May 8, 2011


Apparently there's been a growth spurt lately (I didn't realize my belly looked quite so big!)

May 6, 2011


Apr 21, 2011

To Market, To Market

My brother and his family arrived on Wednesday and we have been enjoying the blissful routine of late morning walks to the market. Afternoons are for napping, homework, and knitting, and then another walk about town or to a park before dinner. To say this mom is happy to have family around after so much alone time would be an understatement. Maggie is simply joyful with her three cousins, and I am enjoying more free time to knit or cook or get things done around the house. Not to mention the wonderful company of Heather and Ben. The truth is we have been eating about six or seven baguettes a day between us, and generous heaps of salted butter on top of that.

Ben, Heather, and especially Katherine have been doing such a great job posting on their family blog that I hardly have a thing to add--

But here are few pictures from yesterday's market adventures:

and pre-bedtime dancing of course

Apr 16, 2011

Market Bounty

We arrived in Aix-en-Provence on Thursday, and so far all I can think about is FOOD. I think this return to food is good for me. I feel more energy and less like I'm walking through sand.

Today's market bounty. GREEN GREEN GREEN. havent seen much green for awhile.

Apr 11, 2011


The room is on the second floor and looks east onto the street and the house guards below. They sit under the shade of the Acacia tree if it is hot, on the opposite side in the sun if it is cool. Seventy degrees is an occasion for sweaters and jackets. Eighty is comfortable. When Jean leaves after the day shift he returns to a home down the street. He is lucky to have his own place. The young guard down the street moved here from Guinea with no family; he sleeps under the stairs of the apartment nearby. We miss seeing Konate during the day; his sister in Paris sends him money so that he can attend nursing school during the day. He watches the building at night, though I am not sure when he sees his family. His eyes are kind. His brother sells Djembes nearby. On the street the wind howls and carries sand along the paved street. When I come in from a walk outdoors I shake the sahara from my hair; I dump sand like an hourglass from my shoes.

My shoes. They are forever changed. Stained by the deep orange earth, corroded by the leak of sewage, by the terrain of ridges and bottles--a city deconstructed.

Maggie and I spend much of our day in this room looking east. When she hears hoof prints on pavement she runs to the window to look out. The walls separating inside from outside in Senegal are mere facades. There is no real separation. Each day the Sahara blows beneath the porch door. I sweep and it clings to my nose, coats my mouth. Ants are tenacious, cockroaches plentiful. THere is always a mosquito lurking. This is their earth as much as ours.

I have become a mosquito hunter. The pacsifist who cried when her father killed a fly, who prefers to slip spiders quietly outdoors rather than squash them--here I have learned the mosquito's habits like an assasin planning its kill. I can spot and distinguish them by their lazy trajectoires. My hands are lightening quick. I swipe at them with open fist and smother them in my hand. I feel like the protector of my family when I do this--each mosquito has the potential to harm my daughter or my unborn child. What would I not do to protect them?

I know before the sun rise that day will begin. The first call to prayer happens before dawn; the last at dusk. On Saturday the local Marabout sets up a temporary roof and hundreds gather for chanting that lasts through the night. Prayer has entered Maggie's vocabulary. She sees many, including her friend Mamadou at the fruit stand, roll out their mats and kneel to pray. Our days are full of a million questions as Maggie takes the world in. It is all new to her, Africa or California or France. She wants to know what and why. Often if I do not have an answer she says "maybe daddy knows." Or she comes up with her own, "Maybe he's praying."

For nearly all of our six months in Dakar the power has gone out across the city for large portions of the day. This happened nearly every other day until about two weeks ago when the power problem was mysteriously fixed. After two years of terrible power outages, the power hasn't gone out at our house in Mermoz for several weeks. On our trip home from Senegal in December for the holidays we were sitting in the airplane when the lights went out to prepare for takeoff. Maggie said very matter of factly, "the power went out," as if this was just a part of daily life. We laughed.

Our world has changed. Maggie's body and mind will grow around these experiences; heart and muscle and tissue flexible from this time when a conversation might pass quickly from French to Wolof to English.

I am thankful, but I am happy to leave. I feel exhausted as we pack to leave for France. I do not want to live out of suitcases any more. I am torn by the desire to be unencumbered by things, and the desire to surround myself with familiar things.

We load our suitcases into the taxi that night. Our flight is not until 10:30 pm. Slowly they gather. So many friends come to see us off. They help Jon with suitcases. I wonder if they know each other: Konate and Jean the guards, Mokhtar, Mamadou the guard who lives down the street and Mamadou who sells fruit. They are genuine and warm and kind. We shake hands and they stand and wave as the taxi takes off down the street. As we drive to the airport the sun is concentrated on the horizon. It is cool and the air smells like the sea.

Apr 3, 2011

Isle de Goree

Coming in from the ferry:

Amazing Baobob tree

Growing baby:

Wrestling on the beach:

Maison des Esclaves

"From this door
on a voyage without return
they went, their eyes fixed
on the end of suffering"

Mar 28, 2011


Sand and Sun

Two more weeks and we leave for France! Hard to believe. Jon has been very busy, working 6 day weeks and nights, but any chance we get we go to the beach. Dakar juts into the Atlantic and it seems the ocean is all around us. some mornings I wake up, open the window and smell the salty sea air.

We discovered by accident (a taxi ride gone awry) the most wonderful beach--Plage de Mamelles. It feels like our very own secret beach--secluded, quiet, and beautiful.

And when we want a quick beach getaway (less than 5 minutes) we go to this beach by the Mosque on the Corniche:

Both fill us with a bit of the natural world not unlike our beaches in northern California, although there are always the reminders that we are far from home:teenage boys bathing goats in the waves, fishing boats painted brightly, and wrestling, which seems to be a favorite sport here in Senegal.

Mar 10, 2011

The state of things

Last night while skyping with my sister I told her that I thought blogging was “unnatural.” She told me to blog about it.

I’m not saying I think blogging is unnatural for everyone. There are so many people with interesting things to say, and they say them eloquently, beautifully even. It’s just that blogging isn’t natural to me. Why would you want to listen to me ramble? Who cares?

It’s a funny thing for a writer to say. Who cares? Really, who cares? When I write fiction I love my characters; it is a relief that “I” don’t enter into the equation at all. I must step out of the way; let their stories unfold. At the best moments “I” don’t exist in the process of writing at all. I transcend myself…I feel wholeness. But blogging?

I woke up this morning, thoughts swarming my head like a million bees. I am across the Atlantic in a world so unlike my own. Everything is different, even small things. Like how survival seems to be in your own hands. Cars do not stop for pedestrians—they do not slow down when someone crosses the street; they don’t even swerve to avoid them. When I teeter on the edge of a busy road, inches from traffic, and a man or woman is walking in the other direction, do we pass each other on the right or the left? Neither. Every time I meet someone on the road like this they will stay strong on their path, doing whatever it takes to keep the safest course. Often that means forcing me into the road or the ditch. Few people spend their days inside on computers; they are outside, sitting in the sun or shade greeting people. They greet people on the street. They light fires with small bits of paper and cook their lunch inches from traffic passing by. Maggie is expected to greet elders here: to say hi, how are you? She is only two years old. Things are different; that is not to say better or worse. Different.

And it isn’t a gift to be stolen from your world for a time? To see it as I do, from a distance, across a large ocean? I have been reading “That Thing Around Your Neck,” a wonderful collection of stories by Nigerion author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her observations about the gap between American culture and the African characters in her stories have only made my experiences here in Senegal more poignant.

All I want (I am a pregnant lady, more than halfway until new baby) is to make a home. To unpack. To cook food that is familiar. To garden. To go the farmer’s market. To be with friends and family. But I hope that I can take this with me when I return home…remember how fortunate I am. Remember how happy people in Senegal seem to be with so few material things.

The truth? Some days here are very hard. Some days are ok. I wake up each morning and I can honestly say I look forward to seeing my daughter. I hear that little voice and her excitement that it is day. I want to get up and see her. It’s pretty awesome being a mom. The state of things? Pretty darn good.

Mar 5, 2011

At home in Dakar

What we've been up to...

A little baking

Some dress up

and Knitting too

Feb 28, 2011

Top Ten?

According to latest livability index compiled by The Economist, Dakar, Senegal is one of the 10 worst cities to live in the world. the worst city to live in the world is Harare, Zimbabwe, followed by Dhaka, Bangladesh, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Lagos, Nigeria, Algiers, Algeria, Karachi, Pakistan, Douala, Cameroon, Tehran, Iran, Dakar, Senegal, and then, the best of the worst 10 cities on the index, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The Economist Intelligence Unit survey ranks cities based on 30 factors such as healthcare, culture and environment, and education and personal safety.

Well, Dakar is definitely not the easiest place to live, but almost every ex-pat we've met says they have been stationed in far worse places--in fact they like Dakar. hmmm.

Feb 19, 2011


You never know where you'll end up when you get into a taxi in Dakar.
Taxis are everywhere. Empty yellow cabs, exhaust pouring from tailpipes rattle by on almost every street. They pause or honk as if begging you to take a ride.

