August 31, 2004

1 cultural faux pas and 1 oversight

Well it's nearing the end of a stressful day (case in point: I have had to schedule interviews for French...using technical jargon. It involved a lot of sweating, mumbling and generally embarrassing myself) and I just lost my previous blog TWICE. Aaaarrghhh! Let me, once again, relate to you these two incidents.

08/27/04, The Cultural Faux Pas

I was shopping for a friend's birthday at Wranglers (yes! They have a Wranglers! no! It's not a cowboy store!) and generally enjoying myself by watching the assistant fumble with paper, tape and ribbon. So absorbed was I by this task that I hardly noticed that it was 2:00 PM on a Friday. You know what that means? It's the mass praying time for everyone Muslim. I exit the store only to find rows upon rows of Senegalese men, in long flowing robes, on little rugs, performing the same idiosyncratic movements. Mumbling and profusely excusing myself, I trying to avoid the mats on the sidewalk and decide instead to walk in the streets.

I should mention here that I am the only woman in the street, the only white person, the only person not praying.

It is at this time that I notice that my high-heeled shoes do make the usual clack clack clack sound. Oh no. It's more like a CLACK CLACK CLACK!!! sound, piercing, incredibly noticeable, of a decibel that can be heard across the Atlantic I'm sure. Convinced it's written somewhere in the Koran that this deed is punishable by death, I rush home criss-crossing streets to avoid the masses (only managing to meet even more people praying).
It is later on that I learn that "this is a Democratic country, Dorothy. You are allowed to do anything you want. Besides, it's illegal to pray in the streets or on the sidewalks" (comment from a non-Muslim Senegalese friend).

I'm sure I'm going to hell for that one though.

08/30/04, The Oversight

I decide to go shopping for veggies after work. I get to the market only to find it closed for the day. At last, I find a nice lady willing to reopen her stall to sell my some stuff. Her name is "Nene" (French translation: "titties", I swear I am not making this up) and she will give me a good price if I promise to come back to her in the future. At this point a *seemingly* nice man comes up to us and asks me a slew of questions: what's your name, where do you come from, how long are you here for, you must be new since my legs are so white, would you like to buy an African figurine? I try to avoid answering while seeming polite but fail miserably and engage in conversation. I am so flustered that I quickly order a kg of this and a kg of that and leave the market as quickly as possible. I rush home, taking the convoluted way back and peering over my shoulder at regular intervals (admittedly, this is a bit paranoid).

When I get home, I survey my ware and notice that I have the following: 10 carrots, 3 HUGE zucchinis, 3 heads of lettuce, 6 large cucumbers, 10 green peppers, 3 big mangoes. Enough for a family of 10.

Moral of the story?
(1) ½ a kg of food is more than enough for two weeks worth.
(2)Avoid passing in front of the men into the market.
(3)Save your blog many times before posting.

August 26, 2004


My new best friend Posted by Hello

Giant critters

This morning, I walk in my kitchen --eyes half shut with sleep-- to find a HUGE cockroach scurrying across my kitchen floor. I emitted a supersonic scream and grabbed for the RAID spray that the old tenant left in the apartment. I sprayed and sprayed and sprayed some more. And when I thought I was done, I sprayed again for good measure. I think the poor bug died of drowning.

I'm off to buy some more crates of RAID.

August 25, 2004


A griotte is hired to animate the waiting crowd. She flutters around the groups and sing praises to family and friends who hand her some coins.
Posted by Hello

City bus

The family leaves the celebration by the truck-load. Posted by Hello


Post celebration couscous Posted by Hello

Cousins and friends

Cousins and friends pose with the bride to be. Posted by Hello

Blessings from the Ancestors

The elders pour alcohol on the doorstep while asking for blessings from the ancestors Posted by Hello


The fiance (third from left) sheds a tear or two. Posted by Hello

Waiting 2

A woman sneaks a peak into the proceedings Posted by Hello

Waiting 1

Women wait outside the living room while the parents decide if the girl is worthy of being engaged to their son Posted by Hello

August 23, 2004

Eating and Celebrating Senegalese style

Yesterday, I was invited by TWO different people to do TWO different things. I felt like a **rock star**.

I was invited by a work colleague to share lunch with his brothers. At 1 o'clock, worried that he had forgotten about me, I call him to see what's up. He said "I'm really close, I'll be right there". 45 minutes later he cruises into my neighborhood. Hum, I guess that's what they call "African time".

