a walk in Dakar

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Last Saturday was the first time I really ventured out in Dakar to see the sights. Here are some of the highlights from my stroll around town.

First I walked down my street in the direction of the ocean. It’s a busy road and to cross it you have to dodge constant two-way traffic, including amazingly decorated cars rapides.

car_rapide Continue reading

le week-end is here…

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Tonight I was planning to check out an acoustic set at a restaurant only two blocks from my house… but then I got lazy. I literally haven’t been out once past 8pm since arriving in Dakar so it’s high time I get my nightlife on. Tomorrow! I’m going with someone I met at the language center to see a popular Senegalese band, Pape et Cheikh, at a club called Villa Krystal. Or we might change our minds and go to see a reggae band, Tiken Jah, at Just4U, which is apparently a very cool place in spite of its ridiculous name.

I also just found out that Youssou N’dour, whose music is half the reason I’m in love with Senegal, is playing a benefit concert at the fanciest hotel in town next Saturday. The unfortunate thing is that tickets are $100. I don’t think I’ve paid that much for a concert anywhere, ever. $100 is a small fortune here… though it’s worth a small fortune to see Youssou in his home country. Then again I’ve heard he plays here often, and I’ve also just heard about another great show the same night, so I might go to that one instead.

Anyway, it’s nice to be spoiled for choice. I hope your weekends are similarly filled to the brim with amazing options.

Here are some weekend reads, provided your internet access is not, like mine, virtually nonexistent.

What do free, open, and peaceful borders look like? 

This article about straightening out croissants is not from The Onion, but it could be.

Both this lady and her lawsuit are awesome.

“How scared or not you are is an emotion, not a statistic.” How to make rational safety decisions when it comes to travel (and many other things).

Language learning has made me more open to try new things, but unfortunately not in the way illustrated in this cute cartoon.

Two dishes tied for France’s favorite. For some reason neither of them are choucroute garnie (which came in third).

This documentary about an Afro-Cuban community’s links to Sierra Leone is on my to-see list – for the next time streaming video becomes a remote possibility.

You can now download all of NASA’s beautiful / awesome retro-style space travel posters for free.

An alfajores recipe (alfajores = best cookies on earth)

Passez un bon week-end!

[Photo: boys playing soccer one street from my host family’s house.]

And away we go…

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I’m hanging out in the Brussels airport waiting for my connection to Dakar. This is a trip 23 years in the making, and for a long time I wasn’t sure it would ever happen – I thought maybe I had let the dream die – so I’m a little amazed that I’m finally following through after so many false starts and delays.

My 13 year-old self would be so psyched for me, though she might also be like, “What took you so long?” It was in French class that year that I learned about francophone West Africa and seized upon Senegal as the most fantastic-looking place on earth. I thought about studying abroad there in college, I thought about going right after college, I thought about spending a few months there instead of going to grad school, I thought about spending a few months there after grad school, I thought about going there for vacation two years ago… I thought about it a lot over many years, but I always wimped out or felt like the timing or my financial situation wasn’t right.

And then two years ago after I returned from my vacation to Argentina, where I had gone with a decade’s worth of airline miles originally earmarked for Senegal, I decided that if I didn’t start making serious plans it would never happen – and I still really wanted it to happen. So I did start making plans, and now here I am with nothing standing between me and my long-held dream but a few hours in the airport and a six-hour flight. Not to get too epic about it – but it does feel epic in my own personal journey.

I hope I love Senegal as much as I’ve always believed I would, but even if I don’t, just stepping foot there is going to be surreal and awesome.

And with that, I’m going to go find my gate.

[The picture above was drawn by my lovely friends, who have a whimsical view of both life and my baggage situation.]

happy weekend to all and to all a good night

liza.jpgSooo… I think I may have ended up with Liza Minelli hair. Which I am surprisingly unfazed by, probably because at this point I’ve got bigger fish to fry. With the scary haircut behind me, the very very scary trip is ahead of me. One more day to do all the million things I still have to do, and then I get on a red-eye before another 7-hour flight before I start my life over, sort of, in a country where my phone, credit cards, oh and the English language, will not work.

You may or may not hear from me again before I leave, depending on how rushed and/or panicked I feel. So, please accept these weekend reads as my maybe-parting gift:

As is their wont, the French are up in arms about changes to their language

And yet they still have time to do awesome/useful things like ban supermarket waste

Inside the Delegates Lounge aka the United Nations bar

And with that… See you on the flip side, or possibly right before the flip side. Only time will tell.

[Photo: Capitu]

a très bon bon voyage

blurry_party.JPGOn Saturday I had a going away party at the same Alphabet City bar where I gathered my friends almost 15 years ago, on my last night in town the first time I left New York for parts unknown (in that case, Los Angeles). Esperanto has been trucking along at the corner of 9th and C for two decades, as oblivious to my comings and goings as the rest of the city, and that thought is oddly comforting to me. 

The place looks pretty much the same as it did in 2001, but boy has my world changed since then – or rather, boy has it expanded. 15 years ago a small band of high school and college friends came to see me off as I embarked upon adulthood with very little understanding of what that would actually mean. This past Saturday, in addition to those wonderful lifelong friends, I was surrounded by a crowd of people who were connected to me by new threads unimagined at age 21: grad school in Austin, a filmmakers collective in Brooklyn, a global humanitarian aid organization, my French conversation group, a producers guild, and a certain world body that shall remain nameless. 

The next day, someone who hasn’t known me long remarked, “You have lovely friends.” He was exactly right – they are lovely friends and lovely people.

Taking stock of them all from the back of the bar, I was a bit overwhelmed. What a beautiful reminder of the amazing amount of love and friendship and cheerleading and general awesomeness of character in my life. 

Then a French guy at a table a few feet away from me called me over to flirt/ask me if I was French. Of course I ascribed symbolic significance to this and I responded, “J’irai à Dakar la semaine prochaine pour améliorer mon français et ce soir-ci, c’est ma fête du voyage. C’est une très bon signe que tu as demandé ça!” Of course he didn’t really understand why it was a good sign, or maybe he just didn’t understand me, but either way I knew the universe was telling me to go forth and conquer French (and Frenchmen).

When the party died down my high school besties and I headed to a nearby new wave club that I’ve been going to since college. Like Esperanto, Pyramid has remained virtually unchanged since the first time I stepped through the door.

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November 2001 at Esperanto, back in the days when you could smoke in bars and people took photos on film!

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February 2016 outside Pyramid, where the concept of time is meaningless.

I am in thrall to nostalgia more than anyone I know, and it’s hard to overstate the rush of visceral emotion that washed over me when the DJ played “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” This is one of just a few songs I remember listening to and loving as a five year-old in England, which was my first (short-lived) ex-patriot experience and what probably set in motion my abiding wanderlust.

It was another powerful strike to the heart, which, combined with the deja vu of dancing with friends who I have been dancing with since I was 15, sent me into a heightened state of preemptive homesickness perfectly balanced with euphoria for the future. 

The words of the song are vague enough that I could bend them to my fancy and convince myself they were karmically delivered for that exact, ephemeral moment.

In short, it was a very good night and a very good way to say goodbye (for now).