Saturday, December 31, 2011


The boys saw their first live Santa Claus here in Dakar.
At a local supermarket, there was Senegalese, Wolof speaking St Nick the week before Christmas.

Both boys were quite brave, however, Laird broke down with fear after a few seconds of putting on a brave face.

Dylan staring bravely while Laird broke down.

Laird turned his back and would not look at Santa again.

Better luck next year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of our family, friends, and loved ones back home. Cheers to a wonderful 2012.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Valdmanis Prison

Front door

It's almost Christmas and our landlord blessed us with a gift of military style barbed wire surrounding our house. We are very happy about the added safety, however, our trees had to be drastically cut back in order to properly install the wire along the surrounding 10 ft wall of our house.

It looks like a prison. However, we will be safe inside. Not to mention we have for 4 guards, alarms, bars on all windows and doors, stun-gun, and mace. Oh yes, and 'robber rope'... For those of you that have not lived in a 3rd world country and have not heard the term 'robber rope' before: 'robber rope' is rope we have in various locations that will be used to tie up a robber.

Have left a message with Johnny Cash to see if he could come record an album from Valdmanis Prison.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It takes a village...

A highlight of our U.S. Thanksgiving weekend in Senegal was a two-day trip down to Popenguine, a little fishing village about two hours south of Dakar. We rented a house on the beach, swam in the sea, and ate leftover turkey. On our first morning there, we all decided to go for a long walk along the beach to town, before the sun got too hot.

On the way, we spotted about 10 men tugging on a thick rope that extended out into the ocean. About two hours later we returned from a stroll in town and the men were still pulling, and more people had gathered to watch and help. Birds were circling and diving. It felt like something was about to happen, so we decided to sit down in the sand and watch.

Laird and Dylan met some village kids and they all played together as we waited for the net to come in.

Given the amount of work, we expected the net to be teaming with fish. But when the men finally dragged it up onto dry sand, it contained barely anything. People from the village carrying empty plastic buckets rushed in and took what they could grab to go sell in the market. Children took the smallest fish, still alive, from the nets and put them in bottles of sea water to watch them swim. The men unfurled the net and put it up onto the beach in preparation for another day.

Finally, the net is on shore.

The ladies gathering the few fish that were in the net.


"We put the net out when the sea is calm, like today," said one of the wizened old fishermen, wearing a blue wool cap. He said they paddle a pirogue several hours before sunrise to set the net about 400 meters from shore, then they pull it in after first light.

"When we catch real fish, we sometimes sell them as far away as Rufisque and Thies," he said, refering to towns about an hour away. "But today we caught nothing."

Laird and Dylan were blown away by the whole scene and said 'fish' for most of the rest of the day.

Laird saying, 'Oh. Oh. Ohhhhh.' while watching the net.

Dylan loves the sand!

Letting the net rest for another day.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Goree Swim Take 2

One thing you learn as a surfer is never to paddle directly against a rip current. If you feel yourself getting sucked out toward the shipping lanes, you're supposed to paddle across the current to calmer waters. Fighting the current head-on will only make you tired.

This little tidbit came in handy at the end of October when I joined up for my second Dakar-Goree Traverse -- a 5km swim from the city of Dakar to the former slaving station at Goree Island. When I did the swim in 2010, it took me about 3 hours and I had a mild panic attack half way through -- I'd never been so far from land without a deck under my feet. This year was much easier for me, but it wasn't without its challenges.

At the very end of the swim, next to Goree Island, there was rip so powerful that it looked like the Columbia River had been superimposed on the sea. About 50 swimmers battled the current head-on, clustered together in a swirling mass, as I got sucked into the fray. I dodged the flailing arms and legs and doggy-paddled across the rip into the shallow, eddying waters next to the island. One guy followed, and together we zoomed past everyone else through the relatively calm patch. Five minutes later we were on Goree sipping beer.

I didn't think much about it until yesterday, when the Senegalese Swimming Federation sent a letter to all of this year's competitors. It wasn't a note of congratulations, as I had assumed. It was an apology for "an incident that caused frustration to several swimmers".

"Essentially, a strong current affected a large number of swimmers, who were eventually trapped behind the Goree prison, with enormous difficulty getting out (...) In order to avoid risks to the swimmers and to ensure their security, we decided to remove them from the water (...) as many had been in the water for too long."

I was pretty happy not to have been one of them. And I have surfing to thank for it.

***Note: Richard placed second in his division!


Lindy and I at a perfect 'Finish Line' watching spot.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Samba's Beach

It is only a 5 minute walk to a local beach from our house (or 45 minutes if you walk with the boys). There are 2 names for this beach: Les Prieres (The Prayers) or Marabou Wall Beach.

In our house, we call the beach 'Samba's Beach'.

We have been going to this beach since we moved into our house...almost two years. During these two years, we have seen the beach improve in terms of cleanliness and access. Last year, 2 different groups of men took over the beach, providing drinks, parasols, and matts for a nominal fee. They also began to clean the beach, remove trash, and create stairways for easy access down the steep cliffs.

The Samba Brothers run the right side of the beach. They are Bi-fals, a local tribe here, know for their 'rasta-like' appearance. They do not pray 5 times a day like other muslims, they can eat pork, they can smoke and drink if they wish, and they do not fast during Ramadan. They are particularly known for their singing, drumming, and chanting as they carry the word of Allah across the lands.

The Sambas are at the beach everyday. I believe they live there, although, I am not certain. They clean the beach in the morning, set up parasols, serve cold drinks, and then sing and drum throughout the rest of the day. The Samba's are gentle, happy, and always smiling.

The boys ADORE the Sambas.... And I have no doubt, the Samba's adore the boys. They teach the boys drumming, Wolof, and walk with them up and down the beach. The last few days we have gone, the boys did not want to sit with Mom on the beach as they preferred to drum with the Sambas.

Samba and friends at the drum circle.

Ummmm....Dylan doesn't look happy at all.

The boys trying to follow along to Samba's clapping.

Beach walk with Samba

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Banana bread

Unlike our lime tree that has only given us one lime in two years, our banana tree blesses us with two separate crops of bananas each year....with each crop having at least a few bushels. Twice a year, we have at least 50-75 bananas that are ripe all at the same time. After giving a lot away, we are still left with a freezer full of bananas.

Here is a pic and link from our first banana cutting last year.

What to do with tons of frozen bananas? Banana bread, of course.

Since we have lived here in Senegal, I have made 1-2 loaves of banana bread each week. We usually have one on hand in our house, and the others we give to our staff, guards, or neighbors.

Statistically speaking, that means I have made about 150 loaves of banana bread in the last two years. I have tried dozens and dozens of recipes. I have used recipes from my favorite cooks and chefs.

In my '150 loaves in two years' opinion, banana bread is best when it is kept simple.

In my recipe box, I have kept an old folded piece of paper with a banana bread recipe written on it. I have no idea who it is from. I thought is was Betty Crocker, but it's not. Maybe it's my grandmothers....I don't know. But it's simple, and delicious.

Banana Bread:
4 ripe bananas, mashed *if using frozen bananas, you will need to add 1 more cup of flour
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar, + 1 tsp to sprinkle on top of loaf
1 beaten egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350. Mash bananas in a large bowl. Add sugar, egg, vanilla, and sprinkle in salt and baking soda. Add flour and stir well.
Butter a loaf pan and pour in. Sprinkle with sugar and bake for 50 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

**Chocolate chunk banana bread: Crumble 1 chocolate bar and set aside. Follow recipe above, then just pour 3/4 of the batter into pan. Then sprinkle in chocolate. Top with rest of batter and sprinkle with sugar.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kelly Quatre-Quatre (4x4) - Pronounced 'Kelly Cat Cat'

Nothing but desert ahead.

I could feel the blood rushing into my face as the car engine strained and then cut out. The entire Valdmanis Team Africa was suddenly stuck in a desert, seated comfortably inside our new Kia Sportage, which had become a virtual solar oven. It was over 100 degrees outside. I turned the key to restart the car, checked the four-wheel-drive was engaged, shifted into first and gunned it. Again the engine strained, but the wheels wouldn't turn and we stalled. I imagined lightly roasted Valdmanii as I looked around at the sand, a tall dune on either side of us, I wondered how we'd survive this latest adventure.

We were doing a day-trip from Dakar to Lac Rose, a lagoon so salty that when the sun catches it right, it appears pink -- hence the name. Apparently, it's 5 times more salty than the sea. On the south side of the lake, artisinal harvesters tend to mountains of the salt dredged from the lake bed, loading it up onto trucks bound for the markets of Dakar and Thies. On the north side, a lonely dirt track leads to a few quiet inns, horse stables and restaurants. We had just finished lunch at one of these restaurants, run by a French chef, and had inquired whether it was possible to circumnavigate the lake.

"If you have four wheel drive, it should be possible," was the response.

I was now regreting our choice to try. We'd followed the track, which quickly disappeared into abroad expanse of sand. We managed to climb a first large dune and slide down its side into a low area, and we were now imprisoned by hills of deep, thick sand all around us. I imagined Kelly and I having to carry Laird and Dylan under the opressive sun to go find help. I imagined the trouble we'd need to go through to find a truck tough enough to drag us out. Would we be stuck here for the night? For days? That's when Kelly Quatre-Quatre arrived like a super hero, occupying the body of my lovely wife.

"Calm down, you'll upset the boys," she said in a relaxed tone. "I'll take care of this, let me drive."

I got out of the car and Kelly Quatre-Quatre (Quatre-Quatre is four-by-four in French, and is pronounced "Cat-Cat") got into the driver's seat. She put the car into reverse and backed up 100 yards along the dune to the top.

"Reverse is the strongest gear," she informed as a wave of relief came over me.
We could now easily roll down the dune to the more solid dirt road and return to Dakar the wat we came, I thought. At that moment, two men from the village appeared and suggested that, instead of retreating down the dune like wimps, we should deflate our tires a bit and continue on the rest of the way.

"It should be possible," they said. "You just need to deflate your tires."

I was dubious, but Kelly Quatre-Quatre was full of confidence. She was certainly ready for a challenge. We allowed some air out of the tires, cranked up the car and waved our goodbyes to the encouraging villagers.
Kelly Quatre-Quatre gunned it down the dune and started plowing through the desert like a pro, the car rim-deep in sand. The steering wheel was cranked all the way to the right, yet we were going straight. The farther we went, the more nervous I felt. We were leaving help, water, a real road in our wake. A large dune loomed ahead. Kelly Quatre-Quatre downshifted and started the climb. At a snail's pace, the car rose up the hill and, impossibly, reached the top. Another descent, another hill. My heart was beating, as Laird and Dylan cooed in the back, clearly feeling the excitement.

"This is awesome," Kelly Quatre-Quatre whispered with excitement.
"Who are you?" I thought to myself.

A kilometer or two through the sand and we spotted some vegetation, and then, in the distance, evidence of a building, which surely meant a road. The engine continued to strain. We climbed the last sand hill and then dipped between some palm trees and cactuses and onto a potholed dirt track, home free.
"There, that's how its done," Kelly Quatre-Quatre said as we high-fived. "Now you drive."

I got into the driver's seat, and my lovely wife hopped in beside me.

Two of the locals letting air out of the tires.

Look how deep these wheels are buried!

And of course, camels...after all, it was the desert.

Laird looking out at the Salt Lake at the restaurant.

Dylan asleep with his beloved new Senegalese plane.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Writing a letter & threatening protests = 2-5 years in jail

An emergency message for the embassy:

'This message is to inform U.S. citizens in Senegal that the outcome of the trial of an opposition party member which occurred today that could result in civil disorder and demonstrations in and around Dakar. On October 10th, 2011, Malick Noel Seck, leader of a minor political youth group, signed and delivered an open letter to the President of the Constitutional Court threatening him with violence if the Court validates President Wade’s candidacy for a third term in office. He was arrested and faced a maximum sentence of five years in jail. This morning the court in Dakar sentenced Mr. Seck to two years in prison. Mr. Seck’s supporters threatened demonstrations and previously called on their members to "burn" the country if the accused was sentenced to jail. Counter-protests may also be likely, which could further destabilize the situation. U.S. citizens are urged to use caution in the coming days should protests be called as a result of this decision and to avoid demonstrations should they come upon them.

While most demonstrations in Senegal are non-violent, the potential for violence exists, particularly in this period prior to the planned Presidential elections in February 2012.'

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Another attempt

Tabaski is fast approaching...a sacred muslim holiday. Families put all their money into purchasing a goat for the holiday celebration meal. The type of goat and price is often a reflection of status; the more expensive the goat, the better. (Yet it all tastes the same, doesn't it?)

A few nights ago, we had another break in attempt.

Rich and I bolted out of bed to the sound of a guard's whistle frantically blowing and then several voices yelling in Wolof.

I wish I had the ability to properly describe the feeling of what it is like to go from sleeping deeply, to running down the hall as fast as you can, armed with mace, a siren, a hockey stick, and telephone to Laird and Dylan's room. Words you don't understand are being shouted from every direction and echoing throughout the house.

Was the robber inside the house? Was he on the balcony? On the roof? WHERE? Are my children okay?

I am trying to make peace with the evenings events by looking at it as though it were a success on our part. We learned A LOT from our last robbery. We made a lot of interior and exterior changes, as well as stepping up security from 1 guard to 4. Our team of guards did a great job.

Needless to say, the robber climbed a wall to gain access to our property and attempted to climb a nearby mango tree to gain access to the balcony. A guard saw the robber, blew his whistle to wake us, as well as to alert other guards to come lend a hand. Guards threw rocks at the robber and chased him away.

**Note: As I was writing this entry, the doorbell rang. 40 meters of barbed wire will be installed next week.

2 times in 7 months. Not very good stats, if you ask me.

But, we are ready. We will not get sloppy. We will check and recheck every door and window every night. This last attempt was a reminder to stay on our toes.