Dec 2, 2010

Nan nga def? Ummm...Maa ngi fii rekk?

Khadim and two friends sit under the shade of a makeshift shed on Cheikh Anta Diop. On the street buses and taxis speed past. Car rapides pause to hustle more passengers in; often they are so cramped that passengers dangle precariously from the open back door, their only footing a thin step. The street is mostly demolished from construction. In the past two weeks I have watched the shoulder disappear completely. In its place is a giant trench. Red dirt is everywhere; workers take a break in the shade of construction equipment. In fact it seems that all of Dakar is under construction, with most projects appearing abandoned at mid point. Everywhere there are cavernous buildings that look like the remains of some horrible accident. Only they aren't the remains--they are a potential, a promise, unfulfilled.

Each day I walk on Cheik Anta Diop on my way to the bakery or the Club Atlantique. Always, Khadim and his friends are sitting in the same spot, Khadim selling drums, his friends selling baskets and shelves, all of which they have woven themselves. If it is only Maggie and I walking, they seldom call out or say hello, but if Jon is with me they will yell across the traffic of the street, waving. We stop to chat and each time it is the same exchange.

Khadim wears the most western clothes of the three--large, dark sunglasses, red basketball shorts. He leans back into his chair with attitude then reaches out to shake my hand. The others are dressed in a way I have seen many men in Dakar dress--cotton pants, faded tee shirt and sandals. They smile more freely, but all three are warm, friendly, and genuine.

The official language in Senegal is French, but the most commonly spoken language is Wolof. It is less common for westerners to speak Wolof, and so when Jon greets everyone he meets with the traditional Wolof greeting, they smile and seem to open up.

I, on the other hand, do not speak Wolof. I try to pick up on what I can, but it just seems to whizz by. So when Khadim and his friends try to test my language skills I usually don'y get very far before I stumble over my words and look to Jon for help. They laugh at me. Try to teach me. Today they said in french "your husband should teach you Wolof. It is good to learn Wolof." I laughed.

I really love the Wolof greeting. It takes time. Everyone pauses and has a real exchange. I better study because tomorrow or maybe the next they will ask me again. Practice, right?

So here it is, the Wolof greeting (with a bit of Arabic borrowings). I've only ever made it as far as Maa ngi fii rekk. What about you? Yow nak?

1: Salaam malekum - Peace be upon you

2:Malekum salaam - Upon you be peace

1: Nan nga def? - How's it going?

2:Maa ngi fii rekk. Yow nak? - I am here only. And you?

1: Maa ngi fii rekk. Naka waa ker ga? - I am here only. How is your family?

2: Nu ngi ci jamm. Alhamdulilah. - They are in peace. Thanks be to god.

Nov 17, 2010

A birthday Meal

The simple things in Dakar are not always so simple. Take cooking. Today is Jon's birthday and he loves mexican food. It's been awhile since we've had basic tacos, and I think I can safely say, it will be awhile more. But I wanted to make him something...something like mexican food.

First step, tortillas. There are no tortillas in Dakar. Homemade tortillas would be a simple fix, right? So I found a bunch of recipes that use lard, and resolved to replace the lard with butter. I'm getting ready to start mixing the tortillas and I realize I left our baking powder at the last apartment we were living in. And unfortunately, its a holiday today, so we won't be going to the store. (more on that later). So now, I'll just have to make the tortillas without the baking powder. I'm not sure how this will turn out, but I'm just hoping they work well enough to wrap whatever it is that I manage to make for filling.

At the store yesterday I found green peppers, onion, and chicken. Ahh chicken fajitas, right? There's no sour cream or avocados, so these will be VERY simple fajitas, but hey it's something, right?

Cheese. This one should be simple, but have you ever tried emmentel in burritos? its pretty awful. I opted for the fake, orange, american cheese slices. I will cut them up and hopefully they will approximate jack cheese.

Salsa. There's no salsa, but we've got tomatoes and onions. Maybe I'll add a little garlic? No cilantro, but it will have to do.

And finally, cake. The ingredients are hard to come by, but I found a chocolate cake mix that will have to do. Unfortunately, the apartment we just moved into doesn't have any oven safe baking dishes. I am resolved. I'm going to try cooking in a bowl. We'll see what happens.

I'll let you know how things turn out! Next week, Thanksgiving, where I hope to make use of my $14 celery!

Happy Birthday to my wonderful, sweet husband.

Nov 16, 2010


I can't tell you how much I've begun to miss things. How it aches. How I am sometimes so sad and I just don't know if I can do this. It started in Paris, but here in Senegal this homesickness has grown. In the morning I lie in bed thinking about how I will make it through the day. Just one day at a time, I tell myself. One day at a time. I put on a brave face for my daughter because I want her to feel all the things I don't feel: settled and safe. But sometimes I crack. Lately I've been cracking a lot. I cry in front of her. I break down. Is it going to get easier?

Everyone I meet says it will--get easier that is.

I want to report to you all the things I've seen in Senegal. I want to tell you about this city I'm living in. But I can't; not yet. Hopefully, it will get easier. Until then, I will share with you what I can.

Nov 15, 2010

Oct 29, 2010

Paris Neighborhood

Stealing this from my sister's blog. I love this and love the band, but I hadn't seen this video for awhile and just realized it was filmed around the corner from where we've been living in Paris.

#93.3 - BON IVER - For Emma, Forever Ago
envoyé par lablogotheque. - Regardez la dernière sélection musicale.

Oct 28, 2010


Tartine Bread from 4SP Films on Vimeo.

I'm just learning how to make bread, but this is pretty inspiring.

Oct 26, 2010

This Moment

Have I told you that my girl is growing up? Yes, I realize this was bound to happen, but please forgive this lovestruck mama for being so amazed. Every day she is changing, becoming more of her self. She is both cautious and adventurous, trying anything new but doing it with her measured precision. She loves taking care of her animals and dolls, wrapping them up, kissing them, feeding them and lately taking them to the potty. These days you would often find maggie walking down the street with one of her dolls or animals stuffed in her shirt (yes, she is pregnant apparently) although usually the baby is her "sister". (Don't get any ideas, here. I'm not sure where this came from.)

Maggie loves people. You should see her on the metro when the train is stuffed and she's making eyes at all the people crowding around her, making them all smile, laugh. And at the playground she is always trying to make friends. A couple of weeks ago there was a quiet little boy sitting on the ledge near the sandbox. She sat down about six feet away and then proceeded to scoot all the way next to him. She looked over at him, trying to get him to look up at her. They played this game with their eyes and then maggie started kicking her legs, trying to get him to do the same. A few days later they were chasing pigeons together, laughing and shrieking. She watches other kids, studying them with amazing focus, but she also leads. She is confident, this girl.

Maggie likes to sing. She makes up songs, often in an almost operatic voice. She is the loud one, breaking through the discomfort of others and inviting the world to join in. I love it. She amazes me.

She tries all food. How did I get so lucky? She is a good eater.
She goes to museums and stops to say "Look!" and describes something she sees in a painting.
She likes being outside most of all, gathering and exploring.
She loves books, and has the patience to listen to a long story with no words.
And I see small things that don't mean much perhaps if you're not her mom, but the way she has started trying to color in the lines in her coloring book, and at the same time the freedom to make a mess when painting, splattering and splotching and everything else.

And aren't children amazing? The way they teach us adults to be in the moment? because although she misses her grandparents, and aunts and uncles and friends, she is here, and that is all there is to her. Ahhh. If I only I can keep learning this from her; stop the worrying, the missing, the stress. There is only this moment.

Oct 24, 2010

Castles, copper and country

Last weekend my parents, maggie, jon and I packed our bags for a weekend in the country. We took the train to Tours in Loire Valley, and from there, rented a car and drove 45 minutes to our hotel, just outside a little town called Amboise. I should pause here and admit that we did not drive immediately to Amboise. You see on the train I realized I had forgotten my knitting, and my mom, thank goodness, is even more of a fiberholic/knitter than I am. So she looked up Loire Valley and knitting on her phone and quickly found a yarn shop in downtown Tours. My dad grumbled and rolled his eyes but after a bit of pleading he agreed to stop.

We had just found a parking garage near the yarn shop when we encountered a small problem: we could not get the car to go into reverse. So after a couple minutes of dad trying, my mom got out of the backseat, and stepped into the front to try. By this point we had stopped a bit of traffic and the parking attendant had walked towards our car to see what was the matter. My mother was trying (unsuccessfully) to get the gear to shift to reverse, jerking and jostling the stick shift. the parking attendant was peering around at us. We were stuck and not sure if we were going to have the push the car to back it up, so we asked the attendant if he would please give it a try.

