Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Travel Mania

Its Saturday night and I'm snuggly under my hideous yet amazingly soft Middle Eastern synthetic blanket. These are the only warm blankets you can find in Senegal that don't cost an arm and a leg.

(Oops, I wrote this a few days ago, and I'm currently in Atlanta as I post :)

Tomorrow (well, technically early Monday morning), I leave for Atlanta. I have a business trip that will find me in Atlanta and Athens, Georgia for the next 8 days. Even though I've only been back in Senegal for a little over two weeks, I am still looking forward to spending some time on American soil... shopping, eating, and learning about poultry science (woo hoo). I'm hoping to make up for my lack of shopping around Christmas... I really, really need to update my wardrobe. I am ready to give everything away and start at 0! I also plan to stock up on things for MIA (My Imaginary Apartment), like a comforter for my new duvet cover, sheets, pillows, printed pictures..... what I don't find I'll order online and have my mom bring with her when she visits February 16 (soooo soon!).

Last year I travelled to Cape Verde, San Diego/LA, Cameroon (twice), Ivory Coast (twice), Burkina Faso, NYC, and North Dakota, not including my trips home to Boston and DC, and my trips home to Senegal, of course :) By the end of April I will have travelled to Atlanta, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Uganda, and Egypt.

I wish I could say I really enjoyed traveling for work... I enjoy it to a degree and yes, I do get sick pleasure from my collection of visas, passport stamps, and airline miles, but its not as glamorous or exciting as it might seem. I travel primarily alone, often in less than awesome conditions and to cities I don't feel comfortable exploring on my own. I spend most nights eating room service and surfing the internet. Its honestly pretty lonely (but thank god for Skype). Work-wise, traveling can be both extra-stressful with crucial meetings and also a welcome change of pace from the routine of working independently in Dakar. The one thing I have really loved about traveling in West Africa is being able to compare and contrast countries that I had previously studied in textbooks and now have the chance to visit. Before my experience in Africa had been limited to Senegal, and now I have the opportunity to observe and reflect on differences in fashion, language, religion, city conditions, weather, landscape, traditional art, fabrics, attitudes towards Westerners, etc. Its fascinating and inspiring!

Alright, present-day Kim is signing off to rally the troops for dinner. Adios!

Friday, January 25, 2013

AfricaStyle: African Textiles + Pillows = ?

Lets be real. A lot of the time I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing/thinking when it comes to "design." I have no expertise, no experience beyond scouring the internet for pictures of enviable interiors, my travel adventures, and seeing different styles play out in my family's homes. I've yet to really invest in designing a home or apartment of my own (completely)... most of my ideas are still in my head and now on this blog. I know what I am drawn to, there are colors that SCREAM to me, textiles and art that I have to have. I feel the urge to nest, to settle, and most of all... to DECORATE!

But sometimes I really can't tell if an idea or vision has merit, or if it totally sucks and I just can't see it. Alright, I know if I like it I should just own it and not care what others might think, but...... well, this doubt can be crippling when I am trying to make decisions and move projects and ideas forward. I lose steam and things fall to the wayside because I just can't decide if I like something, or if its actually good taste. Or worse, I don't take many design risks because I wonder what others will think, second guessing my preferences. The same goes for fashion, which I'm ok with, but decor is my passion and I DO care about taking risks and making an impact.

So, what think ye of these pattern combinations... for real? I've been collecting African fabrics I think will look work well someday, and I like them a lot (especially individually)... but the doubts are starting to rear their head. 

I showed swatches of fabric to my mom and a friend and received mixed reactions. My mom doesn't like number 1, she thinks the neutral color clashes with the other fabrics (???). My friend (with extremely good taste) thinks number 3 is too out there, but loves number 6.

I LOVED #3 because it was so different and a lot more "African" than the others, in my book. and I thought of #1 as a safe option I was also really drawn to. Boo.

UGH!!!!! The doubts!!!! Why do I care?!? My friend has a bunch of African fabric pillows and I don't love them all. Textiles are super subjective. And I still love her interior decor and think she has amazing taste. To each their own. But once the doubts creep in, its quite difficult for me to ignore them...

I do feel pretty confident about this trio.... Those two fabrics (left and right) spoke to me when I saw this bedding, and I think they will work in real life! Or rather, I KNOW they will work in real life! I haven't decided if I will actually buy the pillow in the middle... but I do like how it ties the blue, pink, and red together. I think a pillow with similar but deeper colors would also work well.

My gut feeling (I think...?) on the couch is that I need to use a more selective eye. Maybe there is too much pattern going on and I could stand to narrow down the selection. I can always use the other fabrics in other parts of the living room (for a pouf, for chair cushions, a table cloth.... etc).

Although I just eyed the picture again and I'm liking it right now. Hum....

Pleeeeeeeeeaaaaaase, tell me what you think!!!! (/Rescue me from my doubts!!!!)

DIY "Salt Water Cure" Print

Heyyyyyya friendicles.

Last week I was daydreaming about my future bedroom and I included a print from Society6 on my "Inspiration Board" (aka Picasa collage because I'm not fancy enough for Photoshop). My bedding/room/future apartment have a beach-y feel, I live 5 minutes from the ocean, and who doesn't love an inspirational quote? Voila:

I finally found the full-size image!
But then I thought to myself, I have taken so many memorable photos of stunning ocean vistas, and I really want to display photos from my travels... so why don't I make my own "print" based on this find? More affordable and more personal. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right??

Confession: I've been rereading this quote for weeks, and its only now that I noticed it was a PERIOD after water, not a comma... and that changed the whole meaning of the quote for me. I hadn't thought of "sweat, tears, or the sea" as different types of salt water! Wow, I am a doofus.

Anyways, for now, this is the remake I have come up with:

I am ashamed to admit how long it took me to get Picasa to save this picture exactly how I wanted (and may have involved me taking a screenshot).
Well, its obviously not exactly the same (nor should it be!) and it isn't quite so artsy, but I love that my version features a picture of an absolutely gorgeous vista from a hike I took in Santo Antao, Cape Verde in spring 2012. I played with the colors a little bit and stayed close to the original font. In the end, I might leave the photo unedited to show more details... we shall see what I decide when it is time to print.

And for kicks, here are two other favorite photographs from that trip, both pictures I would like to print and frame eventually...

This picture is from the same hike as shown in the poster. We walked alongside the cliffs, alongside the ocean, discovering tiny hillside villages. Twas gorgeous.
This photo is from a day-long hike through a stunning valley on Santo Antão. The mountains were staggering and the air brisk.
Cape Verde was unforgettable (and I hope to go back)! I will have to do a blogpost about that trip some day....

Thursday, January 24, 2013

AfricaStyle: An Intro to Baskets

Now, this won't be the only time you hear about baskets from me... but before I delve into the world of African baskets, I am itching to let you all in on a secret.

I've been on a design blog kick the past few days and African baskets have been popping up here and there (hence this post). Honestly, I have been absolutely shocked at how expensive these baskets are in the US and on Etsy. Good lord!!! Take these gorgeous Senegalese baskets, for example:

From this pleasant and pricey store, Serena & Lily
A set of three baskets (one small, medium, and large) is for sale at $290.00.


There are 5 stands on my street that sell these very same baskets, in all sizes, shapes, and colors and to custom order if you like. The largest basket you can find might cost $20, maaaaaaaaybe (and if you aren't good at bargaining). Most baskets cost between $8 and $12. So that is a mark-up (on an already marked up product) of like, almost 90 percent. Now I understand import costs need to be factored in and yes, they're "supporting" Senegalese entrepreneurship. But frankly, there are factoriessss stocked full of these baskets and really, 90% on a product made of straw and plastic, that is not labor-intensive to produce? Why mark something up to the point a person would be insane to spend $148 on a straw and plastic basket?!

Wow. Part of me is like, Damn, I need to get into the business of basket selling. Another part of me feels a little bit guilty because I am obviously for supporting humanitarian causes and giving back, especially to Senegal.... but I don't know. This seems wrong to me in some way. Wouldn't they sell more baskets if they were more reasonably priced? I for one would never pay over $100 for a straw basket, but would consider a more affordable (and still marked-up) price to pay for a beautiful and useful design piece. Please weigh in, maybe I'm missing something.

Mk, I'm stepping off my soap box now. Sorry for the incredulousness... now excuse me while I start brainstorming my new Etsy shop featuring overpriced African goods....

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dakar Guide: Restaurants, Part I

Anyone who knows me in real life is well aware that I l-o-v-e food... and good food! So it goes without saying that finding good food in Dakar has been a huge part of my survival and dare I say, ability to thrive, in this often overwhelming city. The food is good. Now, I certainly have my fair share of venting to do about certain quirks (swiss cheese on pizza, mayonnaise on everything!) and things lacking (real Italian food, any Mexican food at all!)... but there are some very viable culinary options, and I am excited to share my favorites with those of you who may one day visit Dakar or find yourself living here. Miam-miam :P

Restaurants in Dakar, Part I

1. Sao Bresil, Ngor, behind the Shell Station in Ngor (closed on Wednesdays)

This restaurant has the best pizza in all of Dakar, in my opinion. They still use emmental cheese instead of mozzarella (grrrr!), but the toppings are interesting and tasty, and the crust is thin and perfectly crisp. My favorite pizza is the "N'Goroise," which features chorizo, fresh goat cheese, tomatoes, and basil. De-li-cious. The other food options are also really good--salads, meat dishes, and a great drink selection. Prices are relatively reasonable, but definitely expat range ($8-$15 for an entrée, $10 for a drink). The atmosphere is pleasant; the seating is outdoors, set under an awning of sorts, along with the bar. There is also a (dangerous) playground for kids to play on, and strung lights.... The one downside is there are often LOTS of mosquitoes; come prepared with bug spray or pants and be sure to ask your waiter for a coil.

2. Cabane du Surfeur, Almadies, turn left right before rue des Almadies coming from downtown, past Prière Beach but before Chez Fatou Kim on the left (the shack is blue)
2010: Sunset at Cabane du Surfeur with my former roommate (oh em geeeeeee... feels like a lifetime ago, I was a [skinny] baby!)
There is quite a strip of restaurants on this street running along the beach in Almadies; Cabine du Surfeur is my favorite beachside destination. The menu is simple (I recommend the chicken skewers, cheap and yummy!) and they serve soda, juice, or beer, all on a terraced and sandy space  directly on the water. There is no beach entryway, just rocks, but some people still meander down and make their way into the ocean. This is a great place to catch the sunset, wiggle your toes in the sand, and enjoy a cold beverage (and you can bring your own if you prefer something different).

3. Praïnha Creperie Grill, Almadies, across the street from Cabane du Surfeur

For more food options on this same strip, I recommend Praïnha Crêperie Grill across the street from Cabane du Surfeur. You don't have the ocean view, but this Moroccan-owned restaurant (which is a small open air shack on the side of the road) offers a delicious and affordable selection of sweet and savory crepes, sandwiches, salads, Moroccan tea, and delectable fresh juices depending on the fruit in season. I prefer the food here to many fancier options throughout the city; its simple and delicious, and includes interesting choices like guacamole, watermelon juice, goat cheese and honey crepes, Nutella and coconut crepes, and the list goes on. One time I went for dinner and they had a special tapas menu with a live band... I don't know if this is a regular feature, but it was lovely. PS. Bring mosquito spray!

4. La Braise, Mamelles, turn right into Mamelles right after the roundabout and the restaurant is on your left after the first side street, across from a bakery (closed on Tuesdays)

The three previous restaurants are admittedly expat hotspots; you are pretty much bound to run into someone you know at these locations. But La Braise is still kind of a well-kept secret. My roommate and I lived across the street from this restaurant for several months before we wandered in out of curiosity and discovered a quaint and romantic restaurant, also semi-outdoors, with dim and romantic lighting. La Braise specializes in grilled meats and fish, and sports an outdoor brick oven. You must order the "Pommes Argentés" as your side: potatoes baked in foil with cream sauce. They are to DIE FOR! The prices are amazing, the meat and fish are fresh and delectable. The only downside is the menu is a bit limited for those who go often ;) But the service is great, ambience charming, and food dependable and tasty. We used to order from La Braise at least once a week (you can also order to pick-up)... and now I really want to go back!

5. La Corée III, or The Pork Shack, Karackwalking distance from the Karack mosque but ask for directions from a local!

This place is hard to find and I have no idea why its called Korea III, but the experience is totally worth the trek! The pork shack is a run by an Ivoirian and Christian family (I think)... so it is one of the few African restaurants in Dakar where you can find pork. They grill it up for you and serve the ribs with spicy sauce and African side dishes, and a cold beer if you so desire. Its a messy business--you will definitely eat with your hands--but the outdoors atmosphere is convivial and the restaurant is popular with the African immigrant population in Dakar and Christian Senegalese patrons. It is a fun scene and a great place for a group of friends to eat out on a weekend night, but be warned that the service can be very, very slow depending on how busy they are (I presume grilling capacity is small).

6. Le Djolof, Fann Hock, across the corniche from Souboujdeune (sp?!) market, go 2 minutes down the the street with what looks like a temple at the end of it and it is a colonial building with a lit terrace (hope you appreciate these directions!)

Via their hotel website
I've only ever eaten here once, but the romantic atmosphere and excellent view from this rooftop boutique hotel restaurant is enough to bring me back and recommend the spot to others. We ate tapas and celebrated a friend's birthday, admiring the hotel's decor as we made our way upstairs. Based on the look of things, I think this would be an excellent place to stay in the city if you are looking for a charming boutique hotel.

Bon appetit!

In my next installment, I'll share some of my favorite places to eat downtown (not to say I've tried them all, and I am always looking to discover new destinations for a food-fix).

Introducing Travel/City Guides :)

Awhile back I posted that my mom, C., and I were going to Morocco in February.... change of plans! Instead, my mom is coming to Dakar for the first time since I've studied/worked/lived here (she actually visited Senegal with an environmental org when I was a little girl, over 20 years ago). As much as I love Morocco and am set on going back, I'm so excited for my mom to finally see where I live, meet C., my friends, and to share with her all my favorite spots that have come to make up home here in Dakar. Not to mention the gorgeous weather will be a much appreciated break coming from Boston (its 79 right now, and in Boston its  25 degrees!).

Dakar from my balcony in early 2011. Come visit!!!
Speaking of visitors, my roommate has gotten into CouchSurfing lately, and we've had some guests staying with us for the past few days--a man and woman from Spain, and another woman from Italy. I still don't know if I would ever stay with someone via CouchSurfing... the thought of staying at a stranger's house sounds potentially risky, and potentially awkward.

BUT, these guests have been so much fun! They are all very interesting (and diverse!), gracious, and I've really enjoyed showing them around Dakar and hearing their first impressions and observations about Senegalese culture. It brings me back to my first months in Dakar, when everything was new, mind boggling, and a fascinating cultural discovery. (Not that my cultural discoveries have completely subsided!) There are few things I enjoy more than sitting around discussing cultural differences, similarities, curiosities, injustices, and the list goes on.

With all this in mind, I've been mentally collecting my recommendations for visitors to Dakar. On my last blog, I wrote about life as an expat vs. life as a student in Senegal (a post I hope to resurrect at some point). Nowadays, I find it is important to balance enriching cultural experiences with certain comforts and joys of the "expat" life; I know I would not enjoy living here after three years if I didn't maintain this balance. So my recommendations from living here might not be completely "authentic" or "traditional" or whatever you want to call it, but they are authentic to me and I know I would have appreciated knowing about some of these culinary, shopping, and cultural gems!

All this to say, I'm introducing a new series focused on Travel and City Guides. Most of these guides will be on Senegal, but I hope to include some findings from my travels in the region as well.

Without further ado, I will start with my favorite thing... food in Dakar :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

African Mishmash P.S.

Just had to come back with this recent find.....

From the one and only Amber Interiors

Now, not only do I really love this inspiration board, but do you see what I see?!?!?!?!


How did I not think of this?!?

It is a) genius and b) fits in perfectly with my "African Safari Kitschy Mishmash" guest room theme. Also, I want to put all my planters in African baskets now. I'm also a fan of the Moroccan looking table and the hanging textile. Love, love, love.

Ok, that is all. Bonne nuit!

The Guest Room: African Safari Kitschy Mishmash

So now that I've shared my ideas for the living/dining room and my bedroom, which rooms does that leave us with? The kitchen, bathroom(s), and presumed guest room, not to mention any outdoor space. To start, kitchens in Senegal are generally crap... small rooms with fluorescent lighting and little to no counter space, such as this fine specimen in my last apartment:

The "kitchen" (dysfunctional and hazardous nook) in all its glory before some deep cleaning
The sink clogged daily, we weren't able to remove those prongs (and Laura got poked near the eye one morning), the cord remained flung across the floor, the sink flooded multiple times.................. Suffice it to say, I'm not fantasizing about the kitchen. We'll just see what the next apartment offers us when the time comes. And again, we will have to purchase a fridge and stove (and maybe splurge for a microwave).

As for the communal and presumably small bathroom, I kind of want to jump on the trend bandwagon and paint it glossy deep blue, like this:

Via Apartment Therapy. I had a dream last night I searched high and low and couldn't find this paint.
And finaaaaaaaaally, the guest room. Here's what I'm thinking: African Safari Kitschy Mishmash. I have collected some nice knickknacks over the years, and I've also gathered some things that fall more strictly in the contrived-tourist-crap category (and some in between). Since I don't necessarily want those pieces on display in the living/dining room, they would actually make for a cohesive guest room "Africa theme." I'm not sure I would go for this (or any) theme normally, but I live in Senegal after all, so why on earth not?!

(1) African fabric monkey; (2) Traditional Bamenda (Cameroon) clothing; (3) Senegalese djembé drum; (4) a photo I took of Magal; (5) recycled trays; (6) sand paintings; (7) map of Senegal; (8) creepy pipe from Cameroon; (9) Senegalese baskets; and (10) my once-beloved Bayefall bedspread. 
Green, orange, yellow, and red feature prominently in these items (probably because of the Senegalese flag)... I don't really go for this color scheme normally, so perfect for the guest room :) I have an African fabric quilt bedspread (a Bayefall blanket, named after the religious men who wear similar quilted clothing). When I bought it four years ago, I L-O-V-E-D it; I brought it to college and it was such a treasured reminder of my time spent in Senegal. Well, the charm has worn off and I'm ready for some more sophisticated bedding. Among other things, I also have a Senegalese drum, a sand painting of a Senegalese religious leader, recycled mirror and tray, a weird stuffed monkey, and traditional clothing from Cameroon that would look great on the wall. Throw in some baskets, a couple maps of Senegal, another prayer mat, some prints from my travels in Africa, and a plant to bring the safari vibe.... and there you have my Afri-fabulous vision!

Pourquoi pas?!?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Onto the Living Room...

Ahhhh, the living/dining room. I imagine this space will have lots of potential, space, light, and crown molding ;) As I hope to eventually find a 2-bedroom apartment, there will probably be a spacious combined living/dining room with a window/terrace/balcony (that's the normal set up here). 

As it stands, I have no furniture (the result of living year to year) but lots of little trinkets... plates and lamps from Morocco, a wall hanging from Vietnam, weaving from Senegal, a brass bell and masks from Cameroon, a jewelry box from Syria, and the list goes on. I'm sure it will take seeing the actual space to know where exactly to place my treasures, but general ideas have been taking form.

So, I need furniture. Even though I know I will be in Senegal for at least 1.5 more years, I still don't want to invest in anything too nice as its very unlikely I'll be able to bring it with me wherever I go next. On the other hand, its super easy to tap into the expat community and sell all your furniture before you leave (did that last year!). 

The key is finding cheap to mid-range furniture that can be spruced up and look decent, but doesn't cost me too much upfront (especially since I'll also need to buy a fridge and a stove... yup, kitchens come empty here). Or I might just buy the essentials and slowly add more pieces as I have more money! Wicker is obviously a popular option, but I've been noticing other pieces I think I can jazz up to make this space livable, cute, and affordable. And without further ado...

A Space for Living and Dining
Eclectic, bright, comfy, and open

Clockwise from upper left: 
1. My collection of African textiles; 
2. A West Elm African-inspired coffee table (but I would find the real deal!); 
3. Coasters from Anthro; 
4. Bamboo shelves
5. L-shaped couch with lots o' pillows
6. POUFS!; 
7. Classy African mask wall
8. Scratch-off world map.
As you can see, my vision for the living room area is an L-shaped couch with tons of pillows (see African textiles in the left-hand corner), an African coffee or side table--a real one!, bamboo or wicker shelves, and maybe another chair or poufs for more seating.  My color theme is still coral/teal (and variations, therein), so I bought the teal coasters from Anthro over break for some visual fun :)

I had been eyeing the scratch-off map for months and found it in a little store in Paris last spring. I've also started collecting some masks to install a classy (and understated) mask wall. This might end up in the hallway or somewhere else in the apartment if the wall of masks is too much alongside my existing knick knacks (plates, weavings, etc). Again, I'll have to really see the space to figure out what works.

In the same room, I'm envisioning a simple round or rectangular wooden table with bamboo chairs painted white, pretty much exactly like this set up from Amber Interiors:

I definitely want a set of bamboo chairs (totally accessible here), and I will paint them white to feel more modern. I could also reupholster the cushions with one of my textiles. Oh the possibilities! P.S. If I could afford it/I didn't live in Africa, I would totally hire Amber Interiors to design my whole house!

AKA, these Jonathan Adler chairs, à la cheap-Senegalese-remake:

Oh, the reupholstering possibilities!!!
I also like this dining area...

I saw a teal table lying on its side in a junk yard yesterday... should I snatch it up?! I do like the weathered look, but this one looked very used. Hum....

Here in Senegal you can find plastic mats usually used for prayer similar to the mat above. A bright yet simple mat might look nice under my new kitchen table.

Whelp, those are my ideas for now, its obviously a plan in progress. All of the furniture will take time to order and build and who knows how things will actually come together. But the wheels in my mind are spinning!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Bedroom Dreams to Pass the Hours...

Hola, people!

I am back. (Just in case anyone missed me ;) I am also back in Senegal, and this past week has been spent catching up on work and life. I guess I feel too guilty to blog when I have a million things to bring up to speed... even if I find other ways to procrastinate. Anywho, I'm here and I have design on my mind. I still don't have my own place to live, and I still haven't embraced the villa. And yet, my favorite daydreams involve plans for decorating my space, wherever it might be. I've been collecting art/items/prints, filing away furniture ideas, hoarding textiles, and creating a mental design board for whenever I can actually design my own space. Well, it is time to get some of these ideas on "paper" (or blog post) and let these ideas out of my mind and onto the screen!

My favorite rooms to conjure are the bedroom and combined living room/dining room. Let's start with a peek at my bedroom ideas...

My Imagined Bedroom
Full of light, airy, clutter-free, with bright touches throughout

Clockwise from top left corner: Aqua peacock chair; tribal dream catcher; woven chairs like thesePeacock headboardtribal pillow; my African textiles; Society6 "Salt Water Cure" print; West Elm embroidered bedding.
I like the idea of white bedding, but this West Elm set takes it up a notch. Given my love of all things Moroccan and blue/teal, I think the embroidery makes it a tad more interesting and will probably jive with all my accessory pieces/pillow ideas. The duvet cover is $119 (on sale until Jan 28) from West Elm. I am this close to ordering it...

I don't own the dream catcher ($18) or the pillow ($40), but I love these accessories made from Thai textiles. They add pops of color, touches of whimsy. I am contemplating some Etsy purchases...

The print is peaceful, inspiring, and blends well. Love the quote, "The cure for anything is salt water, sweat, tears, or the sea." Here is a (kind of) better view:

In terms of furniture, I picture a simple wooden bed frame painted white or left au natural (the peacock headboard is still in dream territory...). Eventually I might also attempt a DIY headboard (Moroccan wedding blanket?!), but lets not get too ambitious yet. And because most Senegalese apartments don't have built in storage or closets, a large wicker armoire to store my clothes (or wood, depending on price). And maybe a bamboo chair for even more POP. But would a peacock chair like this one be too grand for the bedroom?! Smaller woven chairs could be a good alternative.

Some other ideas include a Malian batik throw for the bed (tie-died look, in teals/reds/coral, of course), accent pillows from my collection of textiles, a few (hanging?) plants, and an interesting mirror. And maybe some African artifacts strewn about ;)

Coming up are my living/dining room ideas. For the next blog post!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Thoughts on Blogging

I love reading blogs, and I think I read a lot, though I actually have no idea how many blogs people read who are actually IN the blogosphere. Anyways, I'm not bragging about how many blogs I read, obviously. Its just to say, I read a lot about the "community" people find through blogging and I follow comments and I won't deny it--I want a real blog, a blog that people follow and comment on. I want to be a part of the community!

I wonder sometimes what type of people are drawn to blogging and reading blogs, and how I fit into this community. Not many of my real life friends read blogs--if any. Maybe its because they don't procrastinate like I do, or they would rather read the news. What I do know is that it makes complete sense to me that I am drawn to blogs. I've been blogging since high school (livejournal [the shame], travel blog, and finally blogger)... I have always enjoyed writing about my life (self-centered, much... only child syndrome?), and I have always been a literary voyeur. The blogs I enjoy the most are those written by people living lives vastly different from my own, with blogs that offer a fascinating window into ways of life I've only ever wondered about.

I certainly enjoy blogs I can relate to as well, but either way, I always prefer blogs that show the writer's true personality, written without fear of exposure, over-sharing, or disrupting an arbitrary  standard of virtual political correctness. Authenticity, honesty, the good, the bad, the ugly, the flawed, and the inspiring. When bloggers stress about hinting at political opinion, religious affiliation, whatever it may be... I don't get it! I read your blog because I want to know who you are, and what shapes the views, tastes, and ideas you share with viewers. Some of my favorite blogs are written by the very devout (I am not religious), or conservatives (I am quite liberal and not afraid to mention it!), or single dads, or Southerners, or stay at home moms, or workaholics, etc, etc, etc. People I differ from... and yet I'm drawn to their online journals because they are authentic, interesting, and likable.

That's just me.

Anyways, I actually set out writing this entry because I find my biggest challenge with blogging--other than my fear of truly promoting my blog to get a real following because maybe people will find me silly or my thoughts uninteresting!--is post length. I cannot for the life of me write a short blog entry. This makes me insecure; am I obsessed with the sound of my own voice? If I want people to read this blog, I should be striving to produce more readable entries.... but I always get carried away and then I have trouble editing back.

Personally, I don't mind reading long entries. In fact, I enjoy them because I look to blogs for an escape from my every day life and a daily connection to my culture (as I am an American living in Africa, after all!). I relish finding a new blog to love and sift through the archives, content with days of reading, similar to the joy of discovering a TV shows with multiple seasons to catch up on. I now have a list of blogs I read on a daily basis, but I actually look for length and substance. I wonder where most people fall on this subject... do most people read blogs as a quick morning routine? Are they looking for little tid bits to gobble up rather than real reading material? What do most people look for in a blog -- practical/fun/interesting factoids, or a more personal look at the writer's life? I'm curious!

But, if anyone is reading this, its doubtful they've gotten this far anyways.

And the problem continues...

Friday, January 4, 2013

Resolutions, or Reflections

There are a lot of things on my mind as the new year begins -- ways I can improve in all aspects of my life. I've never been one to set strict resolutions (maybe I should?), but I definitely make a point to reflect on my life quite regularly and consider how I can be happier and/or more fulfilled. I don't always act on these reflections, however. It's one thing to be self-aware, another to actually make changes. So to simplify things this year, I wanted to come up with some concrete things I can do to address my shortcomings and enrich my daily life. Sometimes the big picture feels too daunting to tackle--maybe this approach will be more effective.

Fall 2010. My goal for 2013: Make more time for reading on the beach at sunset.
Resolutions for 2013
  1. Find some sort of physical activity that I truly enjoy and can incorporate into my daily (weekly) life that doesn't feel like some god-awful chore or form of torture. Strive to be more active in general.
  2. Establish a clearer division between my work and personal life. This is tough because I work from home and I have a very hard time letting go of the feeling that I could always be doing more, more, more. Its been really difficult for me to relax, guilt-free the past 5 months and it has absolutely taken a toll on my personal life and general happiness. I should also probably stop talking about work all the time when I'm not at work. My poor family, friends, and boyfriend.
  3. Better time management. My guilt/stress is often based on things out of my control, but it would definitely be less intense if I managed my time better and insisted on "leaving work" at 6pm every day. Which would be easier to do if I felt like I had managed my time better during work hours. I'm hard on myself, but this is definitely an area I can improve in.
  4. Work on increasing my energy levels -- through diet, exercise, sleep schedule, and general motivation! Basically, stop burning out and feeling lazy a lot the time. (Definitely related to the other 3 resolutions.)
And make more time for seeing live music in Dakar. Here I was upfront at an Awadi concert.

There are many other things that come to mind: be a better friend/daughter/granddaughter/sister/girlfriend, be more caring and attentive, do more socially, give back, etc.... but really, I think if I cut down on my stress and establish a clearer division between my work and personal life, those other things will be easier for me to focus on again and make time for. I also want to write in this blog more regularly and make progress on home projects, finding an apartment, and decorating -- but all within a productive time management scheme (ie. this shouldn't be used to procrastinate, but definitely when I have real free time!).

So there you have it! 2012 was a great year but included some major changes that are still requiring adjustment, and those are my main goals for 2013 :) Wish me luck!

From the Archives: Magal Teaser and the Road Trip from Hell

From the Archives: I am starting a new series, "From the Archives." Before starting this blog, I had another travel blog (actually, two) devoted to chronicling my travels and adventures in Senegal and elsewhere. These blogs were targeted at family and friends, but I will be reposting some of these entries every now and again. Its always fun for me to read and see how my perspective on life here has changed... or not, over the past 2.5 years. I hope you enjoy!

This first post is from a religious pilgrimage I took part in with Senegalese friends two years ago.  The same pilgrimage took place this past weekend, so I thought this would be a good time to share my experience and reflect on what I can most definitely say was the most grueling and yet most rewarding travel experience ever (and that is saying a lot!). I included some new details on the trip itself and especially wanted to share the photographs that were my reward for the world's worst road trip.

Magal Teaser, and the Road Trip from Hell
February 3, 2011

Two weeks ago I went to Touba, the Mouride brotherhood's holy city in Senegal, for le Grand Magal -- their yearly pilgrimage. I intend to write a lengthy post with lots of details, but in the mean time I thought I would post some pictures from the trip.... we went to the mosque at sunrise so I got some really beautiful pictures. Enjoy!

Yes, the road trip from hell really was worth it.

But first, a present day interjection: Two years later and this pilgrimage still garners first place in terms of most horrific travel experiences -- they call it a pilgrimage for a reason! Normally it takes 2-3 hours to drive to Touba from Dakar. As mentioned on the Wikipedia page, Magal attracts millions of Senegalese, so obviously the roads are not at their normal level of already horrific traffic getting out of the city. I had to work the day we left (the eve of the actual event), so we planned to leave around 7pm, hoping to arrive in the night/early morning depending on traffic.

