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I don’t live in a grass hut.

This is inevitably what people imagine about how we live when I tell them we live in Africa.

Here’s the thing: Dakar is a big, urban city. Tall concrete buildings, paved roads, traffic circles, highways, buses, taxis, road construction, air conditioned restaurants, grocery stores, ambulance and police sirens going off at all hours. Of course, there’s also the random herd of cows creating traffic jams on the highway, maybe 10 stop lights, no traffic laws (that are enforced, anyway), and guys weaving in and out of traffic jams selling cashews, Kleenex, and giant framed portraits of maribouts (religious leaders) window-to-window.

Grass huts are pretty scarce within city limits. So I live on the seventh floor of an apartment complex made up of 9 yellow concrete buildings. We have running water. Western toilets. Semi-reliable electricity. A washing machine. And furniture from Ikea. It’s cozy and comfortable and colorful and I love it…and I was inspired by my blogger friend over at Senegal Daily to give you a little photo tour of chez nous.

As I was snapping these photos, I was struck by how much of our home has been constructed in — and influenced by — West Africa. When we arrived in 2012, we had 10 suitcases among the five of us. Not much to start with. But since then, we’ve managed to collect all the things that turn empty rooms into places you love.

So, for those of you curious about how we live on the other side of the Atlantic, here you go. (Note that the only reason this photo tour is possible is because our house helper was here today to dust and sweep! Mille fois merci, Christine!)

living
This is by far my favorite room in our apartment…and I spend a lot of time curled up here with a book. Our living room walls are a soft turquoise and we accent with lots of orange and red. Slip covered couch from Ikea, purchased from another expat who was moving, bookshelves and sofa table made locally.  Bamboo and shell table lamp is from Libellule in Virage.
coffee-table
Pallet coffee table and African chair made locally. Sous-verre tray from Atmosphère boutique in Dakar and ceramic tile coasters from Detroit. (Sous-verre, which means “under glass” in French, is a popular West African style of art in which a scene is painted in reverse on a piece of glass and then viewed by flipping the glass over.)
buffet
Ceramic lamp hand-made here by our friends Mariama and Abdoulaye, an amazing deaf couple who are the founding artists of Sourd’art International (Deaf Art International). Their pottery is beautiful and unique and they are happy to do custom orders! Dakarois, you can meet Mariama and purchase ceramic art at the Dakar Farmer’s Market, the first Saturday of the month. The wood window frame is architectural salvage from Timbuktu, Mali. Our last name forged from rebar was a gift from the journalism class I taught at Dakar Academy. And the books are part of a fairly robust library I’ve collected at garage sales over the years. 🙂
patio1
Second favorite spot: the balcony. It runs the entire length of our apartment and looks down over the complex’s courtyard, swimming pool, and playground. This little table is perfect for breakfast and coffee. (click to see the view. Kinda looks like Florida. Although just to keep things real, here’s what my back patio looks like at the moment...and lest you get the impression that everything in our lives is turquoise water and beaches and tropical sunshine…here’s the view over the open sewage drain behind our apartment).
patio
Here’s the other end of the balcony. Canvas sling-back chairs from Atmosphère boutique in Dakar (but I painted the frames myself).
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Baskets from Mali, kitchen organization from Ikea.
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Sealing food containers are a must here. The little tray is a traditional pattern from Sicily, where my husband’s family is from.
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Our bed frame and mattress were made locally, although I swiped the idea of a rolling bed table from Ikea. Great for cuddling up and watching movies! Those crappy, beat-up dressers that flank the bed are next in line for a paint makeover.
pillow
I think you can never have enough decorative pillows, which drives my family crazy because they’re constantly tossing pillows on the floor so they can sit on the furniture. (I have some Guinean indigo fabric that’s just begging to be turned into new pillows…but I’m running out of space for them 🙂 ) But here is my favorite — a hand-painted bird pillow is from a little shop in Milford, New Hampshire called the Robin’s Egg. If I lived in the U.S., I would seriously buy everything in my home from that place.
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No home in West Africa is complete without a djembe (handmade by Djiby at Malika Monkeys). Painted giraffes from Libellule.
art
Dakar => Detroit. Endless Summer was a movie from the 1960s about a group of surfers searching for the perfect wave…and their first stop was Dakar, just off Ngor Island. Admittedly a crappy framing job, but I love the bright retro colors. Sharing wall space with Motown records and other Detroit artwork.

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