I wish you could see the type of communication that took place here. Jon asked in french if he would help us, while my mom and I signalled with large arm gestures for him to come towards us. Its not a surprise that he entered the car with some trepidation.

We must have seemed crazy. Some mix between National Lampoon vacation and Faulty Towers perhaps, but he stepped into the car of crazy strangers and swiftly shifted the gear to reverse. We laughed and thanked him, and he nodded quietly, retreating to his office.

Now I don't know how to drive a stick shift car, but apparently there is some secret to shifting to reverse in a citroen and we did not know it. Well we got out, had an interesting lunch, and then successfully found yarn in Boite a Laine.That would have been the end of our time in Tours but we were fated to have one more encounter with the parking attendant. You see we realized as we were returning to our car that we had lost our parking ticket, and so Jon had to go explain this to him, thus confirming in the parking attendants mind that we (and perhaps all americans) were crazy. Meanwhile we sat cracking up in the car, laughing almost to the point of tears. It was a good start to a trip.

It was a much needed get away from city life--fall colors, a chill in the air, horses, chateaus, bike rides through the country, a walk in the woods, and ahhh, a big (HOT!!) bathtub.

Oct 19, 2010

About home

Two months have passed since we arrived in Paris, and I'm afraid I haven't been sharing as much as I should. I feel like I've been given the chance to look at my life, (and myself) from a great distance--from this vantage I see things I couldn't see before and I am learning so much. It's also difficult; the simple things are not always simple, and what I want most of all--home--seems far away--a dream. A few admissions here: I have literally been dreaming about homes lately, so i suppose it is on my mind! AND I sometimes look on craigslist for homes to rent in the bay area.

Yes, its ridiculous and we won't be returning home for many months, but its comforting to dream.

Yesterday, I was sitting in front of Notre Dame. It was cold, and dreary and wet, but I was happy. Maggie had fallen asleep in her stroller, and perhaps this had something to do with it. Though she is now two years old, I still feel the comfort and surrender I felt when she was just a baby sleeping (mostly in my arms). I looked out at the groups of people swarming by; at the gothic spire and arches and plunging tower. I couldn't help but recall the six months I spent here ten years ago. Actually I was thinking, has it really been ten years? And who was that person, who was I ten years ago?

I was twenty one years old. Technically I was in Paris as part of my Global Studies major. I was taking classes and doing research for my thesis about identity and the European Union. Ha! That makes me laugh just a little now. I think that my wonderful advisor at the time thought Paris was a little tame for the type of study abroad experience he hoped his students would have. He did research in Africa, and many of my fellow students (there were about 40-50 people in this major) spent time in Columbia, Nigeria, Libya...Things have certainly changed a lot since then. Well, despite my relatively tame aspirations, I was interested in politics, philosophy, thinking. I wanted to make the world a better place. But at the end of my 4 year degree that same advisor sat me down and basically asked me, now what? What do you want to do with your life? And I said "write." Probably the first time I admitted something I'd felt for a long time.

Even then I was exhausted with politics, exhausted with the way our ideas seem to go round and round. It has been a long journey. So much has changed. here I am in Paris again, but this time its very different. I have a daughter and a husband. THis time he is doing research. And this time we are going to Senegal for six months.

Another guilty admission: I have not read a newspaper since we arrived in Paris. And I don't know that I will. I know that since we;ve been here there have been strikes and demonstrations. Yesterday I saw highschool students demonstrating down the street. So much is going on in the world, and its not that I care any less than I use to. I do care so much. But all I can do is take care of what's in front of me. And if Im lucky, write.

What have I been up to? A lot. its been busy here. But so much of what I spend my time doing these days is trying to find any way I can to feel at home. SO here it is, what we've been loving lately:


Arts and crafts. We love gathering treasures at the park and bringing them home with us!Meet "camille". Got to have a french name for a french doll, yes?

Sewing! I've started a log cabin quilt for Maggie

dress up and dancing of course

Oct 4, 2010

Musee Rodin

On Sunday we took advantage of the free day at Paris museums, and went to Musee Rodin. This is always one of my favorite museums, not only for the art, but for the light and the windows and of course the gardens. It is also a perfect size for a toddler--she can handle about 45 minutes inside and then it was time to go back outside and enjoy smelling flowers, studying ladybugs and collecting leaves.

