATM card could take months. A friend told me last night that he’s been waiting six months for his ATM card to be ready. He may be back in Europe before it arrives.

No big deal.

The more time I spend around here the more I realize how distasteful it would be to complain. I’m doing just fine.

And for the details, well, "Il faut patienter."

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Dakar is a wave magnet. It juts far out into the Atlantic , catching swells from three cardinal directions. The means that on almost any given day you can find a place to surf – heaven for a wave-hound like me.

One morning last week, I got up before work and zipped over to Vivier’s reef – a sweet little spot facing West that has a narrow channel and a perfect wave breaking off urchin-infested rock ledges on either side.

The last time I’d been able to surf before work was in 1999, when I was a reporter for the Journal Tribune in Maine . There’s no better way to start the day, but the experience here in Dakar was quite a bit different than the morning sessions of a decade ago.

The sea in Maine during the fall and winter months can be turbulent, cold and devoid of life. The fish have gone south or offshore for the winter and the pleasure boats have long since been pulled from their moorings. The surroundings are unspeakably beautiful, but also lethal. A 6mm layer of neoprene rubber prevents a quick death by freezing.

Many times I’ve sat beyond the breakers at Higgins Beach , often with snowflakes falling around me, looking out toward the horizon and wondering about the surfers and the beaches on the other side, exotic nooks and crannies just off the nearest points of land in every direction.

Now here I am.

Floating over a reef swarming with fish, wearing shorts, a rash guard and a golf hat against the sun. I see a hand-built wooden pirogue loaded up with Lebou fishermen pushing up the coast. The water ripples and flying fish the size of a finger break the surface and travel low through the air like dragonflies. On the shore I see five Muslims conducting their first of five daily prayers. Another two people are walking toward the rocks in front of the channel, carrying snorkel gear and spear guns. These are locals who make a living selling fish to the seaside restaurants… heading to the office as it were.

A set comes in, the first swell feathering in the light offshore breeze as it gets stopped up by the shallow reef. An easy drop as the wave jacks up to a couple of feet overhead, and a hard left bottom turn sends me on my way down the line. I can see boulders and coral heads pass beneath me through the clear water. I kick out and paddle back up along the channel, watching the rest of the waves in the set peel mechanically along the reef, mirror images of each other.

By now the pirogue, brightly painted in yellow, red, green and black, has arrived within 50 meters of the reef I’m surfing. A school has been spotted and the crew is yelling in Wolof, setting up the nets and positioning the boat. The engine revs and the boat cruises a wide circle around the school as the crew throws the net out behind the boat. One of the crew, wearing a scuba mask, leaps of the moving boat and into the area rapidly being encircled by the net. I’m not sure what his job is, but he’s diving down into the school, appearing quite busy. The circle is completed by the pirogue and the rest of the crew starts pulling in the net for the catch. The chatter is loud and excited.

Another set comes in. Another ride over the coral heads. The spear fishermen are now in the water passing north over the next reef. I paddle back up the channel.
The pirogue is nearly done bringing in the net and I can see they’ve managed a reasonable haul. They move along, and after a little while so do I…. Time for work.

This is what its like surfing on the wrong side of the Atlantic . Totally different. But the smile on my face as I arrive to the office turns out exactly the same

One Day at a Time

I have been here for four mornings thus far, and seem to have already found myself in a bit of a routine.

I usually wake around 5-6 (still on teacher schedule I think), get my vitals taken, and open the window shade to await the rising sun. I sit here in silence and 'just be'. This is time I spend ridding myself of the nightmares or worst case scenarios. I somehow get myself back on track, and the tears take a vacation for the day.

By the time the sun rises over Hadlock field and it's multicolor trees, I am feeling good. Breakfast is ordered, the doctors arrive with their encouragement, and then I anxiously await the visitors of the day. One of the nurses, Cathy, found me a laptop to use that belongs to the floor that has made a HUGE difference. I have 'accidentally' ordered yarn, pattern books, health and beauty aids that are nowhere to be found in Africa, French tapes, etc. I have even been getting caught up on prime time TV....Grey's Anatomy, House, and today I will tackle the Office.

