Saturday, August 30, 2008

Return to School

Week one down, thankfully.  The return to school is always a little nerve-wracking, both for kids and teachers.  Imagine being eleven, landing in West Africa, and starting class in a new school, with new classmates, and a new teacher.  Changing schools is challenging;  changing schools AND continents is downright terrifying.  Such was the case for 8 of my new 6th graders.

I'm afraid I can't introduce you to my class yet, as I'm waiting permission to use their images on the internet.  Next week.  The two photos above give you an indication of the diversity, reflected in the complexion of the kids' hands.

The first week of school typically centers around forming/renewing relationships and establishing routines.  The emphasis next week will be on thinking and collaboration, as small groups are assigned to explore a problem, by collecting and organizing data, then reporting their findings to the whole class.

From Africa, With Love

First, a little meteorology, courtesy of http;//  "The most common mechanism that triggers the development of a cyclone is the African easterly wave, an area of disturbed weather than travels from east to west across the tropical Atlantic.  Essentially, an easterly wave forms because of a kink in the jet of air that flows west out of Africa. The jet is created by the strong temperature difference between the Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Guinea.  The warm air over the Sahara rises and, several kilometers above the surface, turns southward toward the cooler air over the Gulf.  The rotation of the Earth turns the air current westward to form the African Easterly Jet, which then continues out over the Atlantic Ocean.  Occasionally, a kink will develop in the jet and move from east to west, hence the name easterly wave.  Converging winds on the east side of the easterly wave trigger the development of thunderstorms, and some of these large thunderstorm systems go on to become hurricanes.  Most Atlantic hurricanes can be traced to easterly waves that form over Western Africa."

It's a rainy rainy season here in Senegal, much more so than in recent years.  Last Thursday night, by example, we had a whopping big electrical storm, as intense as any storm I recall as a kid growing up in thunderstorm-prone south Florida.  The sky was short-circuiting, lightening flashing from every which way, with loads of wind and rain, as if someone had lifted our apartment building up into the most electrically intense section of the thunderhead. 

You can hear an audio file of the storm at

We now discover that the same system is drifting westward, over the Cape Verde Islands. The National Hurricane Center reports that "conditions appear conducive for development and a tropical depression could form in the next day or two."

From Africa, with love.

A Clean Goat is a Happy Goat

Photos from top to bottom (taken today while on a long walk along the coast to the north):  Plage du Ouakam and the Mosque of the Divinity;  close up of the fishing boats (pirogue) along Plage de Ouakam;  Randi at restaurant Chez Fatou;  goats getting a scrub-a-dub-dub in the shore break next to Chez Fatou.

Let's Talk Poo

The following blog my not be appropriate for children under 8, adults over 90, or anyone for whom straight talk about poo is taboo.

Poo is life.  We inhale, we exhale;  we eat, we poo.

Poo is.  Poo happens.

For those of us that are new to Dakar, poo is everything, and everything is poo.  The Inuit have 200 words for snow;  we newbies are developing an expanding vocabulary for what has been, simply, poo.

I have self-adhering poo envy.  I long for surface tension.  But, then, I am a hopeless romantic. 

I vacillate between pudding and cake batter.  I can't be any more clear than that.  

I got my hopes up last week that I was ascending the evolutionary poo ladder, from crocodile poo, to bird poo, to deer poo.  Ah, but just as I was about to brag about the nuggetness of my poo, back I slid (sorry) into salmon poo.

We are reassured by the veterans that homeostasis will return, that our poo will return to normal.  

I'm cautiously optimistic.  

But I wonder:  Might I go all year with reptile poo?  Can that be a good thing?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Up on the rooftop

Photos (top to bottom):  south toward central Dakar (the Plateau) and Parc National Ille de la Madeleine;  west toward ISD;  north toward the lighthouse at des Mamelles;  our side street, which leads to a main north-south road, route de Quakam, ISD, and our local grocery, Casino.

We live on the third floor of a four-story apartment building, a little higher than most in the neighborhood.  There is roof access, just up the stairs, to a sliding metal canopy.  (Forget to close the canopy, and the evening showers will drain down the stairs.)

Armed with microphone and camera, I spent the morning on the roof, enjoying the morning glow, and listening to the Sufi chanting broadcast over loudspeakers from the home of a marabout and his followers gathered a couple of blocks away.  

You'll find a four-channel recording of the morning sounds -- chanting, bird song, wind -- on BOT at (Gallery 8).

From the roof, you can clearly see that we reside on a peninsula, with the sea to the south, toward the Port of Dakar, west, toward Parc National de la Madeleine, and north, toward the village of Yoff.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Final preparations for a new school year

Photos:  (top three) from ISD Opening Ceremony;  (bottom two) from TGIF, including image looking north toward lighthouse at Phare des Mamelles.

There was a point last Friday morning, after putting up a couple of old posters, more for aesthetics than content, when I realized:  That's it, the classroom is ready.  The moment was preceded by two weeks of orientation and hours of preparation.  I am as well-stocked in curricular materials, particularly science, as I have ever been, or ever will be.  For those of you familiar with such things, I have three FOSS science kits, each directly related to my curriculum, with all the accompanying texts, and even a second supplementary science series.  Amazing.

To help assuage the first day of school nerves (for students AND teachers), ISD had an opening ceremony on Friday afternoon, giving parents a chance to check out the new staff, and offering teachers the opportunity to meet with our new students, at least those in-country, in our classrooms for a half-hour.

My class stats:  I currently have 23 students from 16 countries:  Israel, USA, England/Belgium, Germany, Burkina Faso, Portugal, Spain, Japan, Malaysia, South Africa, Gambia, Togo, Australia, Sierra Leon, and Switzerland.  The 14 students present on Friday were very respectful and sweet, if a bit nervous.  I have 17 returning students, and 6 new to Senegal.  4 have recently transitioned from ELL (English Language Learners), and will be fully mainstreamed;  2 new students are arriving with limited English, and will enter the ELL program.  

I have several French-speakers, and a student whose first language is Wolof.  These kids I will adopt as my language coaches.  They learn English, I learn French/Wolof.

The week closed with a staff potluck at Wayne's beautiful home with, as a colleague expressed it, a 120 degree view of the Atlantic Ocean.

I can honestly say that this is the friendliest staff I've worked with in my career, and my middle school team -- Marissa, Heather, and Thia -- is outstanding.

Thank you, Benjamin

Photos (top to bottom):  The Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noir;  Marche Kermel;  around Marche Sandaga.

We visited the Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noir, the Museum of African Arts, this morning, housed in an ornate building in the Plateau area of central Dakar.  First impressions:  the museum was hot, without air conditioning, and dark, without lights.  When I asked that the lights be switched on for the second floor galleries, an attendant explained that the electricity was out for the entire area.  In fact, the power was down in central Dakar throughout the morning, and even in our building when we returned home (though we have the benefit of a generator). 

Without going in detail, the quality of the museum displays were consistent with the general lack of infrastructure here in Dakar, and I assume throughