my new wanderlust wish list

23955458716_87b39bf3b3_z

Four years ago I made a list of the places near and far that I most wanted to visit. At the time, I was coming out of a long student debt-induced travel lull, so I didn’t expect to cross much off the list very quickly. But I did – I lived in Senegal and I traveled to Burkina Faso, Cuba, Mexico City, and Tanzania. 

That leaves a lot of places still on the list, hopefully for one day in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, other places have captured my imagination and taken precedence. Here is an update: 

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!

It’s a small world after all

Before I leave Senegal I would like to point out that West Africa is a very small ex-patriot world. (For the purpose of this discussion, I am considering the Casablanca airport to be an extension of West Africa, because you fly through there or Abidjan to get almost anywhere else in the region. I’ve spent at least 24 hours in that airport over the course of 6 or 7 stops there this past year.)

Here are some of my most notable small world moments:

– Liberia is one of those places that, depending on which day of the week you travel from Dakar, requires a flight north to Casablanca before heading back south to Monrovia. I did that route last June, and on the first plane, I ran into a woman I had met a few weeks before. She was on her way to Niger. We shared a snack in the airport before going our separate ways.

– That wasn’t a huge coincidence. But, while deciding where to eat said snack, I saw another woman I was sure I recognized, and after she noticed me staring at her, we figured out that she had shown me around an apartment for rent in her house a few months before. She was on her way back to Dakar after a vacation in France.

– While in Liberia, I met up for drinks with one of only three friends I had made so far in Dakar. He was passing through Monrovia after being on assignment in the north part of the country and in Guinea; I was finishing up a project in the south and east part of the country. We had perhaps five hours in common in Monrovia, not the most conducive to seeing each other. But I insisted we make it work because it was such a fluke.

– On a different day in Monrovia, I was standing outside a government building when two Americans walked up, and – in a gesture of friendliness from one foreigner to another – introduced themselves to me before heading inside. I recognized one of them from a blog that I had discovered not a week before when I was Googling a tiny town in Liberia to get a better sense of what to expect. The man seemed quite embarrassed when I exclaimed, “I’ve seen your face before – on your wife’s blog!”

– Back to Dakar: In the restaurant where I regularly eat lunch and sometimes stay to work, I ran into the supervisor of several of my projects this year. He was eating dinner with his cousin, who was in town for a business trip. After exchanging a few words about what her job entails, we realized that she works very closely – as in side by side with – my former roommate in Los Angeles.

– I got off to a slow start, but little by little I met the journalists and filmmakers of Dakar. Eventually I noticed that every single one of the former New Yorkers was from the same neighborhood as me, Prospect Heights, or just over the neighborhood’s dividing line in Park Slope. One woman used to bartend at a place where I stopped in quite a bit, so it’s likely she’s served me drinks. Another guy used to live a mere three blocks from me. I can’t imagine that we wouldn’t have passed on the street at least once. Perhaps some psychic wormhole connects a five-block radius in Brooklyn to Dakar.

– A few months ago, an English friend who is researching her PhD in Senegal introduced me to her new friend, another PhD candidate from UCLA. Los Angeles is a city of 4 million people defined by its sprawl. There are hundreds of neighborhoods, almost all of them with clearly defined borders and unique character. Because as an East Coaster I didn’t know how to tell good sprawl from bad sprawl when I first moved to LA, the neighborhood I chose to live in was the exception to this rule. It lacked any and all vibes and was mostly the place where two big freeways intersected. When I told people that I lived in West L.A., they didn’t even realize it was the name of a neighborhood and not just the way to say you live in the western half of the city. All this to preface the crazy coincidence that, as it turns out, the PhD candidate and I lived on the same street, albeit 15 years apart from each other. (I told her she really needs to move.)

As I’m writing this I am becoming aware of a distinct possibility: Perhaps it is not that the ex-patriot world is so small; perhaps it is instead that I am the Kevin Bacon of ex-patriots. (I already knew that I am the Kevin Bacon of celebrity interactions. I challenge you to try me.)

[Photo: Ludovic Mauduit]

The Gambia

The last destination on my 4-country shoot in December was The Gambia. After some discussion about whether to postpone due to the political situation, we decided that it should be safe to go during the (albeit tense) lull between the time when outgoing President Jammeh reneged on his promise to accept the election results and the time when West African nations launched hard-core diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. Continue reading

Ová it

When I used to do silly things as a child, my mother would tsk tsk me, “Rootie Schtootie,” because schtoot in Hebrew means nonsense. Today I am Rootie Schtootie-ing myself on her behalf, because my idiocy / vanity has cost me my best West African adventure yet. (Though my mother – who is, to put it mildly, not a fan of my travels – will be thrilled.) Continue reading

the pleasures of uncertainty

jet trail

My lease is up this Friday, and I’ll be subletting apartments on a (crazy) month to month basis so I don’t have to sign a new lease that would force me to stay in the city beyond the end of my work contract. I’ve committed to leaving for Senegal within a month of the last day of my temporary – also month to month – contract, which could be terminated any time between October 1 and April 19. This means that if I stick to my guns, I will be in Senegal in no more than ten months. (The hope is that by writing this in a public forum, I will stick to my guns out of pride, even if courage fails me.)

Apart from a hefty dose of fear and dread, the thought of traveling on a one-way ticket to West Africa also fills me with a sense of freedom and excitement that I haven’t felt since right after college when I decided to move to Los Angeles on a whim, sight unseen, with one suitcase, without friends, without job prospects, and without knowing how to drive. That heady mix of euphoria and nausea is back, baby!

[Photo: Tarik Browne]

two weeks in a row, woot woot!

French meetup attendants

I made it to Meetup two weeks running, woohoo! Granted, I first wasted a half hour procrastinating across the street at Macy’s, which is pretty much the most hellish place in New York City aside from Times Square. This says bucketloads about how much I dread Meetups. Hopefully that feeling will subside once I make them more of a habit.

At this particular Meetup I spent most of my time talking to the two lovely folks above. One is the Chinese woman I had met very briefly last week. Her name is Anney and I found out she works in financial services. The other guy is from Mauritania and he told me he would sue me if I used his name on my blog. I think he was joking but better safe than sorry. 🙂

I was talking to him (let’s call him Pierre, because why not?) about our mutual love of West African music. Mine is a surface level love in that I only listen via a Youssou N’Dour Pandora station, and only once in a while – but I am transported when I do. Pierre recommended Baaba Maal, who I’ve just spent the last half hour bopping along to at my desk.

For your own listening pleasure, I leave you with this gem: