de retour

retour a dakar

I’m writing from Dakar, where I have once again taken up residence with La Famille Lo. The eldest son and his four year-old are now living here; it’s become quite a full house and I love being reunited with all of them.

The passage of two years has brought lots of changes. Mamie (Cécile) learned how to drive and bought a car. She regularly attends Toastmasters in both French and English and when her sister, Tantie (Armande), isn’t available, she pitches Tantie’s organic juice company to potential vendors and investors. She’s also busy dreaming up business ideas of her own. All of this blows my mind since during the year I lived with Mamie, she consistently and continually expressed fear – even panic – at the idea of both driving and public speaking. Her confidence seems to have grown by leaps and bounds and it’s a wonderful thing to witness.

Tantie, meanwhile, graduated from university and did an apprenticeship of sorts with an organic farm in the countryside. Then she launched her company, which in addition to selling homemade juices, also connects organic farmers in Senegal with produce markets in Dakar. She recently won two separate incubator grants and went to Egypt as part of one of the programs. It was her first time on a plane as well as her first time out of the country, and she loved every minute of it.

Third-born Andre graduated from his master’s program and started working at a fancy downtown hotel, in their human resources department. I now see him in suits more often than not. The eldest son, meanwhile, was working in the IT department of a bank when I was here last time; now he’s with a government ministry, which sounds like a big step up.

And Mr. And Mrs. Lo are plugging along as usual. The only big difference in their lives seems to be the addition of a mischievous child keeping their hands full. I guess less changes when you’re in your 60s and 80s than when you’re in your 20s and 30s.

I got into town on the 4th of January but left before dawn on the 6th for my Benin-Togo-Ghana adventure and only returned on the 17th. That means I haven’t actually spent much time in Dakar yet. I’m looking forward to settling in, and to sharing pictures from my trip as soon as I get myself situated.

A bientôt, alors…

Allez les Lions! (Also, Vamos, vamos Argentina!)

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Less than a year and a half ago, I boarded a plane in Dakar bound for New York. As I stepped off the collapsible staircase and through the door of the plane, I realized that I had effectively left Senegalese soil and I had to hold back tears. A few drops squeezed out despite my best efforts and as they slowly rolled down my cheeks, I imagined that I must look like a bad French new wave film.

Before I realized that the cabin crew was 100% American, I apologetically explained to the flight attendant whose eye I had accidentally caught, “Je pars…,” and then I trailed off sheepishly. She smiled at me with the truly soft and sympathetic look of someone who has borne witness to this scene a million times, and she said simply, “I know.” I am not sure she did actually know what I had said, but she knew what my tears meant. I am leaving. I don’t know when I’ll be back. And it feels like I’m leaving a bit of my heart behind.

I thought of that moment on Tuesday evening as I crossed over the East River from Manhattan into Brooklyn. The sun was setting, and New York was at its most beautiful. Earlier that morning I had been briefly and emotionally reunited with the country I hadn’t been ready to leave, and it was wonderful.

That’s all a very melodramatic way to say that I watched the Senegal v. Poland game from a Senegalese cafe in Crown Heights, and I ate Senegalese food for the first time since being in-country, and I heard Wolof and West African-accented French all around me, and when Senegal won I may as well have been in Dakar for all the joy in me and surrounding me.

I am so thankful that New York is a city where you can experience a little bit of the magic of every other country on earth. And it is especially magical at World Cup time.

I’m going back to the cafe on Sunday for the Senegal v. Japan game and what I hope is a repeat of the euphoria of victory. (I won’t even get into the sadness of the Argentina v. Croatia game. I’m hoping for a miraculous turnaround that allows Argentina to advance and Messi to stop looking so forlorn.)

As we go into the weekend, I leave you with a few moments of Team Senegal adorableness.

This is why I ride with Senegal, indeed.

My Dakar places

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On Valentine’s Day two years ago, I flew to Dakar. So much has happened since then that it feels more like a decade.

It also feels like I left Dakar ages ago, but it’s actually only been eleven months, which is so unbelievable to me that I redid the math twice. Still, eleven months is long enough to lose touch with a place, and the list I’m about to post may be a little outdated. But I’ve been promising it to myself and others for too long to let it evaporate. And things change far more slowly in Dakar than in New York, so even though there are surely new places to discover, almost all of these old places could still be going strong. (I’ll edit the post accordingly if I learn differently.)

Without further ado, and in no particular order, my favorite places in Dakar… Continue reading

my Senegal playlist

Before I left Senegal I gathered all the West and Central African songs that I had either heard for the first time and loved, or learned to love better, while in Dakar and I put them onto an itunes playlist. I just transferred them into a Spotify playlist so that I can share them with you:

If you are eagle-eyed / eagle-eared you will notice that one of these things is not like the others… I heard “Prayer in C” for the first (and second, and third, and fourth) time during a twelve-hour stint in the Casablanca airport and it grew on me so much that I googled the lyrics to identify it. When I got back to Dakar I downloaded it on itunes and continued to play it repeatedly, so that it is now inextricably linked with my time in Senegal even though the song is French.

Following my foray into French new wave, my next digging project is to find the best of Nigerian and Ghanian highlife music. Any ideas about what’s good, let me know!

my favorite pictures from Dakar

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Because I’m in NYC feeling reverse homesickness, if you will, here are the pix that I love the most from my time in Dakar.

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The architecture I love combined with the car rapides that I love = a feast for the eyes.IMG_7236 copy

On Tamkharit (or Tamxarit), a week after the Islamic new year, Muslim friends and relatives of the family I lived with brought around huge bowls of a spiced millet couscous and a sweet stew called thiere. The picture above represents perhaps half of the generosity shown to the Lo family by their Dakarois neighbors. On every holiday, I was touched by how many people stopped by to visit and drop off food. IMG_7436 copy

And on my own holiday – Thanksgiving – I made an American feast for the family. It was a really fun night.

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I went with Mamie and Tantie Lo to a fabric market to pick out material for a dress Mamie needed made before a wedding. She waded deep into the piles upon piles of fabric and I love the expression on her face as she listened to Tantie advising her from the street.IMG_7119 copy

And I love this one of Tantie and Mamie and me. We were getting “sundowners,” as they call sunset drinks in Dakar (I could never figure out if this was a British or French expression), at a hotel bar overlooking the ocean.

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One morning I came downstairs to catch everyone in the household in the same exact pose. I found it fairly adorable.

I loved living with the Lo’s. They were endlessly warm and welcoming, and through them I learned what daily life is really like in Dakar. (I also got incredible French practice.)

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Seeing Youssou N’Dour from front row seats on the eve of Senegalese Independence Day was hands down my best night in Dakar.

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One day many months into my stay in Dakar, I happened upon this baguette truck in my neighborhood. From then on I saw it everywhere, and I swooned every time. IMG_20170211_233743081 copy 2One of my last nights out was for a women’s association event hosted by the matriarch of the Lo family. A Tuareg man from Timbuktu, Mali was at the table next to mine, and until the “Parade of Nations” at like 2 in the morning, I didn’t realize that he was carrying a sword as part of his traditional dress for that parade. I thought he must trot it out for every special occasion, and I was in awe. Just goes to show: never draw conclusions based on observations of cultures that are unfamiliar to you.IMG_20170214_161939270 copy 2

My last month in Dakar, I raced my way through every spot left on my “to see” list. Yoff beach was one of those places, and once I saw it I regretted not having come earlier so that I could revisit. It is miles of beachfront, at one end of which is where many of Dakar’s fishers dock their boats. The line-up of brightly painted pirogues, the wandering sheep, the horse-drawn carts, and the fishermen and fish market saleswomen running to and fro creates a very picturesque tableau.

And now, I turn tearfully back to the reality of New York in the supposed Spring…

12 months, 12 countries

I came to Senegal hoping I’d be lucky enough to see a bit of this country and a few others nearby. Things worked out beyond my wildest dreams, and I ended up visiting 12 new countries in 12 months, a personal record. Half the trips were for work, half for vacation, but all of them were a pleasure to see. (Though they were definitely not pleasurable at every moment, to say the least.)

I’ll share my favorite pictures from Dakar later, but first, here in one place are my travelogues from all the countries I visited from last February to this January.

Senegal: the western and northern parts, and a central / southern part

Portugal

Morocco: Marrakech and Casablanca

Liberia

Ethiopia

Tanzania: safari on the mainland and Zanzibar

South Africa: Cape Town and Johannesburg

Benin

Mauritania

Burkina Faso

The Gambia

Cape Verde: Cidade Velho, Praia, and Mindelo, and the island of Santo Antão

And with that, I’m off to the airport, America-bound…

handmade in Senegal

Just in case my baggage gets lost en route to New York, here are the clothes I had made from the fabric I bought in Senegal, Benin and Ethiopia.

The only thing I didn’t end up liking is the blue, orange, and yellow shirt (top row, center). It was supposed to be a fairly androgynous camp shirt just like this zebra one.

But it turned out looking more like a woman’s leisure suit jacket from the 70s. I gave it to Mamie and somehow it looks awesome on her.

The zebra shirt, by the way, is the only thing I ordered from a different tailor than Adama Paris. I walked by a children’s clothing shop, Bapribap, in my neighborhood one day and saw the cutest zebra shirt for little boys, along with an adorable wax-print romper for little girls. I went in and asked if they could make them in adult sizes, and indeed they could. So I ordered one zebra shirt for me and one for my 2 year-old nephew. 🙂 A few weeks ago I went back to the shop and bought something like nine other outfits for my nieces and my friends’ babies. They are all going to look so cute, just the thought of it makes me giddy. Plus I was really happy to support the business of someone I became friends with over the course of my year here. Annica is awesome, and she happens to be married to the reporter I worked with a few months ago (who I met separately, because like I said, it’s a small ex-patriot world).

All in all, not a bad haul, huh?