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?!

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