December 23, 2004

Madagascar here I come!

So I'm leaving for Madagascar tonight! A much needed vacation after having worked non-stop for...5 months.

OK, I'm sure you don't feel very sympathetic to my needs for a vacation but please keep in mind that I'm been dealing with a move to another country, a split up of the family (parents, bro and dog in Madagascar, moi in Senegal, and sis in Canada), a new job, new friends, a new way of life and let's not forget, a full 5 months of the dreaded toursita (otherwise know as chronic stomach troubles).

Thanks for your compassion. Please donate to the Poor Dorothee fund.

December 22, 2004

There are days

There are days when all I want to do is hop in a teletransporting machine and be back in the comfort of good old Washington DC...where I can bike on paths, where I can sit down at a book store and read a book, where there are books, where there are stores, where my work isn't my life.

Then I look at the sunset and the never failing bird-gathering at dusk and I think that maybe, just maybe, I can last a little longer here.

December 16, 2004

The Sounds of a Power Shortage

On/off, that's the lightbulb that suffers from low wattage and hesitates to come on or turn off

In/out, that's the croissant furtively testing the temperature of the morning tea as Dorothee tries to gobble her breakfast in the office kitchen

Clickity click click, clickety click click, that's the computer power box that feeds the hard drive when the power is out

Chak, chak, chak, those are the key from the typewriter when the secretary is filling in a carbon-copied form

Clac, clac, clac, that's high-heels of the secretary in the office

Ring ring ring, that's the impatient, insistent telephone

The power is low this morning and tentatively deciding whether to come on or not. Half the hallway lights are on, giving the office a dim, "the shinning/Stanley Kubrick"-like feel. As I eat my morning croissant, the lights flicker on and off and I play the "now you see it, now you don't!" game with my croissant. In and out, off and on, in and off, out and on.

The secretary has an urgent form to fill in and enters my office when power seems to have come back up. She clac clac clacs into my office, switches the ancient type-writer on and Chak, chak, chaks away until the power turns off. Then she clac clac clacs out again only to come back when the power seems to be on. She does this 5 times until she is finally done.

The only thing working on a regular basis is the phone and it is out for revenge this morning. Ring ring ring.

As I laboriously use pen to paper, I discover what my hand-writing looks like all over again.

Off. Collective staff grumbles. Clickity click click, clickety click click of the power boxes. I cannot see my croissant going in my tea. Ring ring ring.
On. Mad rush to the type-writer. Quick Clac, clac, clac followed by scrambling Chak, chak, chak. I can see my croissant for an instant and take a large bite of it before the power turns off again. Ring ring ring.
Off. Collective grumbles from the staff. All the lights flicker out of sink.

Sigh. Life must have been so quiet in the days before electricity.

December 13, 2004

Oh Christmas Tree!

I never thought I would say this but *shudder* I actually miss Christmas trees and decorations in stores, special holiday discounts and, worst of all, holiday songs! For some reason I have "Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells Rock...Dancing and Prancing... that's the Jingle Bells Rock" stuck in my head. Surely there are prettier songs out there?

I took it upon myself to dig out the plastic tree from the office storage. My colleague and I agreed to go with a gaudy decoration theme and overloaded its poor branches with tinsel, cheesy felt Santas and little dangling disco balls. Ah, now it feels more like Christmas. Now, if only I could find a bad Christmas CD in the street of Dakar. Heck, I'd even settle for the Mariah Carey special.

Bumped into a friend at the supermarket and we lamented over the lack of proper Christmas trees in the city. As we exited the store, much to our surprise, we saw a huge (a HUGE) Christmas tree. It was all decorated and in a nice pot. There was a guard next to it (should we be tempted to steal the decorations I imagine). We looked at it with awe, felt it branches and even bent the bottom branches to smell, just to authenticate it. Folks, it was a real tree. The guard thought we were crazy but our little hearts were warmed.
I went to the beach for the weekend and, again, have a nasty sunburn. Which makes me smile at how ridiculous it is to get a sunburn on the 12 of December. Ha! My heart goes out to those in Montreal and the northern US states.

The Taxi Incident

It's been exactly 9 days since the Taxi Incident happened and I still haven't written about it. Folks, I'm loosing my blogging edge.

I was supposed to attend an office party on the 4th of December at my Big Boss' house. Keen to make a good impression (without looking too stuffy), I put on my best pair of jeans (my only pair too but at least it was clean), a neat little tee-shirt, nice pointy shoes and make-up.

As per usual, I'm apprehensive about taking the taxi, having to negociate without getting conned out of a measly 2 extra dollars. I finally gather my courage, get a fair price and drive to my friend's house to pick her up. She lives in a nice residential neighborhood, which basically means that you see a lot more goats than in the city center, the roads aren't paved and the people are not nagging you to buy their stuff.

The second taxi is a little harder to negotiate since we have to pass by the foire on the way up. This is a huge market that gathers artisans from various countries in Africa (and the ubiquitous bad quality electronics from China) once in a year. We loose about 5 taxis who drive off in a huff, offended by our asking price.

Finally we get a taxi at a not so fair price but what the heck, by now we are late. Of course, the traffic is jammed packed and people are honking, chickens on the roofs of buses are getting impatient and you can cut through the exaust fumes with a knife. Our little taxi guy gets annoyed and decides that he needs to find another astute way of getting us there. Which requires us to drive over the divider to incoming traffic...the divider basically being an mound of sand...

I'm sure you can imagine what happens next. We get hopelessly stuck. The more he revs up his engine, the more we sink in the sand. He gets up to move the sand with his hands and his flip-flops. After watching him struggle for 5 or 10 mins, I take my shoes off, roll my jeans up and help him dig, much to the amusement of those stuck in their cars, watching a prim and proper white girl dig wheels out. Then I try to push the car. Which should be hilarious to anyone who knows how weak my arms are.

Suddenly, a group of 5 strong teenagers appear on the road, chatting and laughing. When they see us stuck, they laugh and point to me, saying I should push the car. I explain, calmly, that I'm a weakling, but hey maybe it would be a great idea if they could all help me push the car. They enthusiastically help me push and the car whizzed off to the other side of the road (I am suddenly glad that I have my shoes in my hand and not in the taxi). Teenaged girls are great. A teenaged boy pretends to help us push at the last minute and asks for money (Which of course I refused). Teenaged boys are icky. I thank them profusely and run to catch the cab.

Back at my boss' house, dusty and hot, I convey my story to a colleague. She looks at me with pity (pity at my stupidity) and says "I would have left the taxi and gotten another one". D'oh! Why didn't I think of that?

December 06, 2004

I'm back!

So I've been gone for a measly little week and all I hear from you people is "How come you didn't update your blog", "where are you, I miss your posts", "I'm near-suicidal from not having any news from you". Sheesh people, get a grip (actually no one noticed I was gone, sob...).

Where have I been you ask? I went to Mbour, a little resort town on the east Coast of Senegal full of tourists, resorts and artificial African dancing. Did I enjoy my time at the beach, by the palm trees, while being served fruit cocktails? Excellent question my friends. I didn't actually go for ENJOYMENT. Noooo. I went to participate in a workshop on the response of the Ministries of Education of 9 West African countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. So that must have been exciting huh? Nope, it was actually horrendous. OK so I'm exaggerating a little bit here. Basically, it was a week-long conference populated with professors who are used to being listened to.

Typical comment : "Well, honorable person A, respected person B, honorable person C, Ministry of health of countries 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, organizers and fellow participants, if I may please humbly impart my opinion of this matter. When one considers the issues about the the teachers, and here I open a parenthesis to say that their job is a particularly hard one especially in the realm of..., are the key to..." on and on for ten minutes.

Translation of typical comment : "teachers have a hard job".

Jeeze! Did you really have to be so verbose to say that? Now imagine that typical comment X 150 participants X 5 days. Now you can begin to understand why I was considering driving nails through my eyes to alleviate the pain. Oh the insanity!

I did get to meet some great people though. The Mauritanians looked so smart and practical in their oxford shirts and overlapping long flowing and embroidered tops like herdsmen in the desert. They told us that scorpion bites were not fatal, just very painful (and they should know, they’ve been bitten 7 times) but that the desert hold spiders that are so deadly that one only has time to say “ouch!…”. They told me that tea should only be made on a traditional stove where the heat starts off high and gradually cools down.

I got a chance to discuss polygamy with women, after months of hearing its benefits from the men. And let me tell you men, women are not as enthused as you are about the notion of sharing their men with other wives. As a matter of fact, when it seems like your 3 wives are getting along, it’s probably because there are laughing and discussing how stoopid you are. Sorry to burst your bubble but women do not like polygamy. End of story.

Halfway through the week, I started feeling like men had joked way too often about the possibility of me becoming their second wife. Whereas I used to laugh at the notion and shrug it off, I now find myself answering, “sorry I can’t marry you, I’d love to but my parents would be upset if I became someone’s second wife”. If they insist, I have to remind them that my religion forbids it. I had to decline an invitation to walk along the beach with a middle-aged man. It's far from the first time.

On Thursday I saw a huge reptile scurrying along the road. And by huge, I mean huge. It was the size a small Alligator in Florida. No joke. I wonder what it eats to become so big. I hope it’s not white health workers.

Just as we left, 4 buses full of tourists (you can recognize them by their shorts, excruciatingly white hairy legs, baseball caps, bad hair dies and oh-so-cool-I-paid-more-for-these-than-your-annual-salary sunglasses). They were welcomed by cheers, drumming, “traditional” African dancing and a warm handshake from the organizers. I was actually jealous of this reception! Where was my “thanks for helping us prevent HIV/AIDS” handshake?

On the way back, I decided to take the communal participant bus back to Dakar. It’s a blessing I didn’t have a headache because the participants were loud, brash and in a joking mood (to tell you the truth, they were probably just relieved to be out of the conference). Our luggage was on top of the swaying bus and I was anxiously glaring at the people congregating around the bus each time it would stop. I had a long time to look at the scenery on the way back. Life here is really lived outside: it’s where people keep their goats, braid each other’s hair, carve wood to make pirogues, mend their fences to keep the goats out of the road, hang huge slabs of fly-covered meat (and then quickly paint the word “Butchers” on the hook next to it), chill out by a palm tree or a baobab, shine other people’s shoes and sell 3-day old newspapers. I also saw unnaturally bright orange termite mounds, white mountains of salt, telecenters (consisting of a chair and a telephone), Alimentation General stores (full of rickety shelves with cans of vegetables next to old batteries next to coca cola bottles, next to sacks of wheat).
I was actually relieved to smell the decomposing fish and open sewer odor that is Dakar.

November 24, 2004

Ode (and apology) to the gas seller

Oh Gas Seller!
You are so great,
here I was just two days ago
snarkily saying "gas? maybe tomorrow, maybe in a month"
when you said yesterday that
gas had arrived just after I had left.

Oh Gas Seller!
Now I can eat hot foods and
junk those saltines that
have been the staple of my diet
for way too long.

Thank you. Thank you very much. I have to give credit to my year in Japan for this great haiku-like composition.

November 23, 2004

My kingdom for some gas

Since it is the end of Ramadan, the twins have been reunited. Upon returning to the kitchen and hearing their jibber jabber, I realized that I had really missed them. Ah, to be Siamese again! Today, the custodian introduced them to the wonders of the microwave. Much like Vanna White smiling stiffly while turning those letters around, he showed them various features of the white box. They exclaimed their wonder in the same voice ranges.

My boss wanted to get tea but unfortunately, the teacup just ran out of hot water. So I arranged for some hot water to be heated in the microwave. Behold the wonder of the microwave! I think that I scored serious points. I am patiently waiting my end of year bonus :)

I ran out of gas about two weeks ago, in the midst of cooking myself a monster meal. I
discovered that half cooked pasta and veggies are pretty inedible. I've been so lazy about getting
new gas that I decided instead to eat the following items:
(1) fruit (does not need to be cooked),
(2) bread (does not need to be cooked),
(3) paté (does not need to be cooked),
(4) crakers (do not need to be cooked),
(5) cheese (does not need to be cooked).
Whoever said that necessity was the mother of invention was a pure genius (although some
would argue in this case that laziness is the grandmother of invention). Yesterday I got around
to asking two stores if they had any gas. Seems like there's a Dakar-wide shortage.
D'oh. Serves me right.

November 22, 2004

Of Mice (and Cockroaches and Grubs) and Men

(Alternative title, "Lions and Tigers and Bears...and Mice and Cockroaches and Grubs...oh my!". I'm so witty I amaze myself sometimes.

My little baobab trees on the balcony were looking quite sad the other day and my persistent talking to them, watering them and preening of their leaves further threw them into a funk. I decided that the only way to revive them was to apply fertilizer. Problem: where the heck can you find fertilizer in Dakar? Alas, there are many clothing stores but not a single flower nursery to be found (OK that's a lie but they're too far from my house and damned if I'm going to negotiate with a taxi just to get there).

Dorothy had this brilliant idea to Make Her Own Compost! No only would it revive her plants but she would take an active part in Saving the World through Recycling. My hippy friends would be proud.

I took a bucket, promptly filled it with vegetable matter and cut newspaper. Every day I used my spatula to move the rotting foodstuff around, shoo the fruit flies away and aerate it to "create aerobic conditions within the composting chamber". It all went fine and dandy until I decided to add Niebe, the African equivalent of a potato. Big mistake! Not only did the Niebe take forever to rot but it smell quite unpleasant and attracted little white grubs. I thought this was not a danger until I got up one morning to hang my clothes on the line, only to feel wet things burst between my toes. The balcony was overrun with little white grubs wiggling and giggling, trying desperately to find something more filling than Niebe. Eeewwwwww! I ran to wash my feet, promptly disposed of my compost (encased in TWO sturdy plastic bags).

To make matter worse, I noticed little black specks behind my living room curtains. This is very much indicative of mouse poop and I swear to Allah, if I find it, it's toast. Then I went to throw the mice poop and the maggoted compost in the garage, only to find myself doing an elaborate dance to miss the multitude of cockroaches.

And I hoped I would get to see Wildlife. Moral: Be careful what you wish for.

November 19, 2004

Japan, meet Senegal.

Yesterday I went to a free Jazz concert, organized by the Japanese Embassy, in Dakar.

Or, as my friend puts it: "We were a group of Americans, Canucks, Swedes, Brits and French; watching Japanese Jazz players, in Senegal". Pretty sweet.

4 stuffy older Japanese men came on the scene and played a pretty believable set of Jazz songs, with the egotistical drummer and attention-craving Sax player to make it more authentic.

I liked the piano man the best. He was sitting prim and proper on his little bench. But when it came time for the piano solo, this guy really knew how to rock: his hands fluttered as quickly as bumble bees' wings and his mouth huffed and puffed like that of an old man chewing food with what little dentition is left. When he would get very excited, he would take his coat off and fling it on the floor and end his act with a curt little bow. When others were playing, his face would twitch and convulse.

It's hard to be a Bass man. First of all, it's difficult not to look ridiculous holding what looks like a grossly overblown violin. But the guy was cool and chilled, like you would expect any bass player in a jazz band to be like. He was clearly enjoying the music in a muted way, awkward in his holding position of the instrument, he would jut his chin in and out in syncopated rhythm and do a little shoulder and hip shimmy. The coordination of his hand movements was enthralling, with the hand on the top picking the strings, and the hand on the bottom composing noticeably more difficult combinations.

The Sax person seemed to be very needy of attention. He was good but hit those whinny notes too often for my taste (you know, the ones that sound like a hysterical lady or a teenage boy with a breaking voice). He'd get really close to the mic, put the opened portion of his sax against it and belt it out, often to the detriment of his band mates and our sensitive ears. Of course, holding a sax is difficult but there is a range of motions that are ultimately cooler than that of the Bass man. You can sway back and forth and curve your spin inwards for example, you can move your sax up and down with a little shake o'the head, and you can generally walk around with it in a cool strut and a little weird dance.

The Drum man was good and he knew it. While the other players generally took their solos in stride and played a variation of the music piece, the drummer, when left to his own devices, would sway off the piece completely and show us his crazy moves. While his moves were impressive, they broke the rhythm of the song, and the team work that one so relishes in jazz, was disregarded completely. My friends called him "the ego-maniacal drummer".

An impressive part of the show was when the drummer showcased his skills on the Balafon: he partnered with a Senegalese player using a set of hollow bowls, ordered from smallest to largest, topped with a wooden xylophone. The effect was terrific, hearing an African beat and a Japanese variation on it, and reaffirmed the coolness of discovering other cultures.

Who would have thought the Japan would meet Senegal in such a harmonious way?

This is a Balafon Posted by Hello

November 16, 2004

De We Ne Tti!

(Good year and many more).

To which you respond "Fe Kel De We Nee" (and you too).
Then of course, you feel obliged to say "Bal Ma Akh" (forgive me for all the wrongs I have done to you), which prompts the response "Bal Na La" (you are forgiven). This is the intricate greeting pattern that one must use after Ramadan.

Of course, I'm relieved. Relieved that I can drink a glass of water in public again, relieved that the taxi men will be less impatient now (ya right, I'm just dreaming), relieved that the traffic will be lighter as people are not rushing home before 6:45 (time when they can finally eat again after a whole day of fasting).

I celebrated Korite on Saturday, which marks the end of Ramadan. Some people chose to celebrate it one day later as this should coincide with the first showing of the moon--although I suspect that it's more about One Upmanship: showing how strong you are for having fasted one more day. This Ramadan period was particularly rough as the weather was unusually hot each and every day.

While I find the idea of fasting beautiful and spiritual, I am troubled by the construction workers that have to lift and tug cement block in the noon sun all day. As they are drenched with sweat, I shake my head thinking that surely it can't be good that they can't even indulge in one little meager glass of water. But no, Ramadan is very sacred. To the point where one should not use eye drops or this would spoil the fasting. As a matter of fact, one should not even swallow one's own saliva. Doesn't this seem a little rigid? I don't know.

I celebrated Korite with a colleague. Korite usually consists of eating a huge lunch with friends and family, preferably with some nice grilled meat on the side. I had BBQed sheep liver. Yum (I swear I am not being sarcastic, I love liver). Then you should don your best regalia (in the Muslim tradition, these are long flowing pants and shirts and BouBou's for women) and go around your neighborhood shaking everyone's hands and smiling a lot. The children go around collecting some coins. It's like Halloween without the chocolate. Or the costumes. Or the fake blood. Sigh, I miss Halloween.

The end of Ramadan also means that all but two of the beggars hanging out by my neighborhood Mosque are gone. I'm going to miss them dearly. De We Ne Tti!

November 11, 2004

Saint Louis

This was our last view of Saint Louis Posted by Hello

Pelican in the Djoudj park Posted by Hello

Soaking up the sun on a boat in the park Posted by Hello

Sick and Twisted tree on our way to the Djoudj Park Posted by Hello

Pirogue painted in the colors of Senegal Posted by Hello

This scary looking prophet is painted on practically every wall of the city Posted by Hello

Bridge created by Mr. Eiffel Posted by Hello

Our funeral hearse to drive to Saint Louis Posted by Hello

An old brick wall covered with cement to hold it together Posted by Hello

This beautiful architure is now completed gutted out from the inside Posted by Hello

November 10, 2004

The weather cools down

The weather is noticeably cooler now and it's possible to sleep a full night without having to wake up for water or drenched with sweat. I am sleeping 10 hours nights and it's not rare that I doze off while reading a book by 8:30PM (I'm reading Grape of Wrath, but still it's odd). In the mornings, I find that my face has been lined with creases from the pages pressing against my face and I haven't had time to do half the things I needed to take care of. Thank god I have a maid.

I am noticeably more efficient and cheerful. This weather is perfect, with light breezes that curl up into your room. The walk to work is pleasant; I don't have to squint my eyes from the sun or use the ubiquitous handkerchief to brush my brow. I am seeing clouds in the sky for the first time in months. I love it.

This morning I passed the two begging lepers with fingers missing to their first joints and thick glasses and waved hello. I even smiled at the man in the wheel chair, though I disapprove of him (he is a hustler of sorts): he monitors the men with leprosy closely, takes their money when they have amassed sufficient amounts and oogles at them when they should be more aggressive with passerbys.

I am sensing a general malaise and don't quite know what to make of it. I figure people are so conditioned to the hot weather that they are uncomfortable with 70 degrees weather.

I saw a cortege of car parked in front of my apartment this morning, with teenagers cleaning and polishing them. I giggled, thinking that it was a good sign that it was about to rain. But no rain in sight so far. The rainy season has passed and gone and I would be surprised to see it rain out of season. Things are generally like that here: there's a rainy season and a dry season, a mango season, a watermelon season, there's a regular season and a Ramadan season. Nature doesn't really surprise you it seems, it follows its rules pretty closely.

The vegetable season is upon us soon. This doesn't mean that new, innovating vegetables will be cropping up in markets (you can only get onions, potatoes, zucchini, eggplants, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and a plethora of strange African vegetables). This just means that vegetables will be affordable again and I can get my vitamins and other essential nutrients.

Tomorrow, I leave for Kaolack for business.

November 08, 2004

My tailor

I have been here for only three months and have already gotten 3 outfits made by various tailors. Sounds decadent doesn't it? But this is what people do here, from the poorest to the richest.

Benefits of getting stuff custom made:
1. It fits you purr-fectly.
2. You can get anything made (even that revealing, transparent green outfit J.Lo wore for the Music awards). For dirt-cheap.
3. You feel like a million bucks.

1. You do not get the instant gratification of buying something in the store.
2. It can turn out horribly wrong.
3. You feel like a spoiled brat.
4. You have to buy your own fabric which means that you have to fight and claw your way through Sandaga (the main market in Dakar) and be hassled everywhere along the way.

While my previous outfits were made from various tailors, I have a Marine Ball coming up and decided to get a nice dress made. A nice dress requires a good tailor.

I chose my tailor from a "Welcome to Dakar" booklet published by a group of American housewives. They describe him as follows: "Excellent training and skills!! He is able to make exact copies of clothing, as well as work from a photograph or drawing. Reasonable prices. Comes to your house to pick-up material, for fittings and for drop -off. A very nice honest and hard working person. He understands a little English".

He even had a little heart besides his name--which I took to be a good sign-- so called him and made an appointment.

Upon hanging up, I realized that I had called to wrong person: "Used by American club and International community for costumes, comes to the house, copies from pictures". Yikes! Too embarassed by my mistake, I refused to cancel the appointment. That night, I dreamt of walking seductively in a room, wearing a zebra dress with spikes down the back.

A few days ago, he came back to the house for another fitting. Apprehensively, I opened the door to let him in. I am ashamed to have ever doubted him. He made a wonderful sleeveless dress with the rather cheap material that I bought. I sent him back to fit the dress at the hips (it was a little too large--I don't blame him, I loose weight every week like it's nobody's business). Yeah!

Next time I get something made, I'll call this guy again and get better fabric. Then I can say to people who enquire: "this dress? I got it specially made by famous tailor to my specifications".

November 04, 2004

Thoughts about voting

After the terrible loss we incurred yesterday, I felt rather down as did dozens of my friends who had vested so much energy in this election.

An Belgian-American friend wrote me the following message: "I'm sorry you became a citizen for this... It's just embarrassing."

Thanks, that's really reassuring. I also received a beautiful email about becoming newly American from my Greek-Turkish-American friend. I would like to share.

"Well, my friends, today was an important day for me, because I voted for the first time in my life. As you know, I came here 20 years ago, and two years ago I became a US citizen, ready to cast my ballot in one of the most important elections for the US and the World.

In the days leading up to this day, I did what I thought a citizen should do. I read every article on current events, I listened to the news, I debated issues with friends and yes, I voiced my opinion. This morning, I woke up at 6:00 am (quite early for me) and literally felt as if I was going on a camping trip. I was energetic and ready to experience something for the first time. I took my voting registration card, and drove to the voting place, just couple of minutes from my home.

As I was waiting for my turn to cast my vote, I observed the people who waited to do exactly the same thing. The people seemed to be from all over the world; different races, nationalities and educational backgrounds (I live in a very diverse community in Maryland). In front of me there was a gray hair guy in a suit, a federal employee working for EPA (he was reading EPA reports). Behind me, there was an Indian couple talking about the sample ballot they received in the mail. Next to me there was a large Hispanic family reading about the candidates on a pamphlet and talking at the same time. A little further away my African American neighbor waved at me. At that moment, a great thought came to mind. Today, despite all our differences, maybe it is the only day, that all of us were equal in that room. No matter what we looked like and how rich and educated we were, each one of us had the same power. One person, one vote. At that time, I decided to write to all of you and share my thoughts.

After I voted, I went home and did a quick Google search to see what our great Ancient Greek philosophers had to say about voting, since they were so involved in politics and we admire them so much.

Well, Plato thought that most people were pretty stupid, and so they should not be voting about what to do. Instead, the best people should be chosen to be the Guardians of the rest (you see, he was coming from an aristocratic family). I disagree with him.

Aristotle said: “full excellence can be realized only by the mature male adult of the upper class, not by women, or children, or barbarians (non-Greeks), or salaried "mechanics" (manual workers) for whom, indeed, he did not want to allow voting rights. I definitely disagree with him as well.

Here’s my thought. I believe voting is a right, privilege and an obligation of any citizen of a democratic country, and it should not be taken for granted. If we expect the country to serve us and fulfill our demands and needs, this is one of our chances to ask for it. When we vote, there is a feeling of empowerment that we carry with us for the next four years. Certainly, if we decide to be vocal and voice our opinion about the government and its policies - and as you know, I’m not shy doing that – then we must exercise the right to act on our beliefs. Voting is an act that empowers us and gives legitimacy to our voice.

This has been a very positive experience that I believe will empower me to continue voicing my opinion – because I can’t do without- and hopefully the world will be a better place.


Bring tears to my eyes.

November 03, 2004

Wait, he hasn't lost yet!

I have had many "awww so sorry for your loss" comments about the election at work.

First of all, this is not very smart. I am angry and could induce bodily harm to colleagues if they taunt me too much about the elections.

Second of all, friends have resorted to extreme measures should Bush win: one wants to start a support group that would involve lots of chocolate, another is seriously considering moving the New Zealand.

To which I respond, HOLD YOUR HORSES, HE HASN'T LOST YET. It's a really close race and your ill predications are not helping. So close your eyes really tight, wish upon a star and wait for the miracle. I'm convinced it'll happen.

Can you imagine...

another 4 years with Bush in office? I'll be 30 by the end of his presidency. That's so depressing.

Waiting anxiously...

...for campaign results to be announced. Here's to hoping my vote will count.

Saint Louis

I wish I had an incredibly interesting, witty and dry sense of humor (much like the blogs of my fellow Canadian trapped in Belgium or even of the emails of my Australia travel companion or my CRS buddy in Congo). Alas! I have a headache and I must recount my trip to Saint Louis lest I get too lazy later in the week. On a side note, I have been sicker in my three months here than in my last three years in the states. An unrelated fact, but fascinating nonetheless, I have drunk more soda in these last three months than in my entire 25 years prior to coming to Senegal. I must stop these free associations; surely they can't be good for my work performance?