I am allowed to shower once a day and also can take a wheel chair ride. I'm not comfortable with either just yet, so visitors beware of the new greasy hair style I am sporting.

There are times in the day that are difficult. The clock stops at times, and I wonder how I am going to do this for a few months. I am surrounded with knitting, books, magazines, and all sorts of goodies. But, the mental battle of fighting worry and stress takes away from any desire to pursue a hobby or relax.

Most of the time, I repeat my mantra in my head, 'I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.'

And to be honest, I really don't have a choice. These boys need to be nurtured just a few months longer, and I know 'I can do this'. For them, I can do this.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Home Sweet Home

As some of you may know, I have flown back to the US due to complications with this pregnancy. I am so grateful that our doctor in Senegal told us to get home as soon as possible.

I am now at Maine Med, where I will be on hospitalized bed rest for at least another month and half, possibly more. Although the hospital setting can be alarming, I must admit, there is a part of me that feels so safe and relieved to be here.
  • I have a beautiful private room.
  • There is an extremely caring nursing staff that are taking good care of me.
  • The Hi Risk Doctors are experts.
  • I have cable. Better yet, there are English speaking channels.
  • I can order off the menu any meal I want. And, I can read every item and don't have to use my translator.
  • There are no lizards roaming around this hospital.
  • I can take 1 1hour wheel chair ride a day. I am considering coordinating wheelchair races with the other ladies here.
  • I don't have to wear anything but pajamas all day long.
  • I will be an expert in day time soap opera television.
  • I have a beautiful view of the changing foliage out my window.
  • My godson, Liam, runs around the room and hall saying 'Auntie Kully' repeatedly and makes all around him smile and laugh. I think he should pursue a career in hospital therapy.

I don't know what I would do without my friends and family. You know who you room is cozy, I have everything I need here, your support means the world to me, and I count the minutes until your visits. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The only thing that breaks my heart is leaving Rich behind. I am worried about him, he is worried about me, and we are both extremely worried about our two healthy beautiful boys. As hard as this is, we know that I am getting the best care possible.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Things to do...

Driving down the decrepit highway, I can feel my fists grip the wheel more tightly with each passing mile. There are no exits, no signs, no turnoffs, and I’m going in the wrong direction with just fifteen minutes before a meeting I’ve arranged with the man who will hopefully install the generator in my house. Kelly’s at the paint shop waiting for me. All around me, cars that look like they belong in a junkyard rattle past, their drivers speeding along with the confidence of someone who knows this road. Cracked windshield, a rear bumper made entirely of tape, a car veers off to the left and then back again to avoid some kids carrying loads of lumber across the highway. On either side of the road, a chaos of crumbling buildings and teaming masses of market-goers. I’m lost and getting loster.

This was 915am on a day in which Kelly and I had just three things to do: buy some paint for the house, meet the guy who will install our generator, and get a few household items. It’s the kind of agenda that could’ve been taken care of in 30 minutes at Wal Mart. But the day didn’t end until dark, and even then we didn’t get it all done. It was the perplexing obstacles that seemed to rise up in front of us at every turn that made it a West African day about town instead of a trip to the mall. Here are some highlights:

-The generator guy never actually showed up.

-A man offered Kelly and I a cage full of sparrows as we trekked by foot in the 100degree heat more than mile in search of a bank that wasn’t crippled by a power outage to pay cash for our paint.

-Kelly and I bounced down a crumbling Dakar street, dodging goats and children, to find Mauritanian fabric from a tiny shop in which we got amazingly friendly service from people who spoke only Wolof.

-Dust from the Sahara, blown down by the seasonal winds, covered every inch of our bodies and the windshield of our car before lunchtime.

-A completely unexpected rain storm flooded our neighborhood that evening, nearly cutting us off from getting home.

-The gas station in our neighborhood ran out of gas.

-We couldn’t find a curtain rod for less than $35, but were told we could have an ironworker handcraft a complete set for next to nothing.

- Guys with machine guns stood along the road every 50 meters or so, directing traffic.

In the end, we managed to get the paint (which cost $250 for just two small rooms), rescheduled the generator guy and got about half of the household good we needed. I’m told that’s about par for the course around here – schedule three things, but only do one or two.

As tiring as it was, it was fun. I think it beats a trip to Wal Mart anyday.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Some quickies...

It's a Small World
Last night at dinner, I heard what seemed to be an American English accent saying, 'Kelly, is that you?' Shocked that anyone knew me here, I surprisingly said 'Yes'. Sure enough, they too were an expat family from Washington DC living in Dakar since last December. Julie explained that word has gotten out through the expat community in Dakar that 'a nice American pregnant white woman named Kelly' has just arrived in Dakar. We spent some time talking with her and her family. Coincidentally, she happens to be a mid-wife here in Dakar; we are setting up prenatal classes with her.

Small Accomplishments
Today was the first day I ate at a restaurant without Rich, who translates the menu and orders for me in French.
I was determined to give it a try by myself. I went to a lunch cafe that we have been to a few times. On the drive there, I practiced ordering my large bottle of water, nem, and falafel sandwich.
Sure enough, when the waitress came over I said 'Bonjour. Ca va? Je voudrais un grande bouteille de l'eau, et falafel, et un nem. ' I'm not sure how good my accent was but she seemed to understand as she said, 'Merci' and left with a smile. I let out a big sigh of relief and an incredible sense of accomplishment came over me.
Now don't be mad mom, but it seems I forgot my manners. The only thing I forgot to say was please, rather 'sil vous plait'.
Next time.

The Twinnies are Kicking
The last two days have been quite exciting. The boys have been moving and kicking up a storm. I have felt some subtle internal kicks for a few weeks, but today as I sat down with my hands crossed on my tummy, I felt a big kick on my hand. At first it scared me and I immediately jumped and pulled my hand away....forgetting for a moment that it was a growing baby inside.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Keep the Cannibals Away

“Coconut trees are good because they keep the cannibals away,” said our new friend Samba, a tall man with a brightly-colored woolen cap who insisted on helping with our purchase of plants at the outdoor nursery.
“You will like living in Senegal, but it is important to learn our philosophy so that when you return to America you can teach your friends and family there,” he said.

I didn’t bother telling Samba that there weren’t many cannibals or coconut trees in New England or New York these days, but he wouldn’t have been interested anyway. He was on to new things. Anyone care for a pinch of dirt mixed with blood and spit rolled into some newspaper to ward off evil spirits?
“This will ensure that you two and your unborn babies have good fortune here. Some advice that I offer for free. Just rub it on yourself,” said Samba, who’s timid older brother hid behind enormous sunglasses, attempting to light a cigarette with a broken lighter.

With all the uninvited action, it was difficult to concentrate on the task at hand – to buy as couple of potted plants for our new house from Waly, the gentle gardener who tended this patch of seaside soil.
There was no end to the choices – palms, papayas, almonds, ferns, hostas, aloe, and a massive number of other incredibly healthy-looking greens and flowers stretching up along the roadside as far as the eye could see. Standing in the shade of the plants that grew there, we’d picked out about seven different specimens and were negotiating the price and sorting out the delivery when Samba strolled over, making a rather normal transaction into a true Dakar experience.

“I would love to help you plant these at your house,” Samba offered.

“No thanks, Samba,” I said.

The plants were cheap, so it was not too painful when we finally realized the only way to prevent Samba from giving us anymore handfuls of dirt or suggestions on how to keep evil spirits at bay was to give him a buck so he and his brother could grab a coke and some couscous down the road. He was either a sorcerer, or a guy who knew how to freak out a newcomer to get a free meal. Not believing in ju-ju, I reckoned the latter.

