Friday, May 28, 2010

A Deadly Commute

And just when you thought you had seen it all here in Dakar, (like a woman yelping who was possessed by evil spirits, the muslim celebration of Tabaski, and male motorists feeling the right to urinate anywhere and everywhere) you see something that makes you stop and realize that you are indeed living in a third world country.

For example, today while driving home from French school, a small car (an extremely small two door hatchback) filled with six people crammed inside, cut me off in traffic. Oddly enough, there was a homemade coffin strapped to the top of the car. Yes, a COFFIN. And as we could see, the passengers were headed to a burial. Sarah and I could not believe our eyes as we gasped at the sight in front of us - the lid jiggled with each bump on the road. As I hoped and prayed that the lid would stay on, I slowed the car down and backed away after we took this picture for fear that I may rear end this car.

(Note the lid jiggling in the photo).

Where you from my bruddah? I come from Cote D'Ibwah

Ivory Coast is only a couple of hours from Dakar by airplane, but the difference is remarkable.

It was raining when I landed, which was pretty awesome after about nine months without seeing a drop. There was no dust (shocking!). In fact, everything was green and lush. Plants bursting up through the soil, the pavement, the sidewalk...Banana trees everywhere. I'd left the desert behind. This was the Africa you see in cartoons.

"You don't need to go to the market here. The soil is rich and the climate is like a greenhouse," the cab driver said.

"Just pick it off the tree."

Abidjan, the main city of Cote d'Ivoire, was once the economic hub of West Africa -- a role it partially gave up to Dakar after a 2002-03 civil war caused a mass expat evacuation. But the fighting was relatively light and so the infrastructure is in good shape and business seems to still be ticking along.

Instead of the scruffy sprawl of Dakar, Abidjan offers a real city skyline (not unlike Montreal's from the right vantage) surrounded by green hills and a lagoon that is revoltingly polluted, but nice to look at. I watched a guy in a dugout canoe paddle past a backdrop of highrises.

The spaghetti nightmare highway system is tough to navigate. It was designed by the French after all. But there is smooth pavement, traffic moves fast, and the medians are full of attractive greenery.

One massive headache, though, is the serial shakedown of motorists by the defense forces at the city's many and ever-shifting roadbloacks. If you don't pay up, you'll be delayed for an undetermined amount of time, no reason given.

Word has it that the soldiers are given quotas by their commanders for how much money to take each day. They supposedly rake in about $600 million a year from the "business", much of it from commercial truckers who are then forced to mark up their wares to recoup the losses.

Abidjan is mostly Christian, instead of Muslim, which allows for a serious beer culture. The Alocodrome is pretty unique to the city -- a large open-air space with plastic tables and chairs where you can pitch up with a buddy for beer and dinner under the moon. I got a whole roast fish, and was a bit surprised when it came without cutlery.

There was a very good musician there who could make songs up on the spot for a small fee. His instrument was a half-gourd with metal tabs attached that made different tones. His lyrics were a bit unsophisticated, but memorable:

"Where you from my bruddah?/I come from Cote d'Ibwah/Listening to me is very very nice/Welcome to Africa/Listening to me is very very very nice/Welcome to Cote d'Ibwah".

It was indeed very very very very very nice to listen to.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Some pics

Dylan enjoying Brother Laird

Laird chilling

Sweet Dylan

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hello Brother

Today the boys slept until 830 am which was a surprise as their usual wake time is around 7. At 8 I went in to the boys' room to check on them. I quietly turned the door knob and crept in to their room. I pulled back the mosquito netting to find the boys turned toward each other and smiling.

Dylan giggled as brother Laird smiled back at him. Then Laid squealed with delight as brother Dylan smiled back. This smiling and giggling tug of war went back and forth for at least 10 minutes.

For 10 minutes I stood over them watching. Time stood still as I watched them. They were so focused and absorbed with one another that neither one saw me hovering over them.

Dylan shook his head while laughing and glanced up at me. Laird followed his brothers eyes. Both greeted me with huge toothless smiles.

Another day began with me realizing how blessed we are.

Club Med

A day at Club Med... Beach, cabanas, lounge chairs, brunch, pool, and relaxation...

Dad and the boys

Me and the boys



And then all the boys had nap time.

Laird snoozing

Dylan snoozing

And Dad too.

Je voudrais air s'il vous plait.

When you live in a place that speaks an unfamiliar language, you have an incredible amount of anxiety when going about your daily tasks. Daily errands, activities, and communications are far more difficult, and you always walk away from a conversation wondering if you pronounced words correctly, if your grammar was right, and if the person understood you.

Last week, after leaving french class, a man flagged me down while I was driving and spoke a lot of french to me. It took a minute to realize what he was saying... I had a flat tire. Ugh. This was just a day after being pulled over for driving down a one way street by an enraged police officer.

I pulled over not knowing what to do. How do I ask for help? How do I find a tow truck? Where do I go? What do I do?

Trying not to panic, I collected my thoughts and decided to risk driving on the flat 2 miles to the nearest gas station. While doing this, I was also praying that I would not run out of gas as the tank was on empty.

I rolled in to the nearest station and blurted out 'Je voudrais air s'il vous plait' and I pointed at the tire. (I would like air please.) The attendant spoke french back to me, quickly and with many, many words. The bottom line: no air pump at the station. Now what do I do?

I calmly called Rich at the office and put him on the phone with the gas station attendant. They agreed that I would pay him $10 to put the spare tire on the car.