He brought me to his friend's house (at which point I understood that the term "brother" extends over the notion of "friend") which basically consisted of three rooms around a courtyard. I did not spot any kitchen nor bathroom there and my instincts tell me that there were inexistent. The mother of the household, a rather large woman with a nice smile, was cooking a dish in the courtyard called Tjebouya: rice with tomato paste, grilled chicken, various spices, meat and vinegared onions.

The food was disposed on a large platter and brought into the room. The basic eating style is to grab the loose rice in your RIGHT hand, squish it into something more compact and pop in into your mouth. Being left-handed and raised to eat with cutlery only, I was very clumsy. The three 2 year-olds where more adapt at this than me. Very embarrassing. Sensing my awkwardness, the men handed me a spoon and a large napkin. At the end of the meal, I eclipsed myself from the room (I noticed that the women where absent after the meal) and went to play with the kids. They insisted on speaking Wolof to me despite my confused looks and touched my strange thin hair. We overlooked the courtyard where the matronly mother was doing the washing up, a teenaged girl was braiding her young sister's hair and children were running around wild. The scenes were interrupted by the daily 2:00 Muslim prayer when people started to take turns kissing the ground. A National Geographic Photographer would have killed to be in my place.

My friend invited me to participate in her cousin's engagement. Very traditional, Senegalese society frowns upon two people living together if they are not married. This girl has been dating her boyfriend for 7 years and (much to her relief I imagine) they finally decided to get engaged. The whole family and friends were invited to hang around yet another large courtyard. Some arrived by taxi, others brought their beat up old car and a truckload of them arrived in an orange spray city bus, almost spilling out from the doors and windows. The mass of people engaged in shaking everyone's hands, fanning straw fans and catching up with old friends in Wolof. I was seated next to a religious brother (this family is Christian) so I was on my best behavior. The poor fiance was requested to stay in her chambers and only allowed to leave them when notified.

I am told that the elders sat around in the room discussing the wedding to be: "well, your daughter would like to be marry my son. But does she know that he is smart, rich, educated etc...", "are you sure that she really wants to be with him"? At which point (exasperated by the lengthy proceedings), she stood up and proclaimed very loudly "yes I DO really want to be with him". Once the family accepted her into their arms, cheers went around the room and spread to the courtyard. The parents and grandparents then poured rather expensive alcohol on the doorstep while chanting and asking the ancestors to bless the marriage. Whew! After that came loads of food and drinks. I was scolded for not eating enough (even though they were sneaking more food on my side of the communal plate).

I was quite the sensation with my digital camera.

August 20, 2004

Trying to go a f*#!ing Absentee Ballot

Today, I tried again, to get an absentee ballot.

Background: Barricades and heavily guarded American Embassy.

Scene: A young, fearful girl advances through the many gates and guards, flashes her passport and arrives at a door she knows well.

Guard (in French)-Aren't you the girl who came yesterday?
Dorothy (in French with a tremble in her throat)-Yes, I'd like to get myself registered for voting please.
Guard (in French, rolls his eyes and acts generally exasperated)- I TOLD you we'd close early on Friday
Guard (repeats in English)- I TOLD you we'd close early on Friday

Camera closes on the door slamming in the dejected young girl's face. She walks back to her office trying not to cry.

Let me explain a few things Mr. Mean Guard:
1. You know I speak French as well as any French person out there. You do not need to repeat yourself in English.
2. I came three times and three times you were rude to me. Is your job of sitting in the air-conditioned office in a nice uniform so busy that you cannot extend the same politeness to me that I showed you?
3. You're an asshole. I want my ballot. It's my God-given duty to vote against Bush. If you were smart, you'd appreciate what I am doing and realize that my determination to vote is a good thing. Too many people don't have that option.
4. I clearly remember, you DID NOT tell me you were closed early on Friday. Let me say that in French in case you didn't quite get it: vous ne m'aviez JAMAIS dit que vous fermiez tot le Vendredi. Merde enfin.

Well, that's what I would have told him anyhow if I wasn't ready to cry. I am now working on getting my ballot sent by mail. Oh, and my friend assures me that absentee ballots aren't even counted. Screw you, Voting System.

August 18, 2004


Well, I've only been in the country for two weeks and I've already gotten a pretty nasty cold (it's 90 degrees outside, can you believe getting a cold! perposterous!) and the unmentionable I-have-to-run-to-the-bathroom-every-10-minutes sickness. I am hoping to get all the sicknesses out of my system in the first month. So next week I'm looking to get Malaria and the week after that, some kind of Instestinal Hookworm.

I have been told time and time again, NOT to drink unfiltered water, the bleach my vegetables for 30 minutes and to wash my hands before, during and after a meal. Easier said than done: I had the unfortunate experience of starting my job right when a major proposal was due. As a result, I have been spending ten to twelve hour days at the office and I was "given the choice" to stay 16 hours over the weekend too. I'm complaining but it's actually really interesting stuff. Anyways, it's hard when you get home by 9PM to think about bleaching your veggies.

I am now on the BRAT diet:
A-Apple sauce

And seeing as I don't actually have a toaster and apple sauce is hot commodity here (meaning that you'd pay through the nose for it), I'm more on a BR diet. Bbbrrrr...

August 13, 2004

On being harassed in the streets

This is a really interesting article about the harassment that an American tourist encounters in Dakar. I have to deal with the same type of thing every time I go out (I once ventured in the same market place but had to retreat quickly because I was attracting unwanted attention). My co-workers, all Senegalese, tell me that it will get better with time as I build confidence and shine an aura of "I'm-not-a-tourist-I really-live-here".

Hope it's true.

August 09, 2004

Email to Friends about Senegal

How do I start describing the culture shock that I first thrusted into? Well very slowly that’s how (this keyboard is configured the French way so it’ll take me a little while to sort it out). Before I start, I won’t recap my first days as I promise to post it on my site soon.

But a few things I did find out rather quickly:
1) Yes, the water is not potable and if you drink it without filtering it,you’ll find yourself running to the bathroom the next day. Charming.
2) No, washing machines are not common so people either hire someone to do their washing by hand or do it themselves. I have resolved myself to doing it like the locals but since I love having very clean clothes, I imagine I will be sick of it by the end of the month. So far, I’ve been in the country less than 1 week and have already washed 3 loads. On the plus side, the washing powder is
very effective and really clears out stains.
3) Dakar city center (about 10 mins from where I live) is packed with people especially at rush hour. If you are planning to go shopping there, you must brace yourself against all the outdoor sellers that will naturally flock to the ‘rich white woman’. If only they knew how poor I was.
4) I am richer than most other people here: I have an apartment with solid walls, running water, sofa and a balcony. It’s actually a pretty nice place with plenty of room. Hint, hint: come visit me.
5) What passes for sidewalks in the city is a joke. The city has no trash disposal system so you end up walking on cement that is now cracked beyond repair, sand, trash, prayer mats (although it’s nice to try to avoid them). I quickly learned to walk to work in sandals carrying my nice shoes under my arms.

Yesterday, the girls from the office invited me to join them for lunch. This consisted of going to the street and entering a man-made shelter of corrugated iron and cloth. It was stiflingly hot in there due to the number of people crammed in a small place and the fact that it was so enclosed. But man! The food was soooo good. I had a whole grilled fish-avoiding the head and tail- and
awesome rice. I was initiated to very strong Senegalese tea (green tea, mint and lot and lots of sugar).
That night, I went for a longer visit of the city and bumped into several Rasta men that call themselves the Brothers with a Good Heart (in Wolof) and was promptly introduced to all of them. From their glassy eyes and odor I quickly deducted that they were stoned. Oh well.

I also found a very American looking Gym (this is a miracle in a place where store fronts usually look very deteriorated). I think I might join if I stuff myself for lunch again.

Take care y'all!

August 05, 2004

Senegal, day two


I am eager to prove my worth at work so I get up at 7am, force my eyelids open, get dressed and leave the house, thirsty and hungry. On the way there, I encounter loads of people talking and chilling out in the street. I realize that my pointy-toed shoes are ill-equipped for the lack of sidewalk ( this is not entirely true, there were sidewalks once, but “the wind and the rain have undone it again, and you never would know that there once was a “sidewalk” in “Dakar”—my apologies to the writer). I try my best not to walk in the stagnant pools of water and make a firm promise to go to work in sandals with my work shoes under my arm.

I meet my boss who shows me around the office. When he introduces me to the kitchen, I reach for a cup and drink and drink and drink some more. He briefs me on how bargaining works here (basically, cut every price offered by two and just expect to pay more than a person speaking Wolof-this motivates me to learn Wolof). He gives me the first two days off, stating that if my house is not in order; I won’t feel good at work. He “lends” me Frank’s driving services so that I can go shopping. The electricity goes off but the computers stay on thanks to a back up generator which beeps about every 20 seconds. Again, Frank tells me that power outages are not common here.

