Friday, June 28, 2013

My Humble Ode to Obama in Senegal

By complete coincidence, I saw Obama's motorcade last night! C. and I went to dinner at La Piazza, one of my favorite restaurants in downtown Dakar despite the lackluster atmosphere and slight Lebanese influence in the "Italian and French" cuisine. The restaurant is just steps away from the Senegalese Presidential Palace, where Obama was apparently dining. 

As we went to hail a taxi, the gates of the palace opened wide and an understated motorcade drove right by us. A small crowd waved and cheered as they drove by, the vehicle of honor donning Senegalese and U.S. flags. I didn't think it could be the president with only four or five cars, but my friend Drew confirmed that Obama rolled down his window and waved a few blocks later. Drat!

I have no idea how to edit videos, so you get to hear my dorky voice and all. 
Yes, I call C. "baby," haha. It doesn't really get going until 0:29.

I am definitely a fan of the president as it is ;) but there has been something extra special about the excitement felt by the Senegalese in light of Obama's visit. This week, I've felt such a heightened mixture of patriotism for the U.S. and my temporary adopted home of Senegal. It may be corny, but America and its values, as symbolized by this presidency in particular, serve as a real inspiration for people and countries all over the word, and especially here in Africa.

I was in Senegal when Obama was first elected president in 2008. I've voted absentee from Senegal in the past two elections. By chance, I spent that week in November outside of Dakar in a rural village and watched the election results trickle in at 5am in a compound courtyard under the night sky. By miracle, my host family had CNN, in English. I remember seeing something rustle in the dark night and realizing a donkey was idly walking past the TV screen. Obama's victory coincided with the village's morning call to prayer, and at first I was certain villagers were celebrating the momentous news with a resounding Arabic chant on loudspeaker.

I will never forget this line in Obama's victory speech:
"And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand."
{That's me! I thought, with tears streaming down my face.}

I suppose it feels like things have come full circle this week. 
Another experience as an American abroad I'll likely never forget.

Psst... politics, democracy, some version of patriotismthey all hold a near and dear place in my heart. And this week has been a good one ;)

The "Beast" in Senegal. I saw the flags! Via.

Ok, that's all for now. I plan on having a relaxing weekend in preparation for next week's whirlwind with the launch of my day-job's promotional campaign in Dakar. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend as well! 

Friday Fashion Finds - Los Angeles Edition

Hi there, readers! Megan here in SoCal.

This week I have been in Los Angeles scooping out the latest fashion trends, internet memes (prancersize?!? Rachel Jeantel's neck?!) and catching up on Sofia Coppola's latest work, The Bling Ring. Luckily, I have my trusty sidekick, PBK to show me whats the what with the latest nail trends in talon-centric 'L.A'. 

He took me down to West Hollywood this week to the inimitable Japanese temple of nail artistry,  Esnail.  With clients running the gamut from Brandy to Ozzy & Sharon Osbourne as well as likely 'Bling Ring' wannabes and your average Westside ladyfriends, the artists were able to interpret my inspiration pics in concert with my own Six Bougies West African aesthetic, and voila

Nails that slay!

And two hours and fifteen minutes later, the result...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Here, There, Everywhere

Things are getting BUSY again, oof! I have so many aspirations for this little blog here, and Six BougiesCHECK US OUT ON ETSY :) - but the day job is slowly but steadily grabbing hold of my attempt at work/life balance. Next week is going to be a whirlwindddddd. And the cycle repeats itself, womp womp.

So let me regale you with some disorganized and disjointed rambling ;)

Obama arrived in Senegal on Wednesday night! He's starting off a tour of Africa, visiting Senegal, Tanzania, and South Africa. The excitement in the city is palpable, and its quite infectious. There's an energy in the air (and heightened security) and I'm hoping to catch a glimpse of the excitement somehow. On the downside, his visit seems to be slowing down the internet and phone networks for some reason. That is why this post is so late!

The chances of a sighting are slim to none :-/

In unrelated new, I officially migrated to Feedly this past weekend. I just don't really get or like Bloglovin'... I don't like how the same über-popular fashion and family blogs are always featured on the home page, and I don't like the name Bloglovin' (haha... am I weird?). From the looks of the internet, it seems like I should get on the Bloglovin' bandwagon if I want to ensure hoards of readers, but I much prefer the clean, practical, and genderless (?) aesthetic of Feedly. Actually, I'll even admit I think I like it better than Google Reader! So far I'm really enjoying the "Saved for Later" tab; I like how the blog posts on the Saved page appear small (kind of like Pinterest) and are easy to navigate after the fact. I also like that you can Pin images directly from Feedly, which was not the case for Google Reader. Fun times!

Without further ado... you should probably follow Six Bougies on feedly :)

Follow me on Feedly

Dakar Fashion Week has come to a close! I didn't take full advantage of the show (... I'm poor right now without access to cash and the $30 ticket was kind of steep. Lame?), but I did go to the brunch/closing event on Sunday at the French Cultural Center. Except we got there 30 minutes after the brunch had finished, and the models and designers hadn't even arrived yet. Sidenote: the FCC has the worstserviceeverrrr. But... I love the setting so they still get my money. After a three hour leisurely lunch and two cappuccinos with whipped cream, we were able to check out some of the items for sale, but didn't stick around for the African dance show. I do want to go into more detail on this... a future post, inshallah!

The setting wins me over every time.

For more on Dakar Fashion Week, check out these two posts at The Gazelle Skirt. It personally pains me to read these posts... I wish I had gone! #nextyearinshallah

Later in the afternoon, C. and I headed over to his friend's downtown house for a SUMMER barbecue (I did something "summery," hooray!). Said friend lives in a pretty amazing house on a cliff over looking the ocean with a pool. Another chef-friend took care of the barbecuing and the meat was so. good. Tender and no fat... I was in red meat heaven! But the barbecue definitely didn't fit the American bill exactly, with techno beats in the background and Senegalese fishing boats on the horizon.

I know Megan has lots of updates stateside... a pop-up shop for Six Bougies in Silver Lake, Los Angeles... our first Etsy order and shipment, and other general gloriousness that I have been following and envying from a distance/via Instagram (be sure to follow her!). Hopefully she'll fill us in a little bit on Friday with her weekly feature ;) Don't forget to check-out the Etsy shop, still a work in progress but making some serious strides!

A sneak peak at our Six Bougies packaging for our first Etsy shipment...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Expat Cooking: A Spicy Mac and Cheese Success!

You guys. I cooked a real-live meal on Saturday night. This is quite unusual given a) my work schedule b) my laziness c) and my love for eating out. So it is big news that I cooked a meal! And it was rather delicious :) I thought I'd point out the ways I adjusted the recipe to accommodate a Senegalese taste pallet (C.) and the limited Senegalese grocery offerings. Cooking abroad, especially in Africa, takes creativity!

So I'm currently in a bit of a predicament. I've MISPLACED (refuse to admit its lost) my ATM card so I have no access to cash for the time being. Its unusual to pay for things with credit card here, so I've been resorting to only shopping and eating out at the expensive foreign stores and restaurants. But not that often, so it seems to be evening out. Friday I made a big trip to the expat grocery store and picked up all my usual expat-y goodies: prosciutto (I seriously miss pork, especially bacon!), grated swiss cheese, expensive goat cheese, pasta, crème fraiche, frozen veggies (that you can't get fresh here), and other items.

The Inspiration...

It has been taunting me on Pinterest for weeks.

I decided to recreate the Pioneer Woman's Fancy Mac and Cheese, since I had most of the ingredients readily available, and well, I love pasta and cheese... and fancy foods. Sidenote: I noticed my food board on Pinterest consists primarily of variations of "fig wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with cheese" and similarly rich and cheesy recipes. What can I say........

And now for the expat-influenced changes made to this recipe, resulting in a deliciously different version of mac and cheese!

1. I did not have four cheeses or mushrooms. You can't find fresh mushrooms from Senegal (at least I haven't!)- sometimes imported from Morocco, but often moldy. I thought about buying some canned mushrooms, but yuck. Not worth it. I did have two cheeses, the standard Gruyère and a fancy schmancy mountain goat cheese that I graciously donated to the recipe ;)

2. In my experience, the Senegalese do not like food that isn't spicy. So by a stroke of fate, I decided to appease C.'s affinity for spice. In looking over the recipe, I read "Next, beat a couple of eggs and grab 1/4 cup of the hot sauce" as HOT SAUCE (like tabasco sauce). "How perfect for C.!" In went the sauce, tinting the mixture pink. Strangely, I couldn't find hot sauce on the list of ingredients. Whelp, she meant add the sauce, that was hot... not hotsauce. But guess what?!? The hot sauce was a PERFECT addition to kick the recipe up a notch for my African lovahhh.

3. I've never found bacon I like here, so instead I buy prosciutto to get my salty, cured pork fix. (I really think this is the food I miss the most! Along good parmesan.) The expat grocery store sells the "bacon bits" version of prosciutto, already diced up. Bingo bango, perfect bacon substitute, though its definitely more crispy than bacon when cooked.

4. I went for crème fraiche (pretty much my favorite ingredient) rather than half and half. Actually, I really winged it on the white sauce as I dislike overly creamy mac and cheese so I cut back the flour and increased the crème fraiche (and I didn't melt the cheese prior to baking, I just put it in layers in the oven dish).

5. Another expat quirk- our gas oven lights on the top or the bottom, but not both at the same time. So I baked the mac and cheese for 20 minutes on the top, and then turned off the oven and lit the bottom burner for the last 10 minutes (I normally would have done it in the opposite order but it took me awhile to figure out the bottom burner).

And I followed pretty much all the other instructions, minus the measurements which I just eye balled for a smaller serving. For a "healthy" side, I sautéed some frozen green beans, my favorite vegetable that you can't find fresh in Senegal. The only vegetables I like frozen are green beans and potatoes. The only canned vegetables I like are beans and corn.

Does it look as good as it tasted?! I don't think I've mastered iPhone food photography quite yet...

There you have it - Fancy Mac and Cheese, with Hot Sauce, à la Sénégalaise!

And it passed the spicy-taste-test with flying colors ;)

Sami's Shenanigans

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Fashion Findings - NYC Edition

Hi y'all, Megan here. 

Aaannnnnnd I’m back on US soil for the first time since Christmas! 
I landed in NYC after a long seven hour Delta flight and I’m in the city for four days. It feels good to be speaking English, seeing friends and eating lots of kale, bacon and Kombucha! I decided to spend some time shopping (haha, actually that’s all I’ve been doing) and checking out the latest trends stateside.

While shopping in Urban Outfitters, I noticed a brand that kept catching my eye in the men's department, Koto. This brand has a distinctly African flair that incorporates Malian Mud cloth, African wax, and traditional African embroidery in its detailing. I was drawn in by the bold repeating patterns with a western color pallette, not to mention the handsome fella trying on the Printed Pullover Hoodie Sweatshirt! I decided he would make the the perfect candidate for my blogpost this week. Too bad the lighting in Urban Outfitters was less than desirable, but I still got the shot!

David Luke
Occupation: Chemical Operator

Six Bougies: How would you describe your personal style?
DL: My personal style is a mix of everything. I don’t really follow trends much. Instead I look for something that is classic and timeless but still makes a statement. Something that I can have in my closet, and after a few years of not wearing, can pull it out and it will still be cool and current.

Six Bougies: What is your favorite item in your closet?
DL: It would have to be a pair of kelly green Marc Jacobs shorts because I can wear them with sneakers for a more casual look, or dress them up with a blazer for going out with friends. I always get compliments when I wear them out.

Six Bougies: So question of the hour.... did you buy the hoodie? And what about it made you want to try it on in the first place?
DL: I was drawn towards the bold distinct pattern of the hoodie, unfortunately, I had to order one online because urban seems to ran out of size large. So I will be wearing it in about a week or so.

Thanks, David!

Divine Design Intervention

Let me start by saying that my expat bff and partner-in-crime, Megan, has amazing taste. The array of outfits she's had made in African textiles is ridiculously impressive and inspiring. Perhaps she'll do a guest post on the topic one of these days? *nudge*nudge* Another quick disclaimer: the pictures in this post a) are of terrible quality and b) do not do reality justice in terms of color or anything at all. But I'm impatient so... too bad ;)

I'm half thrilled, half severely depressed to reveal with you all what I discovered today:

A knock-off, modern Six Bougies fabric in Megan's wardrobe! 

What are the chances?!? 

Correct me if I'm wrong, Megan, but I think this shirt was made with a fabric chosen and purchased by the tailor herself. 


The Six Bougies Vlisco textile design is originally from 1940 and has been reprinted, but this interpretation is wild and abstract, including high heels and lipstick. I almost didn't notice the Six Bougies pattern references {the iconic 6, the spark plugs, the woman, the cut-off "bou"}. This modern textile definitely isn't original Vlisco, which just goes to show how recurrent and influential the Six Bougies design has been in the history and evolution of African textiles.

The original for reference:

Spark plugs, woman donning a hat, 6s all over, and the "6BOUGIES"

Part of my dismay is due to the fact that we just wrapped up our new blog design (to debut next week ;) which I am absolutely, 100%, completely in LOVE WITH. 

But. But. If we could have featured this fabric?! It's even in my favorite color scheme (especially in real life where the blue is actually much more turquoise and the red more pink). Again, the chances?! Deep sigh.

This is one of my weaknesses in life. Always wanting to keep my options open. Reluctant to embrace one definitive way forward {in design, travel plans, work, life choices}. I can be rather indecisive, and I tend to second-guess. 

And now a deep breath of acceptance

Its still awesome/amazing/unbelievable that this crazy amazing symbolic fabric landed in Megan's closet like some devine design intervention. Let's take it as a sign. 

A sign that great things are to come for Six Bougies. It's meant to be!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

All in the Detail: Senegalese Pirogues

I have a love affair with the typical Senegalese painting aesthetic that can be seen on buses, horse carriages, taxis, signs, and boats all throughout Dakar and Senegal. I'm constantly exclaiming over a particularly imaginative design, only to receive some strange glances by the Senegalese. I believe there is a religious affiliation with the painting style—maybe with the Mouride brotherhood that are very prominent in transportation, but I'm no expert on this.

This style features mostly primary colors, vibrant patterns, nationalistic color themes (Senegal, France), Arabic lettering, and many other glorious artistic details. Pirogues, canoe like fishing boats, also feature the name of the boat along the sides (normally a family member's first name). I captured these close-ups on the beach coming back to Dakar from St. Louis. It was a great opportunity to get up close and personal with the designs I am always admiring from afar in daily activities.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Expat to Expat Q&A: Travel

I'm finally participating in this month's Expat to Expat Q&A, hosted by Belinda and Bailie! I somehow missed the boat last month... whoopsidaisy. I love answering these types of questions, and I love meeting fellow expats through the process! So without further ado....

1. Which airport would you like to never see again? 
If I had to wager some money, I think Africa might come up with some of the world's worst airports (no offense, Africa!). Thus, I have experienced my fair share of terrible airports. As much as I hate to say it, I think the worst is Dakar (though I plan on returning ;). The police/border control have such an entitled and corrupt attitude, its infuriating! The customs line is always ridiculous as they let people cut for no apparent reason, spend inordinate amount of time questioning people for show, and leave for breaks with hundreds of people waiting in line.

I love flikr. I have never had the guts to take a picture like this, and I love this guy's description:
"Senegal's airport immigration process for international passengers on arrival is one step up from utter chaos.
Lines were long and slow.
Women and babies could skip the line, which only angered everyone else.
Lines shifted and tempers flared. Fisticuffs were imminent."

Baggage claim isn't so bad because no one without a ticket/passport is allowed inside the airport (unless you bribe someone, duh). But once you walk out the doors? If its a busy time and especially if multiple flights are coming in, you will absolutely be bombarded with people trying (/forcing themselves) to push your cart, load your bags into a taxi, find you a taxi, sell you a phone, exchange money, etc, etc, etc. Most people who have never been to the Dakar airport think they are being robbed or scammed when they first arrive. Its all about a polite and firm thank you and avoiding eye contact. Do not engage in conversation. You will, eventually, be left alone. Hopefully ;) P.S. Senegalese people are awesome, don't let the airport experience taint your idea of Senegal!

2. What is your travel nightmare?

My worst nightmare would be arriving at the airport in Abidjan, one hour away from my hotel in traffic, to discover I had left my passport in a drawer, along with my brand new Kindle. In this nightmare, I wouldn't have the hotel's phone number and I would have no way of getting online or reaching anyone to find it until one hour before my international flight (with necessary visas!) was scheduled to leave. Oops. This happened. And it miraculously worked out, after some public sobbing and good luck on my part.

Another nightmare might be discovering my ATM card, and only financial lifeline, had been hacked and subsequently frozen while I was traveling for work in Cameroon. A $2000 shopping spree in France? I would have enjoyed that one for myself...

Honestly, I've experienced so many crazy travel nightmares that have all worked out some way, very little phases me nowadays. It really does all work out! So my worst nightmare would be ending up in a physically dangerous situation where I could be harmed or seriously robbed. Thankfully nothing like this has ever happened, KNOCK ON WOOD, but its a scenario that would actually terrify me.

3. Would your rather stay in a fancy hotel and do less activities or stay in a hostel and do more activities?

Like many, I go for the middle ground when traveling for pleasure. (My work travel requirements are more needy!) I really do appreciate thoughtful decoration and the opportunity to relax in a comfortable atmosphere, but I do not need sumptuous luxury. I would rather find a clean B&B with some tasteful cultural details and a yummy rooftop breakfast, and be on my way exploring the city! I'm not above a hostel if I'm really strapped for money... but I definitely prefer a private room (my one experience in a hostel dormitory was not fun, nor sharing a room for four with my three girlfriends and an older Australian drunkard).

I stumbled upon this admittedly upscale guesthouse in Dakar the other day, checked out their website, and I LOVE this roof. Sounds like a good option for travelers looking for "breath of authenticity associated with a flawless comfort, far from the standardized hotel business."

4. Do you have any pre-travel rituals?

Besides having some fiasco occur in the 24 hours leading up to any and all trips, not really. I have a list for the items I cannot forget (various chargers, camera, Kindle, business cards if its a work trip, toothpaste, etc), but otherwise I tend to pack efficiently and at the last minute. I've gotten better about getting to the airport on time ;) 

Actually, I do have one ritual when flying to Dakar on South African Airways at Dulles: a Chipotle burrito before returning to Africa! (My mom even brought me a burrito from the terminal when she came to visit :)

5. What is your favorite airline to fly with?

For the Dakar-U.S. flight, I would pick South African Airways, hands down. Good food, comfortable seats, awesome movie selection. The Delta flight from New York city sucks (but I do get miles!). For other flights... well, obviously Air France has amazing food but I can rarely afford those tickets. I'm also fine with European budget airlines as they make travel so cheap—worth weighing your back pack ;) For U.S. flights, I'm a big fan of Southwest. Two checked bags for free?? Comical flight attendants? Yes, please!

6. If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I'm currently planning a trip to visit my bff in Brazil! I also have a trip to Denmark very roughly in the "works" with my expat friend Megan (inspired by this guide to design shops in Copenhagen). And I really want to go back to Morocco and/or Italy with C. And Madrid. But really, the list of places I want to travel in my lifetime pretty much encompasses the whole world!

7. How do you survive long haul flights?

By sleeping, a lot. I am lucky enough that plane rides seem to lull me to sleep, but I NEED an eye cover. Ear plugs don't hurt either. I also like to download some movies or T.V. shows in advance to keep me occupied if I can't sleep and the in-flight entertainment is subpar. Good books don't hurt either. I also avoid wearing tight pants at all costs, and make sure to pack socks if I'm not wearing them, layers, and a stash of Ibuprofen for unexpected aches and pains.

8. What is your favorite stamp in your passport and why?

I really loved my first Senegal visa for sentimental reasons... but that passport was stolen in Wichita, Kansas... of all places! I have several colorful African visas now. I think my favorite is Burkina Faso because its the prettiest. (Although I look furious and exhausted—the picture was taken on my first day of work after no sleep for two nights. Another story in and of itself.)

9. What are your top 3 necessary items for travel?

1. A scarf and/or cardigan, even in summer. Somehow I revert to two years old and always spill something on myself in the plane. Also, layers for the cold! (Bonus: socks)
2. A hair elastic... if ever I realize I'm without a hair tie for an eight hour flight as my hair gets greasier by the minute, I start using thread/string to make my own.
3. A pen! (For Suduku, filling out immigration forms, and the like.)

10. What is your off the beaten track trip in your current home?

In Dakar, my favorite trip "off the beaten track" would be Ile des Madeleines, a pristine and untouched island about 15 minutes off the coast of the city (the boat leaves from the smelly Soumbédioune fish market). The island is a national park and its one of the few natural beauties in the city free of pollution, vendors, and too much tourism. Perfect for a weekend picnic, hike around the island, and a dip in the ocean. One word to the wary: last time I swam in the lagoon and the water made my skin itch like it was ON FIRE. I was ready to rub my back raw on a rock wall, no joke. So beware. But otherwise its absolutely lovely :)

From my first trip to the island... five years ago and during the rainy season, hence all the greenery!

And on a more recent jaunt...

The lagune is gorgeous... but beware.

Exploring the tide pools.

Found Love.  Now What?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Fashion Findings

Happy Friday, everyone! Today my dear friend and business partner (!!!) Megan will be starting a weekly feature on fashion spotted in Dakar (and elsewhere, eventually). Enjoy!

Hello Blogosphere!

My name is Megan and I am the other half of Six Bougies! I have been living in Senegal the past two years teaching art. Living here has rekindled my love of fashion and awakened my sense of color and pattern. Its impossible not be inspired by the fashion here in Dakar and I’m eager to share some observations and admiration!

I am super excited to start a weekly series of fashion findings, first from Senegal, and then around the world. I would like my Friday Fashion Findings to have what I consider an African flair, but being that I will be traveling off the continent this summer, I am not sure WHAT I will find.

I decided to first start with two of favorite my style icons and co-workers here in Dakar, Senegal. Kate and Prim reign from as far off as Seattle, Washington and Port Maria St. Mary, Jamaica but both consider themselves 100% Senegalese in their style choices.

Katherine Lancaster
Occupation: Education Specialist

Six Bougies: What’s your favorite item in your closet?
KL: A navy blue kids blazer that I have had so long it has lost all form, and is so soft it’s like a sweater. I love it because you can throw anything on underneath it and still be professional. Skimpy dress? Oh, its professional, I’m wearing a blazer.

Six Bougies: Item you feel naked when without?
KL: Mascara, I’m a blonde my eyelashes are blonde, I feel invisible if I am without it.

Six Bougies: Why do you love fashion in Senegal?
KL: I love fashion here because you can dress up everyday. You can wear sparkles on your eyelids at noon and as many outrageous themes as you want, consecutively. Yesterday my theme was Moroccan princess, today wax, tomorrow 80’s, the next day feathers. In the States I couldn’t get away with that. That’s one of the benefits of living here.

Primrose Thompson Gueye 
Occupation: English Teacher

Six Bougies: What is your favorite color scheme to wear? 
PG: Anything YELLOW! I love yellow. I think everyone at work, including students, know how obsessed I am. This year, my favorite was yellow was mustard. But who doesn’t like yellow? It’s the color of sunshine!

Six Bougies: Item you feel naked when without?
PG: Earrings, I have to be wearing some sort of earrings before I leave the house every morning or I feel incomplete. They draw attention to your face.

Six Bougies: Why do you love fashion in Senegal?
PG: The best word that describes the fashion in Senegal would be, unique, it’s different from the other West African countries. Its not commercial, a lot of people use the tailors here to make copies of outfits from different countries but they always change something to put their own spin on it; even if an outfit is two years old they still work it on the street, like its coming off the runways of Paris.

Thanks for posing, Kate and Prim! :)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

From the Archives: DKR Top Ten

Firstly, I'd like to point out that I am in my sixth straight week of being in Dakar! That is seriously rare for me. Granted, consultants were in town for three of those weeks so they don't really count, but still! As much as I do love travel, I often miss having more quality down time in my current home base.

The past couple of weeks (... after the consultants left) I have felt so REFRESHED to finally have the time and mental space to enjoy dinners out, downtown brunch on the weekend, the BEACH... drinks at the Radisson. Time to actually live a little! I was writing out my job description today (long story) and on page five I really wanted to add "8. Have a life." Work life balance can be a bitch. My chest constricts just thinking about it.

ANYWAYS, as promised, I am staying positive and resuscitating my Dakar Top Ten from last year (especially after my mild bashing last week). I first wrote this list on May 18, 2012. I'm not going to update it much, but I will definitely add some new favorites in future Dakar posts :)

Let it be known that despite the challenges and idiosyncrasies of living abroad, in Africa no less:
I heart living in Dakar. For real!

And Now for the Positive: DKR Top Ten

1. Living 5 minutes from the beach. Living right on the Atlantic coast, in general. Driving along this coast and view every day:
    Nice to wake up to.
2. Being able to afford generally delicious (though sometimes unpredictable) food out on a regular basis. Oh, the joy of discovering a new dive bar, an ethnic restaurant tucked away in a neighborhood off the beaten track, yet another bakery featuring mouth-watering pastriesit can't be beat! Don't get me wrong, I do miss the food variety found in U.S., but the freedom to eat out at pretty nice places without worrying about the purse strings is a huge plus!

3. The vibrant inspiration for arts, crafts, and design that surrounds me every day: bright and bold textiles, a national love for fashion and glitz, a constantly surprising local culture (even over two years later), the Islamic influence in Senegal, innovation and entrepreneurship at every turn, architecture and living space that always incorporates the outdoors, due to...

A hodge podge of fabrics I've collected over the years. And this is maybe 1/5 of the fabrics I am currently hoarding right now. #itmightbeaproblem

4. Warm weather all year round, and truly pleasant weather 7-8 months out of the year. I know some disagree, but I really don't miss seasons. {Editor's note: I directly contradicted this a few days ago. See what a bad mood can do to you?! Its all about perspective.} Who would guess I grew up in Boston, land of the 6-month winter? I wonder now how I survived. Warm weather improves my mood and allows me to stay far more active in the community all year round. And when I'm missing the comfort of snuggling in bed on a gloomy rainy or snowy day, I pull shut the curtains, turn my fan on its highest setting (airconditioning would be even more effective), light a candle that evokes fall/winter, and curl up in bed with a book. It really works! (Though much more comfortable in Sene-winter when you don't actually need your fan.)

5. The live music and cultural events that abound in Dakar, especially exhibitions, dance performances, and music and art festivals that are constantly taking over the city's cultural scene. Like FESMAN last year, and this art festival, DAK'ART, that's going on as we speak. (Need to check it out!) The best part? They are almost always affordable and easily accessible. Update: Dakar Fashion Week is at the end of the month and I am so intrigued! Expect some blog posts ;)

6. Weekend getaways to the beach, the mangroves, the desert. Totally affordable and always a welcome respite from the sometimes suffocating urbanism in Dakar. I haven't done this in... months. Changing that stat!

Girls weekend away in Popenguine, 2 hours south of Dakar.
P.S. I am wearing that yellow shirt today, a year later. Just thought I'd share ;)

7. Though it can have its disadvantages as well, the expat community is in many ways an advantage to living in Dakar. Being part of an "outsider" community makes it a lot easier to make friends in what could be a daunting urban center. And we're all in the same boat - we need friends! As you get to know the expat community (and I'm certain this is true in every expat community), you definitely notice divisions, and then sub-divisions: NGO workers (grassroots vs. international orgs), commercial/natural resource predators (can you tell I'm not really a fan?), missionaries, teachers (at ISD, volunteering in local schools), journalists, study abroad students, PeaceCorps, Europeans vs. Americans vs. Australians, vs. South Americans, and the list goes on. But it seems everyone finds their niche, and they certainly crossover. I mean, you are bound to find someone to relate to if you both chose or ended up living in Africa!

8. This goes along with number 3, but I really love the ability to have things custom-made for me at very reasonable prices: clothing, shoes, furniture, art items, etc. etc. etc. I've always had the ideas, and now I can actually execute them with the help of a local artisan!

9. Affordable taxis. Yup, I never pay more than $4 for a taxi, and the price doesn't change with more passengers. (Yes, taxis are also a source of major frustration, but you can't beat the prices!)

10. The Senegalese people! Well this one is obvious and the number one draw to Dakar (and Senegal) for me. The people of Senegal and their culture based on warmth and welcomeness first drew me to Africa and Senegal when I studied abroad here in 2008. Its now 2012 and there is still nothing more enriching than the generosity of Senegalese people, who have welcomed me into their homes time and time again, sharing their customs, values, food, and lives with me. The expat life can be fun, exhilarating, even decadentbut I am never so fulfilled nor feel so alive and a part of something special than when I share an unforgettable experience with a Senegalese friend or kind strangers, like the nice man who works at the grocery store and greets me by name (as opposed to the obnoxious worker who leaves me fuming on a daily-basis), the cleaning lady in our classroom, Yacine, who asks after my mother on a weekly basis, and the list goes on. I know I am falling into some Western stereotype as I write this, but I don't care! 

What good would I be (would any of us expats be) if I didn't find something (many things!) to love in the African country I've chosen to live in for nearly three years?!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

One Last Hurrah for Nostalgia!

So the theme around here the past two weeks seems to have been... expat life, feeling sorry for myself, and nostalgia. I swear I have my Dakar Top Ten ready for y'all, but today I happened upon a song I'd been trying to remember for several weeks and... nostalgia got me again.

When I was doing the Blog Every Day in May challenge, I skipped the "music that brings back memories" prompt. I knew there was this song that elicits major flashbacks to adolescence, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I even remembered writing an essay about it in high school! Well, today with iTunes on shuffle, it hit me like a ton of bricks. So I decided to honor that pesky emotion nostalgia for one more day and share some rather awful but poignant songs from the past. 

This song is quintessential emo 90s and the lyrics... well, I'm pretty sure they were going for nostalgia and melancholy with lines like:

And don't it make you sad to know that life, is more than who we are.


We grew up way too fast, and now there's nothing to believe.
And reruns all become our history.

For me, "Name" conjures memories of riding in cars late at night, through dark winding roads, windows down, summer air tussling my hair. Spotting stars through the sunroof, surrounded by friends who felt like family at such an angsty time. I am determined to track down the high school essay because I'm pretty sure it was #emogold.

Another childhood favorite:

The Goo Goo Dolls apparently have a way with nostalgia! This song was on the soundtrack to City of Angels, saddest movie ever to a fifth grade girl. I was gifted the C.D. for my birthday and vividly recall listening to this song on repeat every.single.night. as I drifted off to sleep. I can even picture the C.D. alarm clock on my nightstand, that round play button I fumbled for in the dark. 

"Iris" was also the soundtrack to the scenario I liked to envision every night as I fell asleep: a perfect and seamless first kiss with my middle school crush. I distinctly remember this scene playing out in a dream one night where he kissed me during recess by the track, and all the other girls who liked him just happened to see and were wrought with envy. I was a very principled pre-teen, apparently.

Twas difficult to pick the most heart wrenching lyric, but I think this one says it all:

And you can't fight the tears that ain't coming
Or the moment of truth in your lies
When everything feels like the movies
Yeah, you bleed just to know you're alive

Tomorrow, I close the door on nostalgia. Tonight I revel in it!