We left Saint Louis at the ungodly hour that is 8:00 AM on a Saturday. 6 white folks in shorts and baseball caps were greeted at the door by a friendly driver who was to bring us to Saint Louis. At the round-trip price of US $20 for an 8-hour trip (4 hours up and another 4 down), this was ridiculously affordable. Bad sign 1: the car was in fact a funeral hearse, elongated and sober with little black curtains and all. Bad sign 2: on our way out of the driveway, a man asks us "are you going to the bush"? we enthusiastically answered "yes!" and he muttered that the car better be air-conditioned or we would really suffer.

Well we didn't suffer much thankfully and enjoyed a view of Africa that we had longed to see: dry parched soil, dusty streets leading to straw hut villages, warthogs, buffalos that swayed provocatively in front of the car (with a look full of attitude to imply that they had the right of way in the middle of the freeway), crafts kiosk with women braiding each other's hair, women washing their family clothes bare-chested, errant dogs, stands gorged with watermelons (that held thousands of mangoes just three weeks ago)...

We get to our rather unimpressive hotel after a long drive and go on a promenade through the streets. Saint Louis used to be the ancient capital of Senegal and, until 1960 (when it gained its independence from the French) people could get a French passport. It's not uncommon to meet a Senegalese family in which the children born prior to independence are French while those born after are Senegalese. The architecture is old colonial French, but as you can see from the pictures that I plan to post, must of it hasn't been renovated over the years. It is falling apart, giving pictures that much prized authentic/exotic feeling. But that's about all a decrepit old building is good for.

6 white folks looking lost and confused is not a good idea in Saint Louis. We were constantly harassed by "well-meaning" people who insisted that we shake their hands and introduced ourselves. This was a catch-22 because, if we indulged, we would eventually be asked to check out their shop and (very aggressively) pressured into buying something. Also, it's hard to visit a town when one has to shake everyone's hands every 2 meters or so. On the other hand, if you chose to ignore the catcalls, the person will act hurt and get rather angry. A couple of time, a man would grab my arm forcefully to get my attention, to which I reply in an indignant manner "in my culture, men are not allowed to grab or touch women". Blatant lie of course but it saved me from more intimate encounters. That evening was spent trying to find jazz clubs (Saint Louis is famous for its jazz, much like its namesake in Saint Louis in the States). Unfortunately, it is Ramadan; and as I have discovered, nothing much in the way of fun happens during Ramadan.

The second day was just heavenly as we embarked on a little river barge trip on the Djoudj Park. It is said to be too early to catch birds at this time of year but we were able to see thousands of pelicans hanging out of a rock, water lizards and water lilies. The ride was pleasant until we realized that it was 11:00 in the morning and the trip back was nowhere in sight. The sun was intense and people started putting their baseball caps back on their bald heads, wraps around their shoulders... Being sickly white, I covered head to toe in my shawl. I consented to share my cover with an English girl of Irish descent: we white girls have to watch out for one another after all.

Our last day was spent on the Langue de Barbarie, a thin stretch of land of white sands. Utterly unbothered by anyone we stripped to our underwear and spent about 20 minutes in the sea. It was lovely and the first time that we felt truly alone in our three-day trip.

The ride back was eventful as one of us wanted to buy two large straw baskets, requiring much bargaining and a rearrangement of our already packed luggage. Much to my surprise, I was actually glad to be back in Dakar (you know you're back when you get the lovely whiff of decomposing fish). Next to Saint Louis, Dakar did in fact look to be the Paris of Africa.

Home sweet home. Or as a bad French translator would say: Maison sucrée maison.

October 29, 2004


This month of Ramadan is really enlightening for me. Besides seeing people's true nature when they are deprived of food, I also learn to appreciate the sacrifice involved in fasting...indirectly of course.
My colleagues often ask me "won't you fast with us, out of solidarity?". I respond "won't you come to church with me, on Sunday mornings at 6AM, out of solidarity?". They respond "of course". I have yet to see them really seriously consider the offer. Solidarity my ass!

I've also noticed that the month of Ramadan is also associated with masses of beggars usually congregating around the mosque. Some of them are women with babies that they breastfeed, other are old men with dark sunglasses, and others yet are people with leprosy who extend their fingerless hands in my direction. This has really been troubling me, and every morning, I seriously question my worth in Senegal.

This is a weekly newsletter for us American folks that explains the situation:

"A previous edition of the Khibar explained what Ramadan meant for Senegalese Muslims: during the ninth month of the Muslim year commemorating the revelation of the Koran to Mohammed (PSL) in 7 AD, Moslems abstain from food, water and worldly pleasures from sunrise to sunset for a month. This is to practice self-discipline and to recall the hunger of the poor.

And it is during Ramadan that the third pillar of Islam, almsgiving, is evidently and constantly enforced: Moslems believe that the charity given on earth to the poor, orphans, twins, aged and infirm will become one’s livelihood in heaven.
Dakar during the Ramadan month is literally besieged by hundreds of beggars falling into one or another category of alms receivers: one has to understand that Senegalese also give from a conviction that by giving they will receive. Foreigners are often perturbed by the number of beggars in Senegal; it is not perturbing for Senegalese Moslems, but since in Dakar the beggars are part of the landscape, and all the more so during Ramadan, it is best to learn a Wolof phrase if you are not in a giving mood at the moment. The phrase is Ba beneen yoon (the next time); one can also say: Baal ma (excuse me).