Sep 20, 2010

Salted butter and Bordeaux

I can't believe it; nearly a month has passed since we arrived in Paris (with too much stuff!)...The time has passed so quickly and I've had hardly a moment to tell you that our lives, for the most part, feel settled. We have a routine during the weekdays. Jon goes to the archives and Maggie and I walk to the playground near our apartment. We play in the sandbox, kick a ball around, take Maggie's doll down the slide a few times and then sit on a bench in the sun and share a baguette sandwich. After lunch we return to the apartment, and if we have time, draw or add some things to Maggie's scrapbook. Then she takes a nap, and for that 45 minutes+ I write/read/knit. After nap we play around the house. I make maggie a snack, drink some tea, and we wait for daddy to return. Typically, he's home around 4, and at that point we often take a walk together. Sometimes we go down to Rue des Abbesses and Maggie takes a ride on the carousel. We do our daily grocery shopping. We might go back to the sandbox, or sometimes we get on the metro to explore other parts of Paris. Life, for the most part isn't very different.

Except that of course it is. I could tell you the bad parts of living in Paris; that it is in fact a city, and that we often return home after being squeezed together on the train and up the cramped elevator at our metro station that smells, quite frankly of piss and sometimes vomit, and after a day surrounded by wafting smoke, I lay my sweet girl down for the night and kiss her forehead and she smells like cigarettes. And although in my heart I'm a country girl who longs for some land and maybe a nice cow, and sheep and horses and a garden, and nights on a porch with my kids running around, there is no denying the charm, magic even, of this city. it is amazing.

It is no secret that Paris is amazing--even if you haven't been here, you have most likely seen pictures or movies. And I have to report that it is just as amazing and romantic as you might imagine. Yesterday, Sunday, we went to the Marais with the intention of ending up at L'as du Falafel for dinner. I've been going to this delicious falafel spot since I was here ten years ago, and it is still as good as it was then (and affordable!) We stepped off the metro and the Marais was busy. The streets were filled to the point where no car dared drive on the them, as most people had given up trying to walk on the narrow sidewalks. We walked into a museum (free for a european heritage day) and there in the courtyard a choir was singing. We strolled through rooms filled with art and furniture representing the history of Paris. Then we walked towards Place des Vosgues, stopping to listen to incredible band playing in the street. At Place des Vosgues Maggie went on the see-saw then built a sandcastle and then we all lay in the grass looking up at the sky.

It was an amazing day, although I must admit this kind of magic seems to surround us here. Dare I say ordinary? No. Which is why I need to turn the conversation towards food. This is what I've really wanted to talk about all this time (get to the point, right?)... Food. Butter, and baguette and divine milk, "Lait cru" is incredible whole, raw milk. It tastes so good. And the salted butter? Can I please stuff a whole suitcase and bring that home with me when I go? And pastries? Ok I haven't even touched chocolate or wine yet. Divine. So good. After maggie went to bed the other night we each had a glass of this incredible Bordeaux and then ate some Maison du chocolat. I got up and started twirling around it was so good.

I can't help but think Jon and I are living our very own "Eat, Pray, Love;" Paris is our eat, Senegal will be Pray and Aix en Provence will be Love?? Ok maybe it doesn't fit exactly, but there is definitely some eating and indulgence happening here.

Now to change the subject again. Check out my two year old. She puts outfits like this together herself. Insists on pulling her own backpack at the airport. Holds on the railing on the train "all by myself!" Attitude and cuteness and talking, talking, talking.

Sep 13, 2010


At two years old, Maggie has done a considerable amount of travel, and I have to say, she is a champ. When we packed up our suitcase to make another trip only two weeks after arriving in Paris, I told maggie that we were going to London to visit nanny and baba and benny and heather. "Like Katy in London!" she said enthusiastically, referring to a book we have read often and loved.

She immediately ran out of the room to tell her dad. "We're going on an aventurrr!" The fact that we were taking the train, through a tunnel under the water no less, only added to the excitement. So on Saturday of last week, we boarded our train for the two hour ride to London.

I was equally excited, although not for the reasons you would expect. It was not Big Ben or Buckingham Palace or even the promise of tea (oh delicious tea), but the excitement of seeing my family. It had been only two weeks and already I missed everything and everyone. Mountains and ocean and eucalyptus and friends and maggie's friends, and of course, my family. All this seems even more important now that I have a daughter.