P.S. I hope I didn't lose too much credibility admitting to my pre-teen affinity for the Goo Goo Dolls... or for that dream ;)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Summer: A Pity Party

Living in a tropical country with two seasonswet and dryis interesting. I grew up outside of Boston where the seasons are dramatic. I really dislike the cold and often wonder how I survived the long, dark, frigid New England winters of my childhood. But I always adored spring, fall, summer... the sense of excitement and renewal with each new season.

A white Christmas in 2011, home for the holidays outside of Boston. And my puppy Neige <3 

Lately, the blog world has been blowing up with declarations of SUMMER! Summer picnics, beach outings, outdoor festivals, weekend getaways. Whelp, its pretty much summer all year round here. I know, I know... cry me a river. But, I've been feeling extremely nostalgic lately. The weather is changing here as well. Its growing stifling and uncomfortable. Ramadan begins in roughly a month, and Dakar's activity will die down completely during the month of fasting. 

Not to mention all my good friends are returning to the U.S. for summer vacation (they are teachers). This is my first summer working. I had summer jobs in high school and college, but it was still SUMMER. It was still relatively care-free without the stress of my studies, and with ample time to schedule family vacation and escapades with friends.

Call me crazy, but my heart literally aches for the humid late night air of Boston/D.C., perusing the city blocks in the haze of a summer buzz. SE#WR*^W$%&!!!!! NOSTALGIA!

Reuniting with Emily, who is now engaged. Tear! I miss her.

Reuniting with the fam and a jaunt to Wichita.

Well, I started this pity party and so I guess I'll see it through. I have no confirmed plans to see family or friends this summer (working on it). My work travel gets scheduled last minute, making it difficult to plan elaborate trips home or off the continent, and I don't have much vacation left in my arsenal this year. My job looks to become more stressful in the coming months. The weather has worsened. And all my friends are leaving Dakar. Woe is me.

I am missing summer vacations as a teacher so hard right now. I guess I have always associated summertime with freedom. And I currently feel locked in a hot and sticky cage of stress and obligation.

Discovering S. California for the first time with Megan... Del Mar.

Beach day in Malibu.

And now for the rational wake up call. I love living somewhere that is warm all year round. It means I get to enjoy the wonder of summer and being outside all year round. The trick is taking advantage of it and not becoming complacent. This past weekend is a perfect example of how not to spend my summer. Saturday I felt ill and stayed in watching TV all day, only to rise for a lovely dinner out with C. On Sunday I slept in late and.... vegged out all day. Pretty pathetic. 

So rather than complain or long for a wet, hot American summer, the next time I have some free time I'm going to live. it. up. Beach, picnic, excursion out of Dakar (which I've been talking about for months!), new restaurant or coffee shop, live music. I think its time for a Dakar Summer Bucket List!

Chime in with any suggestions ;)


Monday, June 10, 2013

The Expat Diaries: Laundry and Evil Spirits

I am several days late, and its now down to the wire to submit my link for this month's Expat Diaries. But I'm still determined :)

One of my best friends, Isabella, is currently a Fulbright scholar in Brazil (she speaks Chinese, Portugese, and Spanish... love bragging about her whenever I can ;) and a few days ago we were commiserating over living in countries with very few washing machines. In Senegal, very, very few families have a laundry machine. In fact, I don't know any beyond a select few expat families.

Its a tough world out here.

When I studied abroad in Senegal, starting in August 2008, I lived with a host family. Contrary to what many family and friends were picturing, the families hosting American students in Dakar were generally middle to upper class Senegalese living in comfortable homes. I had my own bedroom with an en-suite bathroom! Not exactly a hut with no running water or electricity ;)

Host sib <3

They are so grown up five years later

Our host families were responsible for doing our laundry as they would for themselves. Most middle to upper class families hire a monthly laundry service where a few women spend the day in the courtyard cleaning, drying, and folding the entire family's laundry. Others delegate this task to the housemaid (yes, most Senegalese families, regardless of wealth, have at least one housemaid or at least a cousin from the village responsible for cleaning and cooking).

I asked about laundry when first settled in with my lovely host family. Apparently we'd be doing our laundry monthly. I admit, waiting a month to do laundry seemed rather long for an American girl accustomed to convenience. I was used to popping my jeans into the dryer any time I needed them to fit a little bit tighter (#firstworldproblems). But, I set out to take this news in stride and soon developed a new laundry system: one pile for DIRTY dirty laundry (noticeable stains, soaked in sweat, caked in mud, etc), and one pile for dirty but still wearable laundry.

The first time our monthly service arrived I brought out a load the size of my enormous suitcase. In fact I'd even packed a laundry bag when moving to Dakar and it was filled to the brim. I dragged this bag into the courtyard to find the other family members contributing maybe 10 pieces of clothing each. ....Whoops.

Then four weeks passed and no laundry service. Another week... nothing. My piles grew, my clothing options waned. Yes, I cleaned a few things by hand but I kept holding out for the monthly service.

I was soon leaving for a ten day trip through the southern region of Senegal, the Casamance. The eve of my departure, the laundry had been left untouched for two months. I had been recycling the same few pieces of clothing and washing my shirts and undergarments myself. With my upcoming trip, it was time to finally take things into my own hands.

I set up shop in my bathroom with an array of buckets and boiled water, using shampoo to scrub clean my clothes. I know, I know... I'm sooo resourceful. It was night time and family members trickled in to observe my concoctions and comment on my scrubbing technique.

Suddenly my host sister came in and gasped:

 "Kim! You can't do laundry at night or indoors!"