We had so many questions about the little beggars, the talibes, that a whole other Khibar is going to be necessary to cover this topic! Next week, then
Meanwhile, Deweneti (May God grant us life for next year); this is the phrase we use to wish people a nice Ramadan, too."

October 25, 2004

Moving target

I'm going to Antanarivo, Madagascar for Christmas. Yes, I know, I'm a lucky duck. The trouble started with the price of the ticket which is exorbitant. It's about the price of a really good new computer.

The travel agency doesn't use credit cards and my checks are worthless because they are made out to US dollars and not CFA francs. This means that I had to send our driver (no comments please) to cash my rather large check. He comes back with wads and wads of bills that, all piled up, are about 5 inches thick (about 10 cms for you wusses that use the metric system). I felt like the richest woman in the world. I was under strict instructions from our lady at accounting to count all this money. I felt giddy just flipping the cash from thumb to index. She also double-checked the amount with me and I suspect that she was taking secret pleasure in handling this much money. We tallied this up a couple time (just to make sure it was correct of course).

Then I set off to the travel agent, which of course made me a moving target. No one really bugged us but I'm convinced that my faced turned the color of the money I was carrying (in this case purple and green).

She received me with open arms and I felt very very loved. She took my envelope that I was clutching rather firmly to my chest and proceeded to count all the money slowly and staple it by wads of ten. It was excruciating and I honestly did not appreciate that smirk on her face. Each flip of the crisp money was deafening and felt like a quick sharp stab to my heart.

Now, I am "the price of a brand new computer" poorer and I still don't have my ticket. She said she'd send it tomorrow. I'm sure glad I know her sister because I can always hold her hostage.

October 21, 2004

En Brousse Against Bush

Dear all,

Well, it's time for another installment of a Run Against Bush Event. October 23rd is the 2nd and last International Run Against Bush day. We are planning talk a walk through the exciting Parc Hann located in our very own capital Dakar!

The park has 300 species of Senegalese flowers and plants as well as 134 animals. So if you are a newcomer to Dakar, have children, are an emerging photographer extraordinaire or just want to hang out with some cool people, please join us!

We will be meeting on the morning of October 23 before the sun gets too hot. We’ll give more details later on in the week… Check out the pictures on this site .
Keep your calendars open :)

Talk to you soon,


Chers tous,

Nous sommes en pleins préparatifs pour la prochaine réunion du Run Against Bush. La deuxième et dernière Journée Mondiale du Run Against Bush sera le 23 octobre. Nous vous préparons une petite ballade dans le super Parc Hann qui se trouve dans notre belle capitale qui est Dakar!

On y compte aujourd'hui plus de trois cent espèces de la flore sénégalaise et, dans le parc zoologique, 134 animaux. Donc si vous venez juste d’arriver, avez des enfants, êtes un as des photos ou si vous voulez seulement être en compagnie de gens sympas, joinez-vous à nous!

Nous nous recontrerons le matin du 23 octobre avant que le soleil ne tape trop fort. Des details à venir dans le prochain email en fin de semaine… Des photos du parc se trouvent au
Gardez votre Samedi matin pour nous :)

A plus,

October 19, 2004


So, I was really freaked out about my ballot. It hadn't come in our sporadic monthly mail pouch and I really wanted my vote to count (I'm a 6 months old newly naturalized American, I've paid my taxes since the age of 16 so I feel I deserve the right to vote).

I filled out an emergency ballot, signed it, inserted it in the first envelope, inserted that in the second envelope, closed it, filled out my contact information and apprehensively gave it to my friend who was traveling to Canada. She promised to send it as soon as she got there. I felt like telling her to take good care of my baby, not to bend it, expose it to harsh Canadian weather and make sure that it slid to the bottom the mail box (sometimes it gets stuck in the little mail door--tragic).

Today, I received my absentee ballot. Shoot! What do I do now? Do I fill out this absentee ballot and send it with the risk of arriving late? Or do I forget it and hope that my emergency ballot is enough to count?


PS: Am I going to have to wait another month before the pouch goes out? Why don't they have internet voting?

October 18, 2004

Update on the Siamese Twin

A few of you have been making enquiries on the twins. So here's an official update.

"I need to make a retraction. The twin are not actually twins. They are very much two separate human beings: I saw one of them eat at the lunch table alone. She was looking very sad and forlorn."

Halloween and things generally associated with Autumn

I miss the leaves turning red, orange, brown and yellow. It's still very hot but it seems (gasp, dare I say it?) to be getting a wee bit cooler now.

I miss Halloween and the cheesy, gaudy store decorations that come with the holiday. I went to a crafts fair yesterday and met the Community Liaison Officers of the American Embassy--a glorified term for Party Organizers. They were telling me of a Halloween party organized for adults. One of the ladies was getting a witch costume made by local tailors. I stiffled a giggle, imagining a white lady with an African print dress and assorted pointed hat, braids in her hair, Senegalese sandals and straddling a home-made little broom that people use to sweep their balconies here. Scary costume indeed.

October 15, 2004

Cleaning lady

I just hired a maid. Yes, I know that it's ridiculous seeing as I live in a one-bedroom place. But she does my laundry and I truly love her for it (my idea of a good time wasn't spending hours on my knees scrubbing my clothes after work).