Taxi fares are negotiated, and the negotiation usually involves a performance by both parties:
Taxi driver "3000 CFA"
us: "No, no, no. That's way too expensive. 1000 CFA."
Taxi: "That's not enough."
Us: "its not far..."
Taxi: "2500 CFA."
Us. "No, no. 1500."
Taxi. "2000"
We begin to walk away.
Taxi "ok. 1500 CFA."
All this before we even step into the car.

Actually getting to your destination is another matter entirely. The strange thing about taxi drivers in Dakar is that they seldom know how to get anywhere. There are very few "real" addresses in Dakar. Don't try to send me a letter because it probably won't get here. Instead you must direct the driver by landmarks, which means you have to know where you're going.

We'd never been to the beach at Ngor which meant when we hopped into a taxi last Saturday morning, we did't know where we were going. After taking us to the wrong beach a couple miles north, the driver turned around and finally stopped by a small hotel, promising that the beach was just beyond the buildings that lined the road. We saw a path leading to blue. We had arrived. Or so we thought.

The beach wasn't what we expected. The tide was in and there was a small strip of sand covered in bottle caps, cans and other bits of trash. We walked, a bit demoralized. Where was the white sand beach we had been promised? Or even just a bit of clean sand for maggie to shovel into her pail? We've been to some beautiful beaches in Dakar; this just wasn't one of them.

Jon stopped and asked a man if there was a nice beach nearby. And this is when our true adventure started.

He was young, or at least young to my eyes, late twenties, perhaps?--clearly I'm getting older here for I find myself talking about the peace corps volunteers as "kids". After we had been talking for a while he took out a pack of cigarettes and started smoking--something I seldom see in Dakar. It was as if he wanted to demonstrate his affluence, or at least show us that he was cosmopolitan. He said that if we waited until the afternoon the tide would shift and take with it all the debris that had gathered on the beach. I imagined all those bottle caps and plastic bags floating in the water. Somehow it wasn't appealing.

To be fair, the true draw of Ngor is the island beach that sits a small distance from the mainland. Boats ferry passengers over for a couple of dollars. That day the water was choppy. The wind blew sand into our eyes and carried debris along the beach. We decided to leave that trip for another day.

The man offered to show us the way towards a hotel a little ways down the coast which we knew had a small beach and playground. We agreed, and followed him into a narrow alley, its small path made entirely of sand.

Buildings rose around us, their windows open, walls covered with laundry-fabrics and jerseys and skirts drying in the sun. Sometimes the path tightened and we stepped aside to let others by. Men were out walking the maze like paths; their children darted past with bare feet. The path opened and we passed a woman with tin pots ladling food into small bowls and passing them out to the children and men.

The village of Ngor truly was a maze. I don't that we could have found our way out without help. Occasionally I smelled the salty sea air blow through, but mostly the smells were those I've grown accustomed to: a mineral smell that permeates everything in Senegal, cooking onions, spices, and the not so pleasant scents of sewage, exhaust and rotting animals. We followed our guide for awhile, and I began to wonder, where is he taking us? But suddenly we ducked through a low door and we were inside his home.

We entered and I thought immediately, so this is where all the women are. Young women cleaning floors with bleach, wiping ledges, and taking care of children--the house was full of women, and they all seemed to be in some way related to the man who was our guide.

He showed us his family's house with pride. His eyes were bright and happy, and though at first I felt like we were intruders in a family's private realm, I couldn't help but feel happy and privileged as well. He introduced us to his sisters and then led us upstairs. We entered a small room and found more family: three sisters and their mother. His mother was not there, but he told us she was one of his father's four wives (!!). Truly it was a big family. Then he took us into his room, and again, he beamed. It was a big room, made bigger by the scarcity of furniture or other items: only a mattress, several small items, and in the corner there was a painting. It was a painting of his grandfather. We finished the tour on the roof where the air was fresh and the ocean seemed to be all around.

He certainly had not taken us to a place we expected to go, but I truly felt the blessing of the simplest things in his life, and the pride he felt in sharing that with us. It was pretty wonderful.

He took us back outside, but there were a couple more things he wanted to show us: the cemetery, filled with the history of his village and his family, and one incredible Baobob tree growing up from the maze of houses. He pulled some leaves from the tree and told us to make a prayer and give the leaf back to the tree. As I tossed my leaf towards the tree I already felt the gratitude for everything in my life. Blessings all around.

The Baobob prayer tree:

Our guide taking us through the narrow paths of Ngor: