Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Saturday, December 25, 2010
For the last few days, I haven't been able to take a deep breath.
I don’t have asthma, I’m not sick, and I don’t have anxiety (right now, anyway).
It's because of pure and utter excitement.
The last few weeks have not been easy here in West Africa. Richard has been working around the clock...literally. As a journalist in West Africa, he is covering news that is violent, terrifying, and tragic. I have never truly appreciated being a US citizen, and all of our rights, until living here.
We have been falling asleep at night talking about a country that has two presidents, burning tires, smoke bombs, random politically driven killings, and mass graves. At the same time there are also people going through our garbage looking for scraps of food.
While trying to digest the rawness of reality here, we are also dealing with simple ‘day to day’ annoyances... like mild sickness, 8 teeth coming in with constant night wakings, being pulled over by police officers with machine guns simply because you are white, me working more than I should, power outages, water outages, etc.
Etc, etc, etc. Etc, etc, etc. I suppose the 'etc's' could go on...
These annoyances are trivial compared to what many of the people around us here are dealing with.
Christmas is helping us realize how truly blessed and grateful we are.
I have been ‘more than’ excited about Christmas, as this is our first Christmas as a family. It’s our first Christmas with our angels, Laird and Dylan. Granted, they have no idea that it is even Christmas, but for Richard and I, our hearts our so full of love and gratefulness that we can barely contain ourselves.
Last Christmas, we were fighting for their lives… not knowing what the future would bring.
And here we are, blessed with 2 amazing, healthy, happy little angels.
Right now, it’s 80 degrees, the harmatan winds are humming, and we still smell of mosquito spray from Christmas Eve. We miss our families and friends back home more than ever. But Richard and I have managed to get in to the Christmas spirit simply being grateful for what we have.
We are so so so so so blessed.
And so you are you.
Be grateful for what you have. Let go of your daily annoyances. Hug your loved ones and kiss your spouse. Take a moment and look at everything in your life that you have, rather than what you don’t. Take a deep breath and soak it all in. Life is beautiful, short, and wonderful…
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Monday, November 8, 2010
Okay... I MUST share this recipe.
Because it's CRAZY YUMMY.
Because it's fast.
Because it's Indian.
But most of all, if you live here in Dakar, you can get ALL of the ingredients here. (Insha'allah)
Found it on Pioneer Woman... I love you Pioneer Woman.
Oh yeah...it needs to be made the night before to get FULL ON FLAVOR ACTION. I doubled the spices (except for cayenne pepper).
Butter Chicken Recipe Ingredients:
- 4 pieces Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (cut Into Bite Sized Pieces, despite what the picture looks like)
- 5 cloves Garlic, Minced
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- ½ teaspoons Black Pepper
- ½ teaspoons Cayenne Pepper
- ¼ teaspoons Ground Coriander
- ¼ teaspoons Cumin
- ¼ teaspoons Cardamom
- 1 whole Lime, Juiced
- 1 whole Onion, Diced
- ¼ cups Butter
- 1 can (14.5 Oz. Can) Tomato Sauce
- 1 can (14.5 Oz. Can) Petite Diced Tomatoes
- 1 pint Whipping Cream
- 1 bunch Chopped Cilantro, to taste
- 2 cups Basmati Rice (or However Much You Want)
* Combine first 9 ingredients and marinate overnight.
Saute the onion in the butter until soft. Add marinated chicken and cook about 10 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Cook for 30 minutes over medium-low heat with the lid on. Add the whipping cream and cilantro just before serving over Basmati rice.
Note: this is a little spicy, but you can cut back on the cayenne if you want.
Yummy Yummy Yumminess.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
On the main highway leading out of Dakar, the Valdmanis family's Renault station wagon passes a dilapidated commuter bus with four sheep standing on its roof. The animals balance precariously as the bus tackles deep potholes and spews black exhaust. A few minutes later, all forward progress is halted by a herd of big horn cattle crossing the highway, escorted by three wizened men in Arab desert robes and headdresses carrying sticks.
At about this moment, the car starts acting up, like there's a problem with the fuel delivery. A plugged hose or filter? Bad gas?
Friday, October 29, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
I’m briefly seized by panic. I’m about two kilometers from the nearest point of land and I’ve already been swimming for about an hour. A sustained wind is pushing white caps over my head as I try to catch a breath. I look around to get my bearings. Freighters lie at anchor on the horizon, awaiting entry to the
This was roughly the experience of 500 people this weekend as they passed the midpoint of the Dakar-to-Goree swim race – a 5-kilometer traverse (slightly longer than the swimming stage of the iron man competition) from Dakar’s industrial zone to an island that earned its notoriety as Africa’s westernmost slaving station. This year’s race marked the event’s 50th anniversary, and amazingly, no one during any of the competitions to date has been reported lost at sea.