She probably relishes coming to my house for cleaning, twice weekly, because there's practically nothing for her to do. In fact, I try to cook a large meal the night before she comes in order to generate dishes for her to wash (I mean I wouldn't want her to be bored).

My maid dresses better than me when she is scrubbing my clothes, doing my dishes and mopping my floors. Refer to previous post for irony of the situation.

Dress Code

I have started taking Wolof lessons with a highly qualified teacher. He's nice but he's really hung up on the black/white thing. I feel I'm teaching him more than he is me: white people are normal, we are not all evil colonialists and we have greetings compassion and hand shakes in our culture too.

He is forever commenting on my clothes, more specifically my skirts (which are long enough to cover my knees). He tells me that this is too french and that I have to dress more like a Senegalese. He then proceeds to point out some appropriate outfits in magazines. I got a little annoyed last night and told him to relax, that I'm here because I want to help (why else would I leave my a/c, TV and cable, my IKEA couch, my good good friends and my natural food store at home?), and that yes, I do dress like a white person but in case he didn't notice, I was in fact white. Sheesh! Get over it.

This is one of the things that makes it tiring to live here. I am and will always be a white person. Like in Japan, I am Westerner. And in France, I am an American. And in the States, I am a Frenchie. Grrr!

Interesting development

Tomorrow is Ramadan. One of the twins is Muslim (the one on the left) and the other is Christian. One will fast, the other won't. I am fascinated to see how they will cope with this new development.

October 14, 2004

Siamese Twins

The Finance Assistant and the Secretary are two middle aged Senegalese women. They have been working together in the same company for the better part of 30 years. Every day at lunch time, they order one single dish that they share.

They gather their two chairs together, grab two spoons with their right hands (it is terribly rude to eat with your left hand in a Muslim country) and proceed to split every last piece of rice down the middle. They have equal pieces of oignons, rice and fish on each side of the plate and each has half a lime for sprinkling. They then relish their foods while talking Wolof in a very fast, animated way. Once, in a while they throw the fish bones over to an empty plate.

Sometimes, I have to stare really hard to remind myself that they are not attached at the hip. They're so cute, I can't wait to take their picture.

October 12, 2004

Yikes, Ants!

Yesterday, I was pouring myself a cup of tea and thus reaching over my counter to the sugar tupperware. I was about to pour some sweet sugar baby when I noticed a tiny teeny ant crawling out from the top. Then I peered over the edge to get a closer look and saw entire tunnels and chambers carved in the sugar, filled with cousins ants. It would have been a cool science experiment if I hadn't been so disgusted. I filled the tupperware with scalding water while chanting, "Die ants die"! Then I did a little victory dance. Bwaaahhhhaaha.

Never, ever leave anything outside of your fridge in Senegal. Unless you need the extra protein.

Cool!!! Our giant Ant Farm just arrived in the mail!  Posted by Hello

October 11, 2004

Boat, Moat, Float, Goat, Rote, Vote!

I've been reading political blogs in between things and am ashamed that I haven't been more vocal about this election.

So, I'll do my part by asking to please please PLllleaaase vote. Know how lucky you are about having the opportunity to vote? Plus, I don't want to hear ANY whining from you about the president, the economy, the lack of decent jobs or the state of our healthcare, if you haven't voted. Save it. Zip it. Don't complain to me unless you have voted.

I composed a little poem (see title of blog) that might help you remember. It goes a little sumthing like this.

"Mnemonic Device", by Dorothee

New Office

My boss asked me to move to an office closer to his. The office I work in right now is to the right of the main door. He finds it disconcerting that I can come into work and never even be seen. I chose not to be offended by that (I'll let you know that my attendance record is exemplerary) and said, "sure boss that's no problem".

Problem. The last two tenants of the office were men. Dirty men. As I was going through the hundreds of magazines, drawers, file cabinets and manuals, I found the following items: a rotten mouse with little insects running in and out of it, two used women underwear (I swear this is true), 2 chest x-ray and various blood works (of results that I will keep confidential), fake greasy black hair with pins still attached, a once-white now-beige sweater, a black tablecloth, 5 computer attachments and a pc battery, 4 large batteries, 3 colorful spools of embroidery thread, etc.

I spent all day dusting, ripping out the ugly 1970s shapeless posters, sorting issues by date, and generally being disgusted. Now are these proper working conditions I ask you? It's Monday now and I am embarking on yet more dusting and cleaning. My job description doesn't including maid services; I should get paid overtime for this.

October 05, 2004

Dakar Beach

On N'gor beach in Dakar, the boys wash their goats. They tell me that it's really good for them. The goats did not seem to be enjoying this (they had to be dragged into the water by their front legs) Posted by Hello

Back in Dakar

Back in Dakar. These old hair cutters' signs are prized piece of art for Toubab (white people) Posted by Hello

Backyard in Kolda

These animals are in my Kolda boss' backyard. He tells me that they are friends and that they keep each other company. Posted by Hello

Backyard in Kolda

This is a Jambar: it is a traditional stove that is very energy-efficient Posted by Hello


Bridge in Kolda Posted by Hello


Music Store. This little open stall sold home-made cassettes with faded pictures of African singers  Posted by Hello

Crazy Bird Posted by Hello

Trip from Ziguinchor to Kolda

To get from Ziguinchor to Kolda, you better have a damn good vehicle. The roads are awful and you end up driving more off-road to avoid the huge potholes than on the actual road. I look happy in this picture. I was not happy when I arrived in Kolda. Needless to say, the trip was hard. Let's leave it at that. Posted by Hello


White Posted by Hello


Red Posted by Hello


Orange Posted by Hello