Twenty minutes later the donkey cart with our plants arrived at the villa and we arranged them around the house. Plants can really make an empty place seem alive. And while we were exceedingly happy with how these new additions fit into our home, I found myself paying particular attention to a plant that had clearly set its roots deep into the soil on the property long before we’d arrived. A sturdy coconut tree planted by the front door.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Note of Thanks...

From Rich and I... Thanks to all the friends and family that have sent us extensive emails keeping us filled in on the 'goings on' at home. Your notes mean the world to us, and have helped us feel connected despite being so far away. Thank you for your support and love.

Some like it hot...

Summer months in Dakar are August, September, and October. Despite being the rainy season during these months, we have yet to see a bit of rain. Temps during the day hover around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Being pregnant, and officially 'large', my ankles have seen better days. In fact, for the last few days, you can not even see a bit of ankle bone. When I can, I have tried to listen to my body and rest by the pool or take afternoon naps. Pregnancy and this constant heat is not easy... A/C is a luxury and most places, even restaurants may not have it.

Wow...if I can survive this heat now, imagine how easy it will get when I am not pregnant!

Rich is in heaven with the waves here in Senegal. On days when he works the late shift at work he will surf in the morning. On days when he works the early shift he will surf in the evening. It has been almost 10 years since he has been able to surf everyday, and he is absolutely thrilled. There are many places to watch him surf that have cabana bars; in the evenings I watch him while I enjoy the sunset and a cold coca-cola! His surf talent is incredible...he rips through well over head high waves without any problem. Okay, I'll stop bragging. Videos to come soon.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tea Time

There is something quite fascinating to watch here in Senegal and that is 'tea time'. Often you will see large gatherings of mostly men and boys circled around a brewing kettle on the side of the road.

These gatherings are not just about wanting to drink a cup of tea, but more about socializing, people watching, chatting with friends, gossip, jokes, etc. while the tea is brewing.
The tea is called 'ataaya' and it almost looks like a Guinness beer when served. Ataaya is a West African tea with an extremely high caffeine content mostly made from large amounts of green tea leaves and lots of sugar.

There are some precise laws to follow when making this tea. The main rule is that making tea shall never be rushed.
Green tea leaves should be infused with a small amount of water and a large amount of sugar for hours. The 'in-charge' tea maker must constantly watch the kettle to make sure to remove from heat when the lid starts to rattle. The first infusion is usually ready after an hour. Then, the tea maker pours the tea from the kettle into 4 tiny shot glasses from 3 feet above. This will ensure lots of froth. The glasses are then emptied into the kettle and finally, then poured again back into the glasses which are now heated and covered with froth. Truly, these tiny shot glasses have the appearance of Guinness with a nice amount of froth at the top.

The first infusion is a considered a strong wake up call, only given to strong men and 'those that dare'. The 2nd infusion is strong and sugary. The 3rd is 'sweet as love' as they say here.

At Rich's office, the guard makes them ataaya everyday around noon. Rich said that they only receive two rounds, not the full three, which makes me wonder....which of the 3 infusions he receives.

Yassa Poulet

There are some extraordinary dishes here in Senegal, known for the perfectly spiced meats and rice. I must share this Yassa Poulet (pronounced yeah-saw) as I have become addicted to this meal.

Yassa Poulet:
10 limes
5 tbs. Peanut Oil
2 chicken bouillon cubes
5 onions, thickly chopped
2 (3 lb.) chickens divided into 8 pieces
1 cup water
1 habenero
4 cups cooked rice *See below special Senegal Rice recipe
Optional raisins and olives

1. Grate zest of all limes and transfer to a bowl with juice. Add 2 tbs. oil, bouillon cubes, onions, s&p, and optional raisins and olives. *Some restaurants also mix in pieces of orange and fruit.

2. Rub this mixture onto chicken. Marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours. Strain chicken, reserving onion marinade.

3. Grill chicken, or sear in a pan, until both sides are crispy and brown. Do not cook chicken all the way through. Set aside.

4. Heat remaining 3 tbs. oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add reserved onions and cook, covered, until caramelized, adding 1/4 cup water at a time to avoid scorching. About 30 minutes.

5. Add any remaining marinade and chicken. Season with s&p and boil. Then simmer on low for 20 minutes.

6. When chicken is fully cooked transfer chicken to a platter with onion sauce. Serve with rice. Mmmmmm. Wicked good.

Senegal Rice (Nyankatang)
Most Senegal rice is made from African Djola red rice from Casamance and guedji (a flavorful dried fish spice). More than likely you will not be able to find these ingredients. A great substitution is to use basmati cooked in low sodium chicken broth.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Count of Monte Cristo

There are only French channels on the cable TV here. I tortured myself when flipping through the stations and excitedly found an episode of 'Friends'. Shock hit me when Ross began speaking to Rachel in French.

For 3 weeks, I have not seen any television as our TV in NYC was packed early. I got a quick fix in NYC when I was able to watch the premiere of 'Grey's Anatomy' at our hotel. Other than that, nothing.

Evening hours in Dakar have been enjoyed with lots of reading, knitting, and long lasting dinners with Rich. The first few days were quite nice and somewhat 'cleansing' to exist without the 'boob tube'. However, it's been 3 weeks now and I would give anything to turn my brain off and veg-out to some TV.

Tonight is Movie Night at the Club Atlantique. The movie starts at 7 showing 'The Count of Monte Cristo'. We have absolutely no idea what the movie is about; all we know is that we are going to enjoy the sweet sound of an English movie....

Je m'appelle Madame Kelly

Today was day 1 of intensive French class at the Alliance Francaise. The 10 mile drive took over an hour as there was a lot of traffic in the middle of the day.

There are 12 students, with classmates from Germany, Brazil, Paraguay, Guinea, Angola, Spain and Gambia. There was another American, Alicia, who was born in Uganda and raised in Indiana. In fact, she arrived in Dakar the same day I did.

I knew that she and I would hit it off when it was my turn to introduce myself to the class in French. Alicia leaned over and whispered, 'You go girl'. As of yet, I have not found too many English speakers here in Dakar, and those that do have a beautiful and quite 'formal' tongue as it is usually their second language. 'You go girl' meant that she and I would be able to talk casually and relaxed, which is exactly what we did.

I had always wondered how language teachers teach a specific language without knowing the students native language. Now I know. Our teacher only speaks French. She talks and talks with lots of hand signals and drama to her French words. If you don't understand something you have to shake your head and she will further elaborate in more French that you may, or may not understand.

I have never been so lost. But, I found comfort when I looked around the room and saw 11 other blank stares with jaws touching the ground. At the end of class, Alicia and I left the building together and could not stop laughing. This type of teaching is called immersion; it is the fastest way to learn a language.

Classes are 3 times a week for 3 months. I have only been home and hour and have already completed my homework. Au revoir.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Elisa's Tote

Before I left NYC, some dear friends got me a gift card to my favorite knitting shop, Knitty City on 79th btw Amsterdam and Broadway. I found this lovely Euroflax yarn, which is strong and made of hemp and linen. Of course I bought green and purple (those of you that have been around me the last few years know that I am crazy about these colors)!

I am working on this market bag and will probably give it to our innkeeper when we leave the hotel. Ann is a lovely woman who has taken good care of Rich and I over the last week.

Above is a pic of the original pattern example from one of my favorite sites . The pattern is free and is quite fun with lots of yarn overs and k2g's.

Thank you Norah and Barb!

Here Comes the Sun...

The last few days here in Dakar have been wonderful. Things have really taken a turn. The airport trauma has finally left our systems, and we are both starting to see the incredible beauty in this foreign land.