Pop worked hard and fast. $10 was good money for him. After he changed the tire, he wanted me to drive with him to another station where we could fix the flat. Hind sight tells me I was crazy to get in the car and drive with a stranger, but I knew that I could trust Pop. I unloaded the huge double stroller that consumed the trunk of the car and entrusted it in the hands of one of Pop's co-workers.

I gave Pop the keys and we drove to an area of Dakar that I had never seen before. Rather than houses their were mostly shacks lining the streets. We pulled up to tire station that did not have a building, just walls made of old tires, and an old rusty bathtub full of water in the front that was used for checking tires for holes.

Pop exchanged greetings with some of the men, and within 5 minutes, my tire was fixed, changed, and we were also the proud owners of new tire iron. Pop paid the men and we drove back to the station where hopefully, our stroller was waiting for me.

We got back to the station where 3 men were all standing around the stroller and looking at it, probably trying to figure out what it was exactly. I gave Pop $20 which was probably his entire weeks salary. He was incredibly grateful as was I. I was so relieved to have him help, and he was happy to do so.

Merci beaucoup Pop.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Shoveling out after the storm…

… means shoveling sand, not snow, when you’re in West Africa. Here’s Sonko, our guard, clearing the driveway after a seasonal wind caused mounds of Sahara desert to pile up around the house. A nice warm jacket and he could fit in well in Maine. The harmattan winds can vacuum up tons of Mauritanian dirt, producing enormous dust clouds crossing thousands of miles, some of which supposedly trigger the beginnings of hurricanes over the Atlantic. After a good blow in Dakar, clouds of sand can blot out the sun.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Un, Deux, Trois Go!

Today the entire family ran a 5K along the Corniche to raise money for an orphanage. It was wonderful pushing the boys with me and to have Rich by my side; I was incredibly proud to be a mother. They got plenty of attention during the race from runners and spectators. We even got applause as we finished. 'Bravo jumeaux!' was shouted by many. (Bravo twins!) Laird enjoyed a nice snooze and Dylan examined his hand the entire time.

At the Starting Line

During the run, waving to someone yelling, 'Twins, Twins!'

Dylan examining his hand during the run.

The finish line.

Laird loves being on Dad's shoulders.

Our family

Monday, May 10, 2010

Little Sitters


Dylan has got it down!

Holding hands.

I have never laughed so hard... Watching the boys balance themselves in the bumbo seat is quite humorous.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Day Worth Waiting For...

Today is Mother's Day... My very first day to celebrate being a mother. For the last several years, I have wondered if this day would ever come... and here it is. Today I celebrate being a mom to my wonderful sons. Laird and Dylan I love you more than anything in this world. You have made me so happy and so full of love. My days are so much brighter now that you are here. I love you both so much that it feels as if my heart may burst at times.

Today is also a day to celebrate as it is Liam's 2nd birthday. Liam we love you so much and wish we could be there with you today. We are counting the days until our trip home to see you and play MUSIC together!

Mom, Sandra, Cilla, Nana, Gram, and Aunt Alice... Happy Mother's Day. We are toasting you from Africa...

And to all the mother's in this world... Bless you.

Here are some pics from our day today.

Champagne Lunch at the Terrou-Bi

Laird snoozing

The boys

Dad and the boys

Daddy trying to make Dylan stop crying

Dylan LOVES his elephant

Visiting Husseinu, our furniture maker, at his house
(note the photo of Osama above Richard's head)

Ada, a relative of Husseinu. She loves the boys.

Husseinu and the boys

Friday, May 7, 2010

It's a deal!

In downtown Dakar, you can pretty much buy anything you want while sitting in the driver's seat of your car. Traffic jams are a vendors dream come true. Hundreds of vendors go from car to car trying to sell the latest shipment of...well...whatever.

For example, today while driving home I could have purchased:

a pigeon
a new windshield wiper
pink sweatpants
boxes of matches
an iron
a winnie the pooh windmill clock
bic pens
and the list goes on and on... The saying is if you see something you want, get it right away or you will never see it again.

Today I saw a mosquito net. It was a big one for a queen size bed and made of thick netting. I quickly pulled to the side of the road and unrolled the passenger window. The secret to getting a good deal is to not act too interested in what you want, and to always offer half of what the ask for.

-'C'est combien?' (How much is it?) I asked.
-'Quinze mil' (About $30)
-'No, merci' I said and put the car in to gear knowing he overpriced the item because I am a toubob.
-'Ok. Ok. Treize mil.' He said. ($26)
-'No merci. Ciao' I said.
I started to slowly move the car. He started to walk along side.
-'Huit mile' I said. (About $16).
-'Onze' He replied. (About $22).
-'No huit' I said.
-'Dix' he said. (About $20).
At this point, I knew I would get the mosquito net for huit so I stayed firm. He however, continued to test my firmness by going down on the price one number at a time.
-'Neuf' He said. (About $18)
-'Huit' I said. I wasn't going to stop at neuf after all this.
-'Huit. C'est bon'

He put the net in my car. I got the net for huit mil ($16) which is pretty good considering he wanted quinze mil. ($30)

Proud of my hard bargaining in French and a successful purchase, I began to pull away. One thing that puzzles me though, is his 'high five' and big smile after the deal was made.

Should I have gone for cinq? ($10)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ouakam Surf Video

Rich made this surf video in February when there was a big swell. This spot is just half a mile from our house. Check out the beautiful mosque...

Video of our boys to come soon...