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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

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Roses bloom in the desert, after all

I bought a rosebush last weekend. This was not something on my to-do list. My to-do list included very practical things like: Drop off absentee ballots at Embassy (took twice as long as anticipated) Pick up tortillas at American Store (they were out) Pick up Rick at English Center by 10:30 (delayed by a jackknifed semi that had spilled its load of gravel across the entire road) Accomplish all of this with a minimal amount of cussing, honking, yelling, and hand-gesturing from behind the wheel (really, I don’t even know why this is on my to-do list. It’s just an exercise in futility.) After I had accomplished mostly nothing on my list and navigated The Most Poorly Planned Intersection In The World on my way to pick up Rick (Dakarois, you know this one — in Point E where the VDN meets the road that takes you to the Sea

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“I see you”… Lessons in human dignity

This is a story that starts in Detroit, the part of the world I called home for 16 years before moving abroad. In many ways, Detroit and Dakar aren’t so different: rampant poverty, streets lined with abandoned and dilapidated buildings, great music. This is a story about seeing. And feeling. And being human. This is a story that starts with an old woman, a face mapped with wrinkles, the thin line of her toothless mouth opening and closing in a constant sucking motion. For a few weeks, we’ve been making lunches and collecting supplies — toothbrushes, socks, tampons and whatnot — and bringing them to an area of the city where a large crowd of homeless people are living in an abandoned building with boarded up windows and rats the size of small dogs. This isn’t a big organized group thing where a bunch of suburbanites show up with matching

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“Would You Rather…” Wednesday

So it’s Wednesday…the perfect day for a little game of “Would You Rather?” Today’s question: Would you rather deal with cockroaches (palmetto bugs for those of you who prefer fancy names for your insects) or ants in your kitchen? Here are the arguments: ANTS: You are chopping a piece of fruit on a cutting board and within two nanoseconds there is a mass of tiny, schizophrenic ants swarming your countertop.  Every food item in your pantry must be sealed in Fort Knox-level plastic bags or tupperware to keep them out. Even sealed jars of peanut butter are no match for these hungry scavengers. COCKROACHES: Scare the crap out of you when you go to get a drink in the middle of the night and turn on the kitchen light. They fly, crawl all over your silverware, plates, and utensils, and make a horrible crunching noise when meeting the sole of

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Tabaski Sheep Cheat Sheet

While most of you are going about your regular Monday business — school and work and rush hour traffic and whatnot — today is Tabaski (also called Eid in other parts of the Muslim world), the biggest holiday of the year here in Senegal. Think Christmas-in-the-US-level celebration — only instead of buying a Christmas tree, you buy a sheep. For real: here’s one of the city’s hundreds of pop-up sheep lots (trust me, they don’t smell as good as Christmas trees):   So maybe you know the story from the Bible about that time Abraham said to his son, “Hey, let’s go climb this mountain together to make a sacrifice to God.” And about halfway up, the kid, who is obviously very perceptive, is like, “Uh, Dad? Did we forget something? A sheep? A pigeon? ‘Cause we don’t have anything to sacrifice.” In the end, everything works out ok —

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You know you’ve had an awesome summer when your Senegalese friend tells you you’re fat (and some resulting thoughts on body image)

Roughly 24 hours after arriving back in Dakar from a glorious (somewhat gluttonous) summer in the U.S., I’m at the local grocery store picking up some essentials: bleach, toilet paper, and like thirty kilos of cheddar cheese (because hey, you never know when cheddar might be out of stock for months, so you buy up when you get the chance. True story: the lady working the deli counter once asked Rick if he owned a restaurant because he bought so much cheddar cheese.) Naby is the general manager of the store. We’ve been friends since he was just the produce guy, and the thing you should know about him is that he’s the kind of guy you want to introduce to your single friends. Young, cute, a smile that takes up most of his face…the kind of guy who goes out of his way to make sure he’s the one

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When 85 degrees isn’t 85 degrees

* Today’s weather post is brought to you by the dying hiss of a fan as the power goes out for the third time in the past hour, your high school geometry class, and that friend in the U.S. who says, “Oh, yeah, it’s 85 degrees here, too. It’s soooo hot.” * I love it when I’m visiting the States and people ask me, “So, is it, like, really hot over there where you live?” I LIVE ON THE EDGE OF THE SAHARA DESERT. I’m pretty sure hell has cooler days than we do. But I’ve come to understand that “hot” can look very different, depending on where you’re standing on the planet, and depending on lots of magical atmospheric alchemy stuff that pretty much only a scientist can explain. Let me just qualify this by saying that I’ve experienced plenty of places with hot weather. I’ve been to deep

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