the weekend is here

Yesterday was an unexpected day off but today was a quite intentional one. I finally made it back to IFAN to check out the permanent exhibit, which consists mostly of amazing masks from initiation ceremonies across West Africa.

After that I came back to my neighborhood for a late afternoon aquabike session. It was a very nice culture-sport 1-2 punch.

And now after two days of faux weekend it’s the real weekend. There’s an afropop dance night uptown in Almadies tonight, and I think I may search out brunch for the first time ever in Dakar tomorrow… We shall see.

Have a lovely weekend and if the spirit moves you, check out the reads that I have enjoyed this week:

A fellow later-in-life language learner reflects on our cultural preoccupation with a fluency finish line.

Continuing the Yiddish theme from last week, this week I read, “My Mother’s Yiddish,” a one year old but timeless essay.

Get up to speed on greetings around the world, including Tibet’s very unusual custom.

Bucket list places that are going to disappear to climate change.😦

Californians may expand the bilingual education they once curbed.

I found the reader responses to “Advice for Solo Female Travelers” much more true and useful than the original article.

Only three people know how to make the rarest pasta on earth…

And I think I forgot to include this one in an older post, but better late than never:

The most inaccessible places in the world that people desperately want to visit.

Six distinctive things about Ethiopia

A few things that stood out to me:

– Their scaffolding is seriously death-defying (or not). Ethiopia was the first time I saw anything like this and I thought it was a unique quirk of the country, but then I saw it in Benin and said a silent prayer for their construction workers, too.

– Juice bars are ubiquitous, and mixed juice smoothies served parfait-style is very popular (and delicious, especially when avocado is one of the layers).

I would think that having juice bars on every corner would be the bi-product of a country in which alcohol is prohibited, but that’s not the case. Maybe they just know that they lucked out in the local fruit lottery (papaya, mango, avocado, pineapple…) and are taking advantage of it?

– As I mentioned before, Ethiopia is the only African country not to have been colonized by the West.

– Ethiopian cuisine is entirely unique.

The ancient grain, teff, is grown throughout Ethiopia and hardly anywhere else in the world. Since teff is what injera is made out of, and since injera is served with almost everything, it means that Ethiopian food tastes different than any other food on earth (except for maybe Eritrean?…).

Here’s a recent New York Times article about how Ethiopia is negotiating the tricky balance of bringing teff to the world market without rendering it out of reach of Ethiopians. (As was the case with quinoa in South America.)

– I have never seen anything like Ethiopian shoulder dancing, aka eskista:

I can’t say it (literally) moves me, but it does fascinate me.

– They use their own quirky clock (and their own calendar), and it definitely doesn’t match their official time zone. This article explains.

breakfast of Senegalese champions

This millet porridge is called lakh and it’s the traditional breakfast across Senegal. It’s really heavy and in olden days was perfect for keeping farmers full all morning in the fields. If you’re a working stiff with a desk job, though, it’s a bit of a soporific, so these days in Dakar a baguette with Nutella or Chocopain (the Senegalese equivalent, made with peanuts instead of hazelnuts) is a more typical morning meal.

Traditionally, lakh is eaten with sweetened lait caillé – fermented milk, sort of like a very pungent yogurt. But here the Lo ladies are just eating regular store-bought yogurt and some condensed milk on top.

It is delicious and filling and a gluten-free alternative to the rice cakes I’ve been eating every morning and which got really old really fast (even smeared with exotic bissap/hibiscus or baobab jelly).

I wonder why millet isn’t more popular in the States. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before people start saying that millet is the new quinoa. Although amaranth might get there first…

(get over the) hump day inspiration: Kurt Vonnegut edition

I unexpectedly and very pleasantly had the day off, and with nothing pressing to do, I started the mammoth article I’ve been meaning to read for three months, added words to my neglected French vocabulary list while finally streaming Lemonade, ran a couple of miles at dusk, and generally lazed about doing semi-taxing but rewarding things that are only enjoyable when done at leisure. And I did indeed note that I was happy, and feel grateful for it.

I hope you are having a happy day, too.

bon week-end

I just exported the close-to-final cut of a 5-minute video I shot and edited almost entirely in French (aside from a small amount of a béninois dialect that was translated for me into French), and I’m feeling very proud of myself.

Going to the field and, in very challenging conditions, “one-man-banding” – directing, producing, shooting, recording sound, and then coming back and writing and editing a video singlehandedly – takes every ounce of everything I have. And yet I somehow found a way to do that all in French, which also requires copious amounts of my brain-space and emotional mettle. (I found a way by sacrificing some technical quality to instead concentrate on solving logistical problems in my non-native language. I’m okay with that.)

I’ve still got a lot of work to do on this particular project, which calls for a 3-minute and 1-minute version as well as the longer one. So maybe I should beware the evil eye and shut up about it…

But before I do, here’s a virtual toast to a weekend well-deserved. (Even if you didn’t work your butt off this week, I bet you made a superhuman effort not to implode emotionally while reading the news, and that is also worthy of acknowledgement.)

And here’s some news that will make you feel neither disrespected, degraded, disgusted, depressed, nor disappointed! (At least I sincerely hope not.)

How do you say “butt dial” in Yiddish? Updating a thousand year-old language’s words.