Why ever not??? I could no longer postpone the task with my looming trip the next morning. I would already be forced to pack damp clothing.

"Its bad luck to wash clothes at night. The djinnés (evil spirits) will curse your clothing and you will carry bad luck wherever you go."

She'd already warned me about the djinnés; our host mother forbid me to take her to the local cybershop at 2pm because that is the hour the djinnés feast on young girls wandering the streets.

How does the story end? Well, I took the risk of cursing my clothing and finished the task at hand. I set off on my trip and thankfully did not experience any bad luck. That I can remember. :)

The beach in Cap Skirring, tourist destination in Casamance.

A jungle bike ride. In flip flops. And we happened upon a group of men wielding machetes.
Thankfully they were just keeping the inter-village pathways clear ;)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Gourmande Living in Senegal

Today I want to talk about food and living abroad. 

Preparing for a HUGE meal at Magal, a yearly pilgrimage to the Mouride holy city, Touba. February 2011. I wrote about my experience attending this event here

I love food. To be more specific, my first love is cheese {its the Frenchie in me}. I love rich, creamy dishes. I love gourmet French and Italian meals coupled with aromatic sauces. I love a good Mexican burrito. I love high quality steak, fresh vegetables, succulent fruit. Eating out is one of the pleasures I regularly indulge in; very little compares to the joy I derive from a delectable meal. I am sure I spend more money on eating out than shopping, and I'm ok with that.  

I will admit that I'm bit of a food snob. The sight of Kraft mac and cheese makes me gag. Sorry, friends, who had to deal with my obnoxious ways in the high school cafeteria. I'm not proud. That being said, I brought blue cheese and crackers and sometimes artichoke with vinaigrette for snack in middle school and I'm pretty sure I got quite a few stares myself.

All in all, I am definitely gourmande (French for a mixture of foodie and glutton ;).  And so is pretty much everyone else in my family, so blame it on genetics!

Now to the topic at hand: eating habits and living abroad. 

I was very lucky to spend a lot of time in Europe as a kid visiting my grandparents, so I've been familiar (and obsessed) with French and Italian food for as long as I remember. Fresh baguette every day? A cheese course at every meal? Creamy sauces with every meat dish? Melt in your mouth pastries and fresh fruit tarts? Yes, please.

Parisian brunch? Yes, please! With Ben, my cousin's now-husband :)
One exception to this love of French food was a dish my grandfather once made when visiting us in the U.S.: cold fish with gelatin. Thankfully my dad took pity on me and allowed me to opt out and snack on something else instead. I also remember how strict my French friends' parents were about snacking outside of regulated once-daily snack-time (4pm, Nutella and baguette). One summer afternoon, my friend and I hid in her closet to snack on chips without her mom discovering our secret.

At the end of high school, I spent a summer practicing Spanish in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. I was shocked by the lack of flavor in Spanish food. I was served grilled meat with oil in a bottle as a "sauce"! I distinctly remember my host sister telling me her parents didn't like French food because it was too "flavorful." Blasphemy! I also distinctly remember thinking, "Hmmm... maybe I'm not so open to new foods as I thought I was..." when offered an enormous octopus for dinner one night. I admit I declined.

The view from my balcony in Tenerife. My home-stay was not exactly "roughing it," as I had imagined...

That being said, I looooved the tapas I had in Madrid and Barcelona. You win some, you lose some. 

Which brings me to food in Senegal. Living with a host family in Senegal, I ate local Senegalese food for the vast majority of my semester abroad... and I loved it! It was difficult adjusting to the spiciness when I first arrived (especially eating while hot, and waiting to drink water after the meal, as is customary in Senegal). Families also eat around a communal bowl, which took some getting used to in those hot months when I worried about sweat dripping off my nose into the platter. Not to mention waiting to eat dinner until midnight during Ramadan. Ok, fine, meal time was a little stressful for awhile there ;)

Fellow study abroaders learning to eat with their hands for the first time. 
That's my hand on the right!

But my time in Senegal absolutely influenced my taste buds! I can't stand bland food anymore.... I almost always add lots of pepper to my pasta (obviously something I eat a lot ;) and have a generally increased appreciation for FLAVOR. And this is definitely typically Senegalese, as a meal with no spices isn't considered well prepared or appealing to the Senegalese. Example: I made potatoes au gratin for a Senegalese friend and her family. No one liked it! Cheese, potatoes, and cream? TOO BLAND! On our next cooking adventure we made quiche à la Sénégalaise (adding looots of spices and vinegar) and it was a huge hit. 

Go figure.

One last point before I bring this novel to an end. After leaving Senegal, I studied in Paris for six months. And I developed a LOVE for Swiss cheese on my pasta. Most Americans aren't fond of this application, as Swiss cheese is pretty strong and not what we're used to on pasta or pizza. Well, I totally adapted and grew to find such comfort in my pasta with creme fraiche and Swiss cheese (and lots of pepper!). I returned to the U.S. for my last year of college and would hunt down shredded Swiss cheese at Whole Foods to complete my pasta dishes ;)

Now I'm back in Senegal, where the only cheese you find easily is Swiss cheese (... the French influence)... and I've come full circle. I had pasta with creme fraiche, swiss cheese, and pepper for dinner last night. Delish.

How has living abroad influenced your taste in food? Have you embraced the local cuisine, or been more eager to find substitutes for the foods you miss from home?
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