Lost in translation

impregnatedmatchesI can’t even begin to guess what they meant to communicate…

But now I can’t stop picturing bigger-round-the-middle mama matches giving birth to tiny baby matches.

Speaking of lost in translation… I’m off to Portugal tonight, to meet my friend for a much-needed vacation from my vacation that has turned out to be anything but a vacation. Two days after I get back it looks likely that I will start another video job. So I may be a little MIA for awhile…

I got the goods at HLM


I finally went to the city’s biggest fabric market last week. Dutch wax fabric, or bazin, is my inanimate spirit animal (an oxymoron, I know), and HLM is the best place in Dakar to buy it. It’s vast and magnificent, and I put off going until I felt mentally prepared to handle that vastness and magnificence without blowing my entire sabbatical’s budget on tissu alone.

I am happy to report that I came back with a mere 8 yards of fabric in 2 different prints. I showed quite a bit of restraint but only because I was so overwhelmed by all the colors and patterns and textures that I tuned out in order to prevent myself from internally combusting.

Here’s my haul:


Not sure yet what I’ll use them for, which is why I bought 4 yards of each. That’s enough for a full dress or a set of two big pillowcases. (It is very, very cheap to have clothing and linens made to order here, and judging from the perfectly curve-hugging dresses the women wear, the tailors seem to be very, very good.)

I also made an unexpected non-fabric purchase after becoming enthralled with all the sparkly shoes on offer. It started innocently enough. I went into a store to document the awe-inspiring amount of bling filling the shelves.



Everything was over the top bedazzled in the way that Senegalese women seem to love.

To wit:


I was feeling like an anthropologist cooly detached from my subject matter, until I studied some of the shoes individually and my bemusement gave way to non-ironic admiration, and then to obsession. I had to have a pair. That pair turned out to be these:


They seemed like something Betty Grable would have worn while lounging on a velvet divan in her dressing room on the set of films from the golden age of Hollywood.

Since bringing them home, however, I have realized that they are actually more like my four year-old niece’s princess shoes.


The purchase appears to have set off some strange shift in me, because minutes later I became enamored of these:


If they had fit better, I would have bought them, too. I asked the friend I was with, “Have I been in Senegal too long or are these legitimately the coolest shoes you’ve ever seen?” Her look gave me my answer.

Note to self: no more shoe purchases in Senegal.

Two years of “talk foreign to me” and two months of talking French while foreign


Today marks two years since I wrote this blog’s first entry. I also wrote the “about” page that day. I just revisited both and was awestruck / deeply shocked at having done exactly what I set out to do up to this point, exactly on schedule.

Until I went to grad school, which I did not quit despite many moments of thinking I might, and where I learned and made things I once felt incapable of, I never really followed through on any of my dreams, big or small. The first one I remember extinguishing way before its time was becoming a ballerina. I took ballet lessons for three years in grade school but quit when I got impatient for toe shoes. I would have toppled right over, having barely learned a thing, but I wasn’t in it for the dancing – I was in it to wear tutus and feel pretty. Black leather ballet flats did not cut it.

I similarly harbored yet too quickly abandoned grand dreams related to ice skating, clarinet, drums, guitar, baseball, about six diaries, marine biology, anthropology, being a humanitarian aid worker, and, until two years ago – living abroad and learning another language fluently.

It took 25 years on this earth to figure out that any dream worth having doesn’t magically come true without a ton of effort (and in the case of grad school, a ton of money – that’s a pretty effective carrot on a stick).

It’s been more than 10 years since I turned myself around, but it still feels momentous any time I take responsibility for making something that I want to happen actually happen. The second anniversary of this blog feels momentous in two ways. First of all, personal writing is one of the things that I started and quit and started and quit all the time as a kid but have now managed to do consistently for nine years. That makes me pretty happy.

Much more importantly, the blog represents the commitment I made to my grandest plan: spending two years saving money and practicing French and Spanish so that by February 2016 I could move to Dakar and then somewhere in Argentina to become fluent. The idea itself had come to me not long before, during the very, very depressed week after I returned from the best vacation of my life in Argentina, to gray skies and snow-covered ground in New York. I remember getting back from the airport, dropping my bag on the floor, bursting into unexpected sobs, and wondering how I had not noticed that I was muddling through life in New York while neglecting a lifetime’s worth of (admittedly crazy) lists of all the places I wanted to live and languages I wanted to speak and jobs I wanted to do.

Other countries and languages came and went (Kenya, South Africa, Spain; Swahili, Czech, Arabic), but Senegal and French were always at the top of those lists. And now I’m in Senegal, (quasi-)speaking French, and my blog has transformed from a repository for my unhatched dreams to a witness to their unfolding.

So here’s to two years of Talk Foreign to Me and many more years of actually talking foreign.


Argentina, day one: February 10, 2014 (first selfie ever, in a bathroom, because I’m classy; and the endlessly fascinating Recoleta Cemetery)



Senegal, day 60-something: April 21, 2016


(I’m at a fancy hotel on the Corniche after having given a presentation to a bunch of intergovernmental agency comms people on storytelling through video, in English, with conversation in French – including French accents from all over West Africa and Europe. It was nail-biting, the fear that I would not understand what was being said during a discussion that I was charged with leading. But I made it through, understanding 90% of it and faking my way through the rest, and then I got to eat lunch at an ocean-side table.)

Can you tell what this thing does?


The first time I encountered it in my host family’s house I assumed it was simply an incense burner… because the smell of incense was coming from it. Then I freaked out when I saw my host sister rest her feet on top of it. I assumed the iron grill was incredibly hot (there was a ton of charcoal ash below) and that she either had superhuman feet or was about to get burned to a crisp.


In fact, the iron grill is intended expressly for resting feet upon, to warm them up. Like a British hot water bottle, but with bonus features. I suppose the incense is to counteract the scent of warm smelly feet wafting through the air.


It’s fascinating to me how so many of the same things are actually quite different country by country. 

In related news, as my 7-week homestay was drawing to an end last month, I checked out several apartments to move into, all north of here in more happening parts of town. But I ended up staying on with my host family after they offered to keep putting me up (putting up with me?) as long as I’m in town. I get along with them well and get tons of (and some days my only) French practice with them, so it seemed like the best option, even though it feels a little like being 17 again.

That has been awkward at times. But it’s also been oddly reassuring to finally be doing the French study abroad semester I regret not having done in my youth. A four-month homestay – just like this one is turning out to be – would have been my setup had I gone to Dakar back in my junior year of college. Better 15 years late than never.

a quandary


Note: No one cares about the stuff I drone on and on about below, except for me and perhaps a few other frustrated people searching the Internet for answers to their paludisme prevention pains. So feel free to stop reading right here, I won’t mind.

Commence rant:

Apart from endless sexual and other harassment, which I will write about when I have the energy to channel all the rage and frustration it inspires, my biggest issue here is self-made, in a manner of speaking. The doxycycline that I was taking as a malaria prophylactic was making me nauseous and giving me terrible acid reflux every single day. If my stomach was anything less than 100% full of 100% non-greasy food (which is pretty hard to find here), my gag reflex would go off apropos of nothing. I was in the middle of filming an interview, for example, when a wave of nausea washed over me and in order to fight it back, I had to turn away from the interview subject as she was speaking, and just stare at the ground while gripping my chair for a few minutes. Not great. I felt like a pregnant woman because I was always snacking and always suffering from something akin to morning sickness, a queasiness that was more in my head than my stomach.  Continue reading

the weekend is here!


My big plans? I’ll be eating Cape Verdean food while listening to Cape Verdean music, before buckling down for a weekend of editing. I wanted to go to either the park or the beach but I’m feeling a bit behind on my work, so the park and the beach will have to wait.

Here are some interesting and relevant-to-this-blog articles that I read over the past couple of weeks:

Is Spain saying adios to siestas? This makes me sad.

I like the concept of segmented sleep and I love that the French have a word for the in-between times.

Sweden has a Chatroulette-like hotline. It sounds neat.

More swoon-worthy words from Teju Cole, a man whose writing I have never not loved.

My father’s homeland is having an identity crisis. (Its distinctly absurdist perspective appears to remain intact.)

We are now living in the future, thanks to Japan (of course).

The paradox of finding motivation through fear.

A British TV show host on the French: “The language is useless and their achievements are long past.” (I find British-French feuding adorable.)

Advice for women on the road.

Good news for people like me in Paris.

New Yorkers: Youssou N’Dour will be back at BAM in May!

Enjoy your weekends!

a prequel to Youssou


It’s a shame I couldn’t get around to writing about Youssou til more than a week later, but I was busy preparing for and then going on a second pick-up shoot in the Kaolack region over the weekend. 

Speaking of that shoot… here is the moment when the women of Forou Serer, a tiny village of 300 people, showed me what’s what when it comes to celebrating.

I literally get high off of the music and dancing in this country.

Please enjoy this video as a preview of the profound awesomeness that is to come… Up next, YOUSSOU!!! 

Toubab Dialaw

SoboBade1Last week I hopped in the car for a quick afternoon excursion with two people from the language center (one teacher, one student), to a beach town less than an hour outside Dakar. The visit started with omelettes and ice cream at a cool hotel / artist complex built by a now 90 year-old Haitian man who came fleeing political persecution in the 60’s and decided to stay. Continue reading

my weekend with Youssou

Youssou_a_DakarTickets in hand for Youssou N’Dour on Sunday. I’m so excited about this show that I would pay good money just to fast forward the clock a couple of days.

Acquiring concert tickets here is quite a different beast than in the United States. It’s quite a bigger beast, I should say. Whatever, bygones. We have tickets and all is right with the world.

I don’t have any weekend reads to share this week except for this one, which makes me want to seriously dial back my encouragement to get to Cuba. I hadn’t considered how an influx of visitors could further deprive Cubans who have very little to begin with. 😦

Passez un bon week-end, tout le monde!