I say that because it is a bit of a free for all. Swimmers of all abilities gather on the beach the morning of the race and are let loose with little guidance at the stroke of noon. Veteran swimmers know to head in a direction about 90 degrees to the left of the island to counter the strong current, and novices like me tend to follow. I’ve been told drowning is a serious possibility for those who head straight at Goree. A few wooden boats cruise around to herd people who go too far off course, but it seemed to me an impossible task in the vast swath of ocean. During the first half hour or so, it is fairly easy to keep within sight of your fellow swimmers who act as guides. But as the minutes tick slowly by, the groups diffuse across the water and pretty soon, almost everyone is alone.
Luckily, I only had the one mild panic attack during my swim. It helped me to remember the young man on the starting beach who tied his wrists together with a rope, “to remember the slaves” he told a crowd of his fellow swimmers. I imagined him struggling bravely a half-hour ahead of me, tied up like a pretzel, and I toughened up.
After a monotonous stretch of swimming, the island grew larger. I got to the edge and began swimming along its coast to the beach and finish line. This was the fun part – not just because my lovely wife and a cold beer awaited me a few hundred meters away – but because I could now see the ocean floor with my mask as I crossed the reefs. I saw a giant puffer fish directly below me. I saw a school of minnows that looked like air bubbles moving sideways instead of rising to the surface. I saw piles of boulders, and stretches of peaceful white sand. Then I saw the edge of the rock pier and the slope of bottom rising toward the finish line. It was a welcome sight after hours of nothing but darkness below. I took a big breath and dove down to swim along the bottom for the last little stretch. When I came up, I was done, and the quiet of the sea was broken by music and cheering onlookers. Swimmers, who had all completed their solitary struggles, collided together at the finish and happily stumbled up the shore.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
Korite marks the end of Ramadan, although the name varies from country to country. It is a day of great celebration. The month of fasting is over, and Muslims dress in their best clothes, pray, and feast with family.
This year, Korite would be either on Friday or Saturday... The only way to see what day the holiday would be on, was to look at the sky on Thursday night. Senegal is a bit cautious to declare Friday as Korite because there is a superstition that someone important will die if it is on a Friday.
Today is Korite and it is Friday.
Last night, I received 4 text messages around 730 pm from friends spreading the 'word' that the next day was a holiday. Spreading the word that a holiday was the next day is not so difficult here; radio alerts the public every few minutes as well as local tv broadcasts. Text messages flood the phone lines. Even the school that I teach at sent out a 'night before' text telling teachers and families that school would be closed the next morning.
It is 9 am on Friday, and I am on our roof... listening to the quiet. This morning Dakar is calm and peaceful. The birds are chirping, there is a nice breeze, and the street that is usually bustling with car rapides, buses, and lots of traffic is empty. In the distance I can hear the hum of the imam from the mosque. It is a lovely day... I am envisioning Sonko and Astou celebrating with their families. But, I can't help but to wonder about that 'important person'...
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Friday, August 27, 2010
“Those are for protection while I am guarding the house. If someone tries to stab me with a knife while I am wearing them, the knife will not penetrate me,” he said. “I wear them very late at night.”
We live in a safe part of one of Africa’s safest cities, but the use of gris-gris(pronounced greegree) – or protective charms – is as active here as anywhere else on the continent. They come in the form of necklaces, earrings, rings, armbands, and belts and generally have very specific uses.
“They also make them for bullets,” Sonko said.
Senegal’s professional wrestlers are perhaps the most decadent users of gris-gris. The sport is cherished by the Senegalese, who flock to stadiums each Sunday night to watch muscle-bound men with shaved heads duke it out in a circular sand ring. But before the matches begin, there is a drawn-out gris-gris ceremony during which the fighters put on their magical arm bands and have jugs full of good-luck fruit juices poured over their heads by a fawning entourage.
Taxi drivers also use gris-gris to protect them on the road. In this case, the gris-gris is applied to the vehicle itself, instead of to the driver – usually it is a lock of horse hair tied to the rear bumper, sort of like a tail. From the looks of the cabs, though, these things don’t prevent bust ups.
Elsewhere, in the region, gris-gris is a must-have for anyone who engages in battle. Fighters in Liberia’s civil war are famous for having worn women’s wigs while taking potshots at eachother, believing the wigs would deflect bullets. Creepy.
