Tag Archives: senegal

The World Through My Eyes #sol18

Next week is Spring Break, and I’m really looking forward to my trips to Singapore and Penang, Malaysia! I’ll even get to add another country to the list…Singers will make #36! Since I have been thinking about my trip, I started reminiscing about my past travels, which prompted this poem. Rather than write about every country I’ve visited, I decided to limit to places I’ve been in the last two years. In no particular order, here’s my poem, a glimpse of the world through my eyes.

The World Through My Eyes

Indonesia is motorbikes, gado gado, macet, and the call to prayer.

Belgium is waffles, street art, and fruit beer.

Albania is colorfully-painted buildings, a perfect mix of old and new, and all the fresh fruit, veggies, and bread you can eat.

Montenegro is rocky beaches with crystal clear water, road trips, and weekend getaways with the girls.

Hong Kong is dim sum, the mid-levels, lots of hills, and like China, but better.

Mexico is beaches, pina coladas, and tourist traps.

Italy is stunning architecture, gelato, and literally the best homemade pasta of your life.

Canada is water taxis, clean and manicured, and friendly.

Senegal is bright colors, traffic, pushiness, and sand everywhere.

USA is home, comfort food, baseball, and familiarity.

Thailand is the land of smiles, tuktuks, mango sticky rice and kao soi, and three-showers-a-day hot.

The Netherlands is the most amazing cheese you will ever taste, bikes for days, and canals.

France is croissants and crepes, The Lourve, and walking two hours to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night.

Morocco is an assault on the senses, mint tea, and getting lost in the medina.

Year in Photos 2016

Sometimes pictures are better than words. They can tell more of a story, inviting the reader to infer their meaning, ask questions about their significance to the writer, and wonder what happened before and after the snapshot was taken. I’ve been telling a story of my year in photos for the past couple of years (click here for my year in photos for 2014 and 2015), and it is an exercise I enjoy, looking back through my year’s photos, deciding which ones to include and which ones are better left out. Without further adieu, here is my 2016 year in photos, in chronological order.


Sweet Reina #sol16 27 of 31


That sweet face right there is none other than Miss Reina Mei, the cutest baby in Africa! I am going to miss all of our snuggles and laughs we shared this week. Reina is the daughter of my good friends Mel and T. I have FaceTimed plenty of times with Reina and seen tons of pictures of her cute, squishy face, but meeting her in person was such a treat!


Reina’s one of those babies that would make you want to have a baby, because you’d be lulled into this false reality where you think all babies are so easygoing, happy 24/7, sleep when it’s time to sleep, wake up when it’s time to wake up, etc. Not only is she an easy baby, she is so much fun to play with! We spent so much time giggling because her laugh is so contagious. My favorite thing to do was tickle her. She gets this big smile on her face and tenses up, but she doesn’t really laugh out loud when you tickle her. She holds her breath til it’s over, but is loving every minute of it.



We went up to Mel’s school on Thursday for Sports Day, but we arrived a little early, just in time for story time! Reina was right in there with the big kids, listening to the story. Mel’s students loved her to death, and it was hard to keep them focused once she arrived! At dismissal time, they all crowded around her to talk to her, make her laugh, and coo at her. How could you not when she’s so stinkin’ cute?!?


Reina and I got to spend a lot of time together during the week while Mel was at work. The other morning, I was blogging, and Reina was on the couch behind me. I kept hearing her making noises to get my attention, and when I’d turn around, I’d see her leaned over looking at me with the biggest grin ever! 🙂


Her eyes melt me every time…especially when she looks up at me like that!


Reina loves to sit on poppa’s shoulders and pull his hair! I’m pretty sure it’s her favorite pastime. Poppa doesn’t mind, and even encourages her by saying “Don’t pull my hair!” in silly voices.


Reina is so good on car trips! We took a long ride out of Dakar (3 hours) on Saturday, and she either played or slept the whole way, despite the heat and length of the ride. All of the adults were more crabby than she was! Look at her lip when she sleeps…it’s so cute how she pokes it out like that! 😀


Reina got a new bow at the market, and she’s so happy to model it for us!



Today was Easter Sunday, and we went out to a place near the beach for lunch. I took a few family photos while we were there. This baby is so photogenic! Oh, and her parents aren’t half bad either. 😉

Thank you Reina for the fun this week. I’m going to miss you! Aunt Jen loves you!!

My Senegalese Market Experience #sol16 26 of 31


I’m not new to the market thing. As a former resident of China, and extensive traveler in Southeast Asia, I know a thing or two about markets. I’m always curious to check out the markets in new cities that I visit, to soak up some of the culture and pick up a few trinkets and/or a piece of art along the way.