At around 5pm, we took a taxi to Rufisque, a suburb of Dakar on the way out of the city, to meet up with a cousin with whom we were traveling. This took an hour. When we arrived she wasn't ready so we sat around for another hour while she finished packing, but we had plenty of time before our bus, scheduled for 7pm.

With suitcases in tow, we walked to the house of the woman organizing the bus, in the dark on sandy streets in a somewhat questionable neighborhood (but most Dakar neighborhoods look questionable in the dark, whether or not they are). The power was out in the area so it was pitch black. It was also pitch black at the woman's house. She informed us the bus was running late so we could wait with some other passengers in her living room.

At this point it was after 7pm. We sat in that pitch black, stiflingly hot living room until midnight doing nothing--besides people speaking Wolof and me almost going mad in the process (5 hours of nothing!). We finally got word the bus was nearing the neighborhood and rushed out of the house with our suitcases, running down the street to meet it in time. As we approached, we were joined by 20-30 other people planning on taking the same bus. The bus rolled in completely full.


Somehow, most of the crowd managed to squeeze in the coach bus, and the driver/bus-worker tried to convince us to sit on a mattress in the aisle/stairwell of the bus. No matter how desperate we were to leave, we all agreed this was not a safe option and so the bus left without us. It was 1am, and we'd been on the road (or trying to be on the road) since 5pm already (8 hours).

At this point, we had no option but to wander the streets hoping to find another bus that could take us. Car rapides drove by on their way but they are at the bottom of the bus totem pole--bad conditions and extremely uncomfortable--so we passed. We found a city bus parked on the side of the road with a sleeping chauffeur and so we sat in the bus and waited/napped/despaired, as mosquitos devoured us alive for nearly an hour. Let's recall I had worked all day and was dying of exhaustion.

A car rapide on a sunny day in Dakar. This was not the kind of bus we wanted to take for the arduous journey to Touba.
FINALLY, a decent looking bus stopped near us (not a coach bus, but not a car rapide). Though it didn't look particularly comfortable, we were desperate and it was 2am, so we got on board. Low and behold, there was a wooden bench in the aisle and two people in our group had no choice but to accept these god forsaken seats with no cushion or back. I could, and probably should, have offered to sit in the aisle, but I don't think I would have survived the trip if I had!

So, at 2am we were finally on our way! Except. Except, the traffic was so terrible getting out of Dakar that we were literally parked (engine off) on the high way for 3 hours. THREE HOURS!! At this point, I wanted to get out and walk but I got some crazy looks for that suggestion. So instead, we sat in the pitch black, unmoving, being devoured by mosquitoes, and inhaling the exhaust fumes from the larger trucks and buses around us. It was hell on earth.

The sun rose and the traffic started to move--slowly, but it was moving. The bottle neck to get out of the city inched forward. The women on the bench groaned (understandably), people grew impatient. The elderly and babies shifted in their seats, but no one got out to stretch or pee or anything! The bus was so full, I would lean forward to rest my head on my hands and the space behind me would fill with someone from the aisle or the person sitting behind me leaning over for more space. A little girl behind me had a cold and kept sneezing into the back of my head and touching my hair with her snotty hands. The woman in the aisle next to me would lean on my shoulder to sleep. To cope with a growing sense of dread and claustrophobia, I thought back to my surgery and how I passed the hours of excruciating discomfort counting down and constantly reminding myself this was one day in the course of my life. Really! Remembering how I managed that pain is what kept me from screaming at the top of my lungs. And finally, traffic really began to advance.

Now our driver got so excited at the opportunity to actually move forward that he decided to drive recklessly fast on a dirt road next to the high way. He took one turn so fast, our bus almost tipped over and the entire bus screamed. It was terrifying and I basically saw my life flash before my eyes. Everyone yelled incredulous insults and reproaches at the driver to be more careful and he drove safely for the rest of the way, but it was still very sobering.

And we finally, finally, FINALLY arrived in Touba at 12pm, 10 hours after leaving Dakar (supposed to be a 2 hour drive), and 17 hours after we were supposed to leave. We arrived at the house and I slept for hours and did nothing of use all day. But the next morning, the following pictures were taken and I can definitely say the trek was worth it! Not to mention the drive home was comfortable and completely uneventful. ALHAMDOULILAH!

Vendors selling religious memorabilia outside the mosque. 

The lines were quite astounding, even at 6am.

I was allowed in the mosque as long as I wore appropriate apparel covering my head, shoulders, and legs.

Preparing the grand feast for a VERY large household of guests and family.

Matching outfits :)
Religious street art honoring the founder of Mouridisme.
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