Friday, August 27, 2010


Astou, Laird, and Dylan

Laird and Dylan's new African chairs

I love you brother!

Gris-gris – sometimes attractive and always practical

A few days ago, Kelly spotted a couple of ornate leather belts on a chair just inside our front door which she figured belonged to Sonko. She thought they’d look nice with some of her skirts, so she asked him about them. (One is pictured above)

“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

My First Loaf

In all of my 21 years of age (and then add another14 years), I have never made a good loaf of bread. It's true. I'm not embarrassed or ashamed to admit that yours truly STINKS at baking.

And just when I thought my baking days were over, Pioneer Woman posted this EASY and DELICIOUS cinnamon bread recipe.

I don't have a mixer here in Dakar either. This was made with my good old fashioned hands and lots of kneading. BUT...

It was a cinch. And the loaf is gorgeous to look at...just like the picture.

I think my failed loafs (or loaves?) were from my lack of patience with letting the dough rise properly while in the baking pan. So luckily, last night, while waiting for the dough to rise... Laird needed two diaper changes, Dylan spit up and required a clothing change, I required a clothing change from Dylan's spit up, Dylan and Laird both got bedtime baths and massages, I re-wrote my lesson plan notes for school that Laird chewed to bits while I was bathing Dylan, and VOILLA!.... 2 hours for the loaf of bread to rise!!!!

Make this bread.

You will love it and your house will smell really really good.
1 cup Milk
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

Preparation Instructions
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


This morning I woke up before 6am, went down to the kitchen in a half-slumber and started eating. I had half a mango, two pieces of toast, a bowl of cereal, a cup of yogurt, a mug of coffee, a glass of orange juice and a pint of water. I was stuffed to the gills before the sun came up at 630am – which was the goal. I’d made a decision, for the first time in my 33 years, to go from dawn till sunset without food or water, just to see what it is like for the millions of people around me doing the same thing.

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.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Our Banana Tree

After a long and dangerous battle, Sonko and Richard managed to defeat the mighty banana tree.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Roasted Eggplant, Tomato, Pesto, Carmelized Onion and Chorizo Pizza

I made this pizza a few nights ago and MUST share the recipe with you... It's delicious, easy, and AWESOME! The crust recipe is from Pioneer Woman... very easy. I love this dough recipe; it doesn't require a mixer(even though she says to use one)...just your 2 hands and is a cinch. Make the dough in the morning, let it rise all day on the counter and Voila... delicious home made dough. I like to sneak in some dried herbs to the dough to make it even more dried parsley, oregano, or basil.

My Favorite Pizza, Ever:

2 eggplants, sliced into 1/2" rounds
6 vine tomatoes, sliced
3 onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
cheese of your choice, freshly grated
1 jar pesto
Olive oil

2 hours before dinner time: Lightly sprinkle your eggplant slices with salt and lay them in a colander in the sink. The salt will 'sweat' the eggplant and get all of the excess liquid out. Let them sweat for 1 hour, then rinse with water to get the salt off.

On a cookie sheet, sprinkle some olive oil and toss the eggplant and tomato. Roast in the oven until there are some nice looking black spots on the veggies. (Our oven does not have a broiler...I just put the oven on the highest temp and cook for about 10 minutes, then toss the veggies and do another 10 or so).

While the eggplant and tomatoes are roasting, heat a medium skillet on med hi with some olive oil and cook onions for A REALLY LONG TIME. Caramelize these babies... stir them constantly and let some of them get dark. They will be delicious. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, add in the minced garlic.

Then, spread your homemade dough out on a cookie sheet using olive oil as needed. Paint the dough with a nice layer of pesto. Then layer on top of the pesto the caramelized onions and garlic. Next add the eggplant and tomatoes, then the chorizo slices. Finally, top with cheese. A nice touch would be some goat cheese too? Mmmmmmmm....

Cook in oven on 375 for 10 or so minutes.

Sit back relax, and enjoy!

Pioneer Woman's Easy Pizza Crust Recipe:

1 teaspoon Active Dry Or Instant Yeast
4 cups All-purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
⅓ cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil
**I like to add2 tsp of dried oregano, parsley, or basil

**If you are not using a mixer, just use your hands to mix.

Sprinkle yeast over 1 1/2 cups warm (not lukewarm) water. In a mixer, combine flour and salt. With the mixer running on low speed (with paddle attachment), drizzle in olive oil until combined with flour. Next, pour in yeast/water mixture and mix until just combined.
Coat a separate mixing bowl with a light drizzle of olive oil, and form the dough into a ball. Toss to coat dough in olive oil, then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until you need it. ***It’s best to make the dough at least 24 hours in advance, and 3 or 4 days is even better.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Certificate of Medical Aptitude

In case any of you wondering, I am physically fit and healthy. In fact, I have a piece of paper that says so. Not to mention there is a very important stamp on it making it an official authorized document.

In order to complete our visa application to live in Senegal, I had to see a doctor who would examine me and deem me 'in good health'. He would then stamp a document and sign it. Legally, you are supposed to have TWO doctors visits at TWO different times.

These visits are pretty standard operating procedure when applying for visas in countries; often they entail x-rays, blood tests, copies of vaccination records, etc. In the United States these appointments are quite extensive and often lead to follow up appointments.

But here in Senegal, you can get whatever you need for a price.

Today, I went to a clinic for my appointment. Richard came along with me to translate.
For the record, I will change the doctor's name for the sake of his privacy.

Doctor Diop enters the room. He asks me to lie down on the table. He has me stick out my tongue and say 'ahhhh'. He then has me sit up, and listens to my heart. He then puts his hands on my throat and asks me to swallow. He has me do it a second time, but by the time I could gather enough saliva to swallow again, he was already sitting at his desk stamping and signing the document saying that I was healthy.

Doctor Diop leaves the room.

He reenters, but this time, he is now Doctor Thiam (the second doctor signing the second form). He does not examine me a second time, but signs the form.

For $40, and half an hour of my time, I leave the clinic having seen two doctors and the official documents saying that I am in good health.

However, as astonished as I was by this whole process, Richard pointed out that the government will probably not even have our visa ready for three or so years... I wonder if it will be complete by the time we move back to the USA...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Yes dear

Kelly makes an emergency call to Rich, who is swamped at work.
'Rich I need you to come home from work right away.' She gasped.

'What's going on? ' he asked.

'There's a lizard in the kitchen,' Kelly said.
'A what?' Rich asked.

'A lizard. A huge, black, yellow spotted lizard.' Kelly said frantically.

'Ummm. Well...I'm a bit busy at work right now, ' Rich calmly said.

'But, but, but....IT'S A LIZARD. A GIANT LIZARD. AND YVONNE SAID IT WAS GOING TO GROW TO AT LEAST A FOOT AND HALF BIG. And it has a giant tongue. I'm really freaked out babe,' Kelly whined.

And she went on... 'And Yvonne is gone, and Astoo is scared of it too. Sonko won't be here until 6.' And she kept going on and on.

'Okay babe.' Rich said (equivalent to 'yes dear')

**Update: That evening Richard nor Sonko could find the lizard. Eveytime Kelly opened a cabinet or closet door, she would hold her breath, wondering if the lizard was around. She did not get much sleep, between thoughts of lizard and Dylan's 4 am concertos.

The next day, when Yvonne was in the kitchen, she let out our a scream that was probably heard in the United States. The lizard was under the refridgerator in the kitchen. A construction worker from next door, came equipped with a cardboard box and a stick... We were rescued.
Not sure where the lizard is living now....possibly at our neighbors house, the Habre's.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Last Thursday, we went back in time about 70 years to the days before the trans-Atlantic telephone cable. From about 11 am onward, it was not possible to make a call back to the States, or anywhere else outside Senegal for that matter. No Internet either. Smoke signals and passenger pigeons still worked, but only for those with the expertise.

It made us feel a bit isolated and slightly nervous. After all, shutting down phones, radio, TV and other comms is a key ingredient to any good African coup.

But this information blackout turned out to be the result of a labour strike at the country’s main telecom’s company (yes, French owned), instead of the handywork of a military junta with presidential ambitions. And it lasted only about 24 hours.

Still, it contributed to the general feeling we have here that, much of the time, were just camping out. For the last several weeks, for example, the electricity has been cutting repeatedly for hours at a time forcing us to enjoy romantic candle-lit dinners and conversation instead of catatonic TV marathons. Not too bad, actually. The only problem is that, when it gets hot, it is tough for us and the babies to sleep without a fan. (Note to self: invent Senegal’s first battery operated fan).

Actually, there are some other problems. The frequent power outages in Senegal have triggered protests by the people here. Small-time entrepreneurs like mechanics, fish-mongers, tailors and others who need power to make a living have complained bitterly about deteriorating basic services. Those who can afford to run diesel generators have been buying lots of fuel while watching their profits shrink. Others have simply shut down to wait for the end of the rainy season, when the power cuts tend to ease off. Finding fresh meat, fish, and cheese is sometimes difficult. Getting your beard trimmed can be risky.

For most Senegalese, though, the telecoms blackout on Thursday went unnoticed. It hit instead the moneyed expats and larger companies and aid groups that have chosen Dakar as a West African base over civil war-scarred Abidjan. Inconvenienced multinationals and NGOs don’t tend to tug at the heart strings. But when youre trying to coordinate aid to ease the Sahel famine, or youre trying to move several tonnes of whatever from Accra to Cottonou, a day cut off from the world is a serious issue. This is something Senegal may need to consider, after recently publicizing its hope of becoming West Africa’s communications hub.

Anyway, were hoping the labour action is over and the phones and emails keep working. But if a long stretch goes by without a new blog update, keep your eyes peeled for smoke signals on the horizon.

Monday, August 2, 2010

5 Flats in One Day?

Yup. No joke. Five flat tires in one day. Welcome to third world country living...where the roads in certain areas are plowed garbage heaps.

Last week I went to the supermarket and as I got out of the car, I could hear 'sssssssssssssssssss'. Air was quickly coming out of one of the tires. I decided to skip the market trip and drive home as quickly as possible. Had I spoken French fluently, I'm not sure if this still would have been my decision. However, I just wanted to get the car home where Rich could put the spare on and I could avoid trying to communicate in 1/2 French 1/2 English.

I got the car home and after a few hours checked on the tire, assuming it would be flat. Would you believe that the tire had not gone down at all? I quickly got my purse and drove back to the supermarket as we were having a dinner party and needed some goodies.

Of course, as I came out of the grocery store with a cart overflowing with bags, the tire was completely flat. Yes, I know what you are thinking... Obviously when I had parked the car at home, the leak had been plugged on the ground. Why didn't I think of that?

I was thinking about the ice cream and frozen goodies in the 100 degree car and my lack of french vocabulary to deal with getting help. So, I decided to drive the car home. I drove slowly and said 'Je sais, merci' (I know, thank you) to everyone that was yelling, pointing, and waving their arms to show me the flat tire. Crazy Toubab.

I held my breath the whole way home and let out a big sigh of relief when I turned on to our street.

'Do we really have TWO flat tires on the car?' Rich said when he got home from work.

Not sure how it happened, but after driving home from the supermarket the car somehow acquired another flat tire.

Flat Tire Count: 2

'That's really weird because on my way home today I got two flat tires on my bicycle', Rich said.

I thought he was joking.

Flat Tire Count: 4

But it gets even more unbelievable. We got out the jogging stroller. And of course, before our very own eyes, was a flat tire on the stroller.

Flat Tire Count: 5

What does it all mean? No idea. A sign to move our stocks to Midas? A test of patience? Hmmmmm. We shall see.