Dakar has a few local markets around town specializing in everything from fabric to art to used clothing. Mel took me to a market mainly focused on art, but luckily they had a few shops that also carried fabric, jewelry, and other knick knacks. The first thing that drew my attention were all the bright colors; anyone who knows me knows I love color! I felt like a kid in a candy store, looking from one thing to another, not sure what to buy first. Some of my favorite things were the colorful, handwoven baskets, fabrics in all sorts of colors and patterns, paintings of local scenes and people, and all the handmade jewelry.


One thing that’s essential when shopping at a local market is knowing what the going rate is for certain items. This information is vital in order for you not to be ripped off. In China, I knew whether the price they quoted was good or not, based on my experience (and that of others) over the years. As a foreigner, you just have to expect that you are going to be ripped off to some degree, but you want to minimize it as much as possible. They see my blonde hair and American accent coming, and I might as well have dollar signs floating around my head. As a seasoned market shopper, I drive a hard bargain and am adept at negotiating. But in Senegal, I had no idea what I should expect to pay for anything, neither did I have a firm grasp on the exchange rate from CFA to USD. Mel had only been to a fabric market here in Dakar once, so she didn’t know normal prices either. We took the offer them half of what they quoted us approach, which sometimes worked, but other times did not. Even so, we weren’t sure whether or not we were getting a good deal.


As we walked through the market, lots of people tried to get us to shop at their stands. It was pretty overwhelming, so I tried to ignore whatever they were saying to me. When ignoring didn’t work, I said in English, “Sorry, I don’t speak French.” They would then bust out their spiel in almost fluent English. Senegal’s official languages are French and Wolof, and around town I haven’t heard much English, so I was definitely struck by the amount of English spoken by the vendors. Mel and I became everybody’s “sister,” whereas in China, everybody was “friend.”


We quickly realized that stopping into a shop just to browse was frowned upon, and you would quickly get literally roped in if you went into a shop. More often than not, vendors would physically grab us, pulling us back into their shop or not letting us leave. Another tactic was to block us into their shop and not let us leave until we bought something. We had to forcefully tell them that we did not want to buy anything, and to let us go. Regardless of us being firm, they would repeatedly grab us and try to pull us back into their shop. I haven’t experienced this type of aggressive behavior at markets before, and I was definitely put off by it. Not all the shop owners were like this, as you can tell from the picture above, but there were enough of them that it was noticeable.


Another nuance we found while shopping at the Senegalese market was that many shop owners would agree to one price outside of their shop, but once you came in to buy it, the price would jump back up. We would argue that we were not going to pay a higher price when we had agreed upon a lower price, and they would resort to grabbing us to keep us in their store. Another tactic used quite often was for the vendors to tell us how poor they were and how much they needed the money for this or that. Now, I know that most of the Senegalese people live in poverty, and that they probably do need the money, but begging is not going to make us buy something, especially if it’s something we don’t really want. I feel very bad about the poverty situation in this country, but that does not mean I am willing to pay an exorbitant amount for any one item. That’s not a long term solution to the problem. One tip I do have is to go to the market with small bills only- 1,000s and 500s- because oftentimes they didn’t want to give back any change if you gave them more than the total. Instead, they tried to give you change back in the form of other goods in their shop.


My experience at the market was more positive than negative for sure, and I managed to get some really cute stuff to take home and remind me of my time in Dakar, but I will say that the constant harassment by the vendors eventually frustrated us to the point that we decided to leave earlier than we had anticipated.


The Importance of Recharging #sol16 22 of 31

 Ask anyone working in education, and they’ll tell you how they look forward to their next holiday, that respite from the seemingly endless days of teaching, preparing, grading, and the countless other tasks that are heaped onto educators these days. We countdown the days until Spring Break (or any other holiday), not because we want to get away from the students (well, not most of us anyway), but because we need to recharge our batteries. We are better educators when we are well-rested. We are more adept at dealing with the constant pressure and looming deadlines when we have had some time away.

For me, there are three types of holidays I choose to take. Some are adventurous, where I eagerly await visiting a new place, seizing each day to explore the unknown, taking in the sights, smells, tastes, and activities that this new place has to offer. And despite the constant going from here to there, I still recharge, and come back ready to tackle the next set of weeks until another holiday appears.

Yet some of my holidays are purely relaxing, where I spend time at the beach or a resort, laying by the water, only getting up to take a dip, get something to eat, or to shower back in the room. What always surprises me about these types of holidays is that despite the fact that I am uber lazy, either reading, catching some rays, or swimming, I am still so tired. I take frequent naps, unable to stay awake the whole day. I wonder how can I possibly be tired? I have literally done nothing all day. The only thing that makes sense is that after the craziness that led up to my holiday, my body needs the rest. So, despite my inner overachiever, I succumb to it, embracing my laziness.

The last type of holiday for me is a staycation, one in where I stay put, opting to explore my current city instead of venturing to a new place. This is by far the least frequent type of holiday for me, nevertheless, they can also recharge me. The appeal of staycations, for me, is that I can strike a balance between relaxing and getting things done. The Type-A part of me actually enjoys organizing and putting everything in order. Over time, things get out of order and make me a little crazy. Being able to organize it all, be it my house, my calendar, or my inbox, makes me feel happy and peaceful. Being able to wake up on my own, without the help of my alarm clock, means I wake up well-rested and relaxed. I can ease into the day, having my tea and a homemade breakfast, while I read or catch up on blog commenting. A staycation in your own city affords you the opportunity to explore your own neighborhood, venturing to new restaurants or shops that you typically pass up on your daily routine.

All three holidays provide me with a recharge, and all have their place in my life. I am currently in the midst of a somewhat adventurous/somewhat relaxing holiday in Senegal. At this exact moment, I am relaxing poolside, soaking up some rays between bouts of dips in the pool, reading, and napping. I have to admit, I feel slightly guilty being so lazy, but I have to remind myself that I work hard during the school year, and the built up stress of constantly working does no good for anyone, so this relaxing is actually a benefit to everyone. I’ll be able to go back to Tirana well-rested and ready for the next stretch of 6 weeks until my next holiday. Now, I really must go. I’ve booked a massage, and it’s time. 🙂

Side Trip to Saly, Senegal #sol16 21 of 31

My trip to Senegal has been good, but I’ve been under the weather since Saturday. I have developed a pretty bad cough for some reason. I went to the pharmacy today and got some medicine, so hopefully I’ll start feeling better soon. There’s nothing worse than being sick on holiday!  

Anyhow, I am no longer in Dakar. My friend Sally, who works with me in Albania, happens to be in Senegal, too, so we took a side trip to a nice beach area about 80km away from Dakar. Upon arrival, I was so excited. This place is gorgeous and so laid back. The resort we are staying at is a short walk to the beach, has a lovely pool area, and a spa for massages and pedicures. One downside is very spotty Internet. I’m sitting in the bar area at the moment trying to blog, as this is the only place to get any wifi. I’m thinking my blogging will be short this week as a result of this situation.  

We took a walk down to the beach today, where I was able to dip my toes into the Atlantic for the first time. It was freezing!  As we meandered along, we saw loads of men in speedos and topless women. Not at all what I expected! I do not get the appeal of walking around topless on the beach. That doesn’t seem remotely fun to me. After laying by the pool to read, I got a pedicure and we went to dinner. It was really nice. They even had a live band playing while we ate.

Looking forward to what tomorrow has in store. Hoping that my cough goes away for sure!!

Dakar, Day One #sol16 19 of 31


Highlights of today: Meeting Reina. Spending time with Melissa. Sunshine. Seeing a bit of Dakar. Shopping at the American Store. Hanging out with Sally, Bruce, and T. Watching the sunset on the beach.

After some much needed sleep, I eased into the day by hanging around the house with Mel and Reina. Reina was so funny! When she first saw me, she was so uncertain about this strange girl in her house. I kept getting the stare down, which just made Mel and I crack up. After a little while, she warmed up to me and even let me hold her. We became fast friends. She is such a happy baby- always smiling and laughing. She likes being held, which I love!

IMG_7862   IMG_7861

We got a late start to the day, but the sun was out and the weather was amazing! It was warm, but not hot, and there was a steady breeze all day. I got to see a bit of the town from Mel’s driving me around- we pulled over to snap a few pics of the mosque and the ocean. We then stopped by the American Store, where I was able to stock up on things I can’t get back in Albania (hello Cheerios, Oreos, and Mac n Cheese!). From there, we ran a few errands, and came back to play with Reina before dinner.



The place we went for dinner, Le Ngor, overlooked the beach, and watching the sunset while listening to the waves was so relaxing. I had a very tasty coconut shrimp curry with rice and a few bites of Sally’s honey sesame shrimp. Sally, my friend and colleague in Albania, and her boyfriend joined us for dinner. Despite being eaten up by mosquitos, I really enjoyed it. We rounded out the night with drinks at the Radisson Blu hotel, overlooking the ocean. All in all, day one was a success. Day two begins with brunch on the beach. I think I’m gonna like this place!