“The concept of authenticity is much over-hyped these days, and it seems to me a sad state of affairs that it’s something we need to cultivate — as if being authentic is just another act. A few weeks ago, I came across a term online that stopped me in my tracks: identity fatigue. We are getting tired, it seems, of creating and fashioning our personas in a world filled with personas. We’re confusing persona with personal life.” – Dani Shapiro on authenticity.

‘Th’ sound to vanish from English language by 2066 because of multiculturalism, say linguists

How to plan your trip using Google

What happens to languages that you understood as a kid but then forgot? Are they truly lost?

Passez un bon week-end!

a French first

on a boat.jpg

Back from Benin! Four days of my week there – Tuesday through Friday – were spent on a boat, during which time I experienced no sea-sickness… until I was on solid land. Just a few minutes after I stepped into my hotel room on Thursday evening, I started feeling the odd sensation that I was still out on the water. My head was swimming back and forth and I couldn’t get my balance. I’d be fine one minute, and gripped by wooziness the next. I figured it was dehydration, so I drank a lot of water, went to bed, and felt fine the next day.

But then last night, after the longest day on the boat yet, the swaying got worse. I almost fell over in the shower. My head started lolling back and forth of its own accord. I met a French friend of a friend for dinner and when I told him how weird I felt he nodded knowingly and pronounced, “Ah, oui, mal de terre.” Apparently, mal de terre is the flip-side of mal de mer, but with the same general sense of malaise. It happens after you spend a lot of time at sea and then return to earth. I guess my brain is confused about whether it is still out there on the waves or not. More than 24 hours after I got off the boat for the last time, and all the way back in Dakar, I am still swaying from side to side and feeling not exactly nauseous, but nevertheless pretty icky.

Anyway, the silver lining here is that I do not know any actual English word or phrase for “land-sickness,” so mal de terre is the very first French that I have ever learned before its English equivalent. I find great pleasure in that, despite the condition itself being not at all pleasurable. (I also enjoy the fact that mal de mer and mal de terre are so personifiable – I’m imagining them as Oompa Loompa-like twins whose rhyming names make them seem charming but who are actually malicious little imps.)

More once my head stops spinning…


have a delightful weekend


In the two weeks since getting back to Dakar from vacation, I’ve been attempting to create a sustainable routine, something that has been lacking since I arrived here in February. It’s been hard, since my schedule has been all over the place – sometimes out of town for work, sometimes traveling, sometimes doing nothing / half-heartedly studying French. But in order for this place to feel like home, and if I want to avoid weird jags of isolation and anxiety, I need to think of myself much as I think of my nieces and nephew: little powder-kegs waiting to explode if they don’t do the same thing at the same time every day, if they don’t get enough sleep, if they don’t eat well, and if they don’t get a chance to run around like maniacs every once in awhile.

With that in mind, I went to my first ever “aquabike” class yesterday night. My usual form of exercise is running, but it’s been way too hot for that lately. I recently discovered that the place I thought was a community pool just two blocks from my house is actually a dedicated water-biking center. You’re halfway-immersed in the water and an instructor leads you through a one-hour workout that involves a combination of spinning and calisthenics-type stuff. The trial session I went to last night was awesome mostly because I got to be outside in the night air without feeling like I was going to melt or get eaten alive by mosquitos, but also because it was a just-intense-enough workout after weeks of being a couch potato. The pricing is fairly ridiculous – going twice a week would cost about half my monthly rent – but I’ve decided it’s worth it to put something regular on my schedule that’s beneficial to my mental and physical health.

Along those same lines… tonight I’m going out dancing for the first time ever in Dakar. It’s going to be a relatively early night, though, because on Saturday I fly to Benin to start my next job (!!). I – and thus my blog – will be gone for a week, but I look forward to picking up where I left off when I get back at the beginning of October.

In the meantime, here are a few interesting and relevant Web pickings for your reading and viewing pleasure. Have a good weekend / week!

Visual journeys by six photographers to six very different countries (including Ethiopia).

I just found out that Dakar’s beautiful, wonderful car rapides are on their way out and I am so, so sad.

11 funny-because-it’s-true(ish) French travel tips for visiting America.

How (and why) you should talk to strangers when traveling.

Two different writers discuss why they travel alone as married women, here and here

[Photo from Aquabike Centre Dakar]

beautiful buildings of Dakar

I am a big fan of midcentury design in general and a huge fan of midcentury African architecture in particular. There seems to be a huge range of styles, each drawing from different regions, periods, and influences. I’ve been calling it all Midcentury African for now and promising myself to look for actual terminology and history later, whenever I find the time to go down that rabbit hole.

For months I’ve been taking pictures of my favorite of these buildings in Dakar and it’s high time I shared them… Continue reading

(get over the) hump day inspiration: Jack Canfield edition

I harbor a very strong fear of posting cheesy* motivational quotes by multi-millionaire self-help gurus on my blog, but since everything I want is on the other side of that fear, I’m doing it anyway.

*yet powerful, practical, and true



Last month I went on a whirlwind three-country tour of Ethiopia, Tanzania, and South Africa. Carrie Bradshaw once told Big, “We’re so over, we need a new word for over.” On this vacation I repeatedly told myself, “This is so amazing, I need a new word for amazing.”

This post is devoted to my Ethiopian amazement… Continue reading