Admittedly it was a relief to arrive in London, a place where at the least they speak english. And it was comforting to see, as we sat in the taxi on the way to our hotel, that unlike Paris, not everyone in London was impossibly well dressed, polished, in dark tones of black, grey etc. Don't get me wrong--I happen to love neutral colors and think the french have incredible taste--but so much perfection? The woman in black heels in the sandbox? The kids in shades of grey, tasteful, tucked, braided? How could it be? I was happy to see color, messiness. I relaxed.

Ok. So its true that when we got the taxi it took me a moment to figure out how to open the door, and Jon went around to the trunk of the taxi to put our luggage only to discover there is no trunk, and the luggage goes up front with the driver, and this little thing where they drive on the left side of the road, which sounds like no big deal, only you realize everything is reversed and therefore your whole world feels mixed up. Really, no big deal. I had been to London a couple of times, and while it is, culturally speaking, closer to America than France or Italy perhaps, it is very different.

But then we met my family at Liberty's for the Cream tea and oh! Tea and scones and clotted cream. Clotted cream! That stuff is divine. I mean why don't they serve that everywhere, all the time? If I think back to one thing about London it was this daily ritual.

Maggie, on the other hand, enjoyed the scones and cream and strawberry jam, but I think I can safely say the highlight for her was the guards. More specifically the horse guards. Our first full day in London Jon, Maggie, my dad, my mom, my brother and I walked through the park to Buckingham Palace, and because we had missed the changing of the guards, continued on to see the horse guards. After the obligatory photo with one of the guards, we continued through the archway, hoping to catch a glimpse of the horses or even the stables.

What happened next was a big event, at least in the mind of a two year old, and I think she will be talking about it for some time. A second guard was standing near a gate, behind which, we assumed was the stables. Maggie loves horses. So do I. So does my mother. We peered around, hoping there was some way to get in. THen Ben stepped right up to the gate, to left and behind the guard.

Suddenly we all heard the guard yelling in a very low, loud voice. He drew his sword. For some reason I remember him pointing it out in the air towards Ben, but everyone claims that did not happen. He did begin to bang the sword on the ground and continued yelling, although honestly it was difficult to make out what he was saying. "Sir, step away from the gate!" something to that effect. We were all a bit shocked, and I'm afraid to say, not entirely intimidated. Maggie was frightened. She buried herself in my chest, and began to tear up a bit and so I led her away and explained that everything was ok.

I wasn't sure how she would react to the incident, but her fear only seemed to make her more interested in the guards. She began to tell the story to us all the time. "The guard got mad at Benny. He said aghh aghh aghh aghhh." In later versions of the story, when the fear was not so fresh in her mind perhaps, she added "the guards are so funny."

So we spent the rest of the week looking for guards. We watched the changing of the horse guard, we went to Saint Paul's Cathedral, we went to Windsor Castle (more guards!), and many other things. Being a tourist is pretty exhausting, but on the last night, after Heather had joined us and we were having another dinner past Maggie's bed time, we walked back to the hotels and prepared to say goodbye.

Up until recently Maggie has been particularly sensitive to anyone but Jon and I holding her. Even with family, who she saw quite frequently, she would cry and want mommy. Only recently has this changed. At dinner I explained to Maggie that the next day we would be leaving. We would go back to Paris, and Heather, Benny, nanny and baba would be leaving to go somewhere else, and we wouldn't see heather or Benny for awhile. She immediately went to sit with them and give them kisses.

On the way home she did something that made me tear up a bit. Heather was holding her and whispered to her that she could lay her head down if she wanted and Maggie put her head on Heather's chest and stayed that way for the whole walk home. It was such a sweet moment, not only because we were leaving and wouldn't be seeing them for awhile, but because I saw how lucky Maggie is, how lucky I am too, to have so much love around her. She has grandma and grandpas, and aunts and uncles and nieces and a nephew who all adore her, but she also has friends from her playgroup and their wonderful mothers, who I know hold and love Maggie in just that same way as Heather did then. SO much love!

Sep 1, 2010

Montmartre, Je t'aime, but why all the hills and stairs?

We live in paradise. North of sacre coeur. Lamarck-Calaincourt. Ill admit that now. There may be 92 steps up from the metro, and stairs and hills everywhere, but look at this. this is where we walk each day.
The last vineyard in paris:
steps like this everywhere.