More recently, in Congo where rebels are up to some nightmarish things on a routine basis, a Spaniard was taken hostage during a bizarre vacation. Congo’s Information Minister announced to the press before his release a few days later that the rebels had shaved off all of the Spaniard’s body hair to make good luck charms, believing non-African hair has special powers in battle. A great story that turned out to be false – his hair was still on when he was released.
Anyway, none of that really matters. Gris-gris or not, Sonko’s belts are cool and Kelly’s likely to have some made to wear for aesthetic reasons.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
6 Tablespoons Butter
2-½ teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
2 whole Eggs
⅓ cups Sugar
3-½ cups All-purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Salt
⅓ cups Sugar
2 Tablespoons Cinnamon
Egg And Milk, Mixed Together, For Brushing
Softened Butter, For Smearing And Greasing
Melt butter with milk. Heat until very warm, but don’t boil. Allow to cool until still warm to the touch, but not hot. Sprinkle yeast over the top, stir gently, and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix sugar and eggs with the paddle attachment until combined. Pour in milk/butter/yeast mixture and stir to combine. Add half the flour and beat on medium speed until combined. Add the other half and beat until combined.
Switch to the dough hook attachment and beat/knead dough on medium speed for ten minutes. If dough is overly sticky, add 1/4 cup flour and beat again for 5 minutes.
Heat a metal or glass mixing bowl so it’s warm. Drizzle in a little canola oil, then toss the dough in the oil to coat. Cover bowl in plastic wrap and set it in a warm, hospitable place for at least 2 hours.
Turn dough out onto the work surface. Roll into a neat rectangle no wider than the loaf pan you’re going to use, and about 18 to 24 inches long. Smear with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Mix sugar and cinnamon together, then sprinkle evenly over the butter-smeared dough. Starting at the far end, roll dough toward you, keeping it tight and contained. Pinch seam to seal.
Smear loaf pan with softened butter. Place dough, seam down, in the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix a little egg with milk, and smear over the top. Bake for 40 minutes on a middle/lower rack in the oven.
Remove from the pan and allow bread to cool. Slice and serve, or make cinnamon toast or French toast with it.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
It is Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar when Muslims abstain from worldly pleasures during daylight hours as a way to show their faith. It is a bit like the traditional conception of the Christian Lent, meant to involve 40 days of fasting. But in practice, it’s completely different. For one thing, people actually do it!
Ramadan, this year, runs from Aug. 11 to Sept. 10, so I’ve already had a glimpse at what happens in Senegal – businesses close down, people drive absent-mindedly, and the daily prayers – when people prostrate themselves on mats anywhere and everywhere in response to the muezzin’s call – appear to the eye to be much more heart-felt than normal. I’ve also noticed people take a lot of pride in not complaining about the fast, which makes it all the more mysterious.
Here’s what it was like for me:
730 – Still feeling full, I bike to work under the already oppressive sun. I wonder if the construction workers are fasting.
800 – The water cooler looks really good when I arrive at the office. And wow, it would be nice to have a raisin Danish and a coffee like I usually do. Ah well…
900 – I start wondering if my mouth is getting parched? What will it be like in ten hours?
1100 – I momentarily wonder what will I have for lunch? Oh, right, nothing…
1230 – My colleagues are eating grilled fish with homefries and a wonderful sauce. I start concentrated deeply on work. Seven hours left till sundown.
1400 – One of my colleagues walks around the office offering chocolates from a box. I take two of them and put them in my desk drawer. I can hear them calling my name. I tell them to wait.
1530 – My eyes are starting to feel dry and burn a little, which makes me blink more often than normal. I have just the faintest hint of headache. My belly is grumbling. I take another chocolate from the box and stick it in my desk next to the others.
1630 – I get a surprising energy boost that arrives from nowhere. This is usually the time of day I want to take a nap. I feel clear-headed.
1730 – I’m biking home and notice the surf is really good. Is surfing a worldly pleasure? Some things are better left unsolved.
1800 – Kelly and the boys give me a surf pass and within five minutes I’m out on the waves. The empty feeling in my belly is replaced by surf stoke.
1900 – I get home and start really feeling thirsty. Sonko and I start counting down the minutes. He’s thinking coffee, I’m thinking water.
1927 – Time is going VERY slowly.
1930 – The sun dips below the horizon. Three pints of water. Then dinner. Ahhhh…
All in all, it really was not too bad. There was no pain or serious discomfort. Instead it seemed like about a half-dozen moments of serious temptation during the day that required an act of will to overcome. For Muslims, this is an important act of faith, but I reckon a bit of exercising the will could be useful for anyone of any creed. Nonetheless, I’ll be taking lunch tomorrow.