Rich has surfed the last few days head high waves and is in heaven. We have both started to feel better about this move for various reasons...
  • Our house is lovely. We are so excited to get it up and running.
  • Our doctor here in Dakar is incredibly knowledgeable, caring, comforting, and reassuring with this pregnancy abroad.
  • I have signed up for intensive French Language classes starting tomorrow.
  • We have found an American Club for US citizens only equipped with a gorgeous pool and... lots of ENGLISH SPEAKERS!
  • The traveller's stomach has left my system.

Not to mention one important thing: The Senegalese are EXTREMELY friendly. Once you leave the airport gates, people will wave and smile at you from across the road. Waitstaff at restaurants shake your hands and welcome you into their restaurant. If I could describe the Senegalese right now with one word, I would say 'friendly'.

Today for the first time, I drove around this city while Rich was at work. This may seem like no big deal...but to me, it was quite the accomplishment. There are few street signs here, I do not speak the language, and before today, I was scared to death of getting lost. How could I ask and understand how to get home? But, today was a success. I got my bearings, and spent a few hours cruising around with the windows down, ocean air filling the car, and rocking out to the most wonderful African music on the radio. I discovered many markets with local goods, some French bakeries, practiced driving to my French school, and even managed to locate Rich's office.

Today was a very good day. I think I am starting to appreciate being here.


PS. Please know that if you visit us here, Rich and I will make sure we are at the airport before you arrive so you do not experience what we did:)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Twins

2 boys. 2 boys. 2 boys. 2 boys. 2 boys. 2 boys. 2 boys. 2 boys. 2 boys. 2 boys. 2 boys. 2 boys. 2 boys. 2 boys. 2 BOYS!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Reminders that you live in a Third World Country

Just a few things we have noted over the last few days we thought were quite funny...

  1. A donkey will deliver your brand new refrigerator.
  2. Some of the potholes are bigger then your bathtub.
  3. Cars that should reside in a junkyard, don't.
  4. Local fruits and vegetables are unrecognizable.
  5. Dust, dust, and more freaking dust.
  6. A simple errand can take hours. And hours.
  7. The locals can't speak English but when they see your Martin guitar, they say 'Ahhh Martin'.
  8. Yes means maybe, or yes, or no.
  9. You can park anywhere you want. You can drive however you like.
  10. Sleeping with a mosquito net around your bed is a necessity, rather than to have a stylish romantic feel.
  11. You need to iron your clothing, even your panties, after it dries on the line outside to kill the bugs.
  12. You can light a fire on the sidewalk to make tea in the afternoon.
  13. You are encouraged to light your paper garbage on fire, rather then disposing of it.
  14. You will not have an address, and will get used to drawing maps for people. No postal service either.
  15. You may lost your routine parking spot in front of the office to a puddle of raw sewage.
  16. People that make less than $10 a month can still have ocean front property.
  17. The lights go our every night for a few hours, whether you want them to or not.
  18. You will no longer wear your favorite perfume, as bug spray will be your new scent.
  19. You will get used to sleeping to the sound of generators.
  20. From now on, every time you get sick, you will not wonder if its simply a cold or flu, but rather if it's yellow fever, malaria, meningitis, or typhoid.
  21. No matter how careful you are with drinking bottled water, washing fruits and vegetables, enjoying drinks with no WILL get travellers diarrhea. It hit me on just day 4 here.

To be continued.

Love to all,

Kelly and Rich

Welcome to Dakar

I suppose some would say that our homecoming to Dakar was the worst welcoming possible.

Despite the 2 hour wait on the runway at JFK, we managed to enjoy the 8 hour flight to Dakar with constant smiles and pure excitement.

Rich had carefully organized transportation from the airport to our hotel as he knew the Dakar airport experience was quite scary. He followed up with our hotel driver with numerous phone calls and emails to ensure a car would be awaiting us, and not vice versa.

Because of the 2 hour delay to our flight, our driver was nowhere to be found. Rich and I had 6 suitcases and a guitar between us to manage.

Immediately after leaving the baggage carousel, we were surrounded by 10 men who were touching our bags and wanting to 'help'. It's amazing, not one person spoke a bit of English, but all saw the guitar and said 'Martin' with big smiles. It was quite alarming to see all of these men touching our bags; Rich stayed calm and politely discouraged their help.

This went on for an hour and a half, and complete darkness. Please keep in mind, that I am pregnant (with ankles the size of watermelons), jet lagged, sick with a cold, and scared to death of the goings on at the airport.

Finally, as the sun began to come up, our driver finally appeared. All of the men began to run with us, trying to grab our bags....always touching them in some way to remind us they were the ones that were 'helping'.

Our driver's car was extremely old and full of dents and rust. The trunk had to be wired shut. This car would have been scraps in the US.

After we were all loaded, Siso, a local Senegalese deemed himself to be 'in charge of our stuff'. He was quite friendly, and we got a good feeling from him. He decided he would escort us out of the airport in the taxi along with us.

And that's when the yelling began. The men outside the car began to yell at Richard as soon as the engine started. Not able to speak French or Wolof, I could not understand a word. They would not let him, or Siso, shut the car door. The driver began to drive...slowly at first just to scare them away, then faster and faster.

Rich still could not close the door as these men were running with our car and hanging on to the car door for dear life. Eventually the men fell to the wayside and the car was able to slow down which I was quite relieved about as we were not driving on smooth pavement, but rather a dirt track. Dirt tracks are far different from dirt roads; they are quite bumpy, littered with rocks, wrecked from flooding, and full of pot holes the size of bathtubs.

There were 2 thing I prayed for in the cab after that. 1. Not to vomit. 2. Not to cry.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Last week, I handed in my resignation letter.

That sucked.

I walked to the principals office twice before handing it in. Denial.

To most, it doesn't seem like a big deal. To me, it felt like it was the end of something truly incredible.

I was one of those lucky people that had a career that I absolutely adored. Being an art teacher at a public school in NYC is a dream come true. Making that dream come true of switching careers wasn't easy of course. Rich and I both made some temporary sacrifices that allowed me to get my masters in education to make this dream possible.

Teaching art daily to children under the age of 10 was heavenly. Not only do I have a thirst for art, but I adore children. They fascinate me. They entertain me. But most of all, they teach me.

Being a teacher is so much more than teaching a subject matter. Its about socializing children and showing them the human-ness in our world. It's about raising kids to be good, and being the best person they can be. Its about love, honesty, emotions, communication, and being a good role model to children.

On a daily basis I have helped children work out disputes, understand their emotions and behavior, helped children talk about familial issues, and encouraging friendship with each other. I have taught lessons not just on art, but about sharing, being kind, respecting one another, and communication.

During my years at PS 6, a beloved colleague, Eric Dutt, passed away. He was our science teacher, and was loved by all. When the students were told of his passing, grief and sadness poured through our classrooms like a tidal wave. All of us, were hit hard by this loss. The hardest part was consoling our children and trying to answer their many questions, while we ourselves were devastated and pained from the loss of our friend. The children were so young, and most had never experienced death before. The art room turned into a safe room, where students could come in and grieve, or talk about Eric and their feelings. As a teacher, I felt absolutely unprepared to help these children. They looked to us for answers with tears in their eyes.... There was nothing in a book, or an education class that could prepare you for this. Most of the time, a long lasting hug was the only answer we could offer.

My goal as an art teacher was to excite students about art and make everyone feel successful. My goal in the art room was to create a safe environment and a sacred space that encouraged creativity.

However, the thing that always meant the most to me...was for each child to know that I cared. When I told my 500 students that I was moving to Africa, a student raised her hand and said, 'But Ms. Valdmanis, nobody is going to love us like you did'.

I know now that I can't walk out those big red doors on Wednesday, knowing that I made a difference.