We head to the food store through the main place, where my main concern is not avoiding the holes in the road but the cars and the people hoping that a rich white girl will buy whatever it is they are selling. Frank seems to know all the important people in the street (the guards, the water purification guy, the parking attendants) and it is essential that he greets them all for a full 5 minutes. The trip to and from the shopping center takes about 2 hours (it is only located 10 minutes from my house). When I finally get home even more starving and thirsty than this morning, I eat like a mad woman, drink and eat again. I discover that if you leave the gas on too long before igniting the plate on the stove, the hair on your forehead gets singed.

When I feel sufficiently fed, I undertake the tedious task of scrubbing my place from top to bottom. I will spare you the details but imagine if you will, me, on my knees with disinfectant and various sponges, scrubbing clockwise, scrubbing anti-clockwise, scrubbing horizontally, vertically, top to bottom and left to right. I sleep well that night.

Laundry facilities?


In the morning, I gather all my courage and brave the busy streets alone to buy some more essentials like cutting boards, knives and towels.

Rain this time of year is not usual? My ass! It starts raining so hard that I have to mop the kitchen, the bedroom and the living room with old towels. This rain is crazy intense: it is so thick that it looks like someone has hung up of sheer white piece of cloth in the sky. As I am writing this, I take breaks to mop some more.

A conversation with Frank on the whereabouts of a laundry facility proves once again fruitless…Until I ask, “do people do there own washing by hand?”. He answers yes. Oh. I promptly get the two basins from my balcony and clean them out with Chlorox and dish washing detergent. These will be my laundry facilities for the next year. Sigh…

Senegal, day one


The flight from Washington DC to Paris is long. In Paris, I have a 4 hours stop-over before heading out on another long flight to Dakar. The waiting room is packed with Asian people. When a flight to Hong Kong is called, they all vacate their seats and smartly dressed Africans-whom I can only assume are Senegalese-take their seats. And boy were they well dressed. They all looked like they were about to be interviewed for a job of a lifetime: starched shirts, suits and belts to match their shoes. I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible which was hard considering I was the only white girl there and I was seated in the middle of all the men. There were a few women with long flowing dresses adorned with various scarves. In general, the dresses matched the head scarves but they add additional scarves to bring out the colors in the dresses. The overall effect is one of grace and these women look almost royal.

Halfway through my stop over, I spot one of these women dramatically flinging one of her many scarves on the ground, taking her sandals off and quickly kissing the ground causing her rather plump derriere to stick out. She closes her eyes and looks like she’s mumbling something. It doesn’t take long to figure out that she is praying. It is fascinating to watch but I somehow feel like it is sacrilegious to stare so pretend to read my magazine while glancing at her over my pages.

I finally get to Senegal on time, only to find a huge line up for customs. I present my passport to the army man in the booth, a little nervous from the stories I’d heard about soldiers, but make it through all right. Picking up my luggage turns out to be a nightmare. The luggage belt receives suitcases from all the flights and people are frantically grabbing carts to move their heavy items around. I finally grab my two humongous suitcases, mountain backpack and computer, pass them through the x-ray machine (the line is long again) and walk back outside. The crowd is intense, I feel like an animal at the circus that people are looking with curiosity and awe: "this is a Dorothy, it’s scientific name is Whitegirlus Richus, and it likes to carry numerous expensive items in its suitcases". I am a prime target for thieves as I can barely wheel myself out of the airport and am immensely relieved to find Frank, the driver for the office, waiting for me patiently. He waited for me for 1.5 hours! I excuse myself profusely and he says “It’s OK, in this country, you have to be patient”.

Driving home to my apartment is instructive, I learn:
-from Frank, that it’s not common to have this much rain for this season
-by observation, that there are no painted roads or lights at the intersection so you have to drive aggressively and pray to God that you don’t get in an accident.

I get to my new apartment. It’s huge! I’m so tired and pleased with the place that I thank Frank, open my suitcases and get prepared for a nice long night of sleep. After about 5 minutes, I feel really parched and grab some water. Hum…I recall being told not to drink the water. I allow myself half a glass and try to go back to sleep. Thirsty again, I grab my water purification tablets, pop one in the water but read the instructions and realize that it will take 4 hours to work! So I cut my losses, suck it up and go to bed thirsty.

Note: Remember Dad when I laugh when you suggested buying water purification tablets? Hehe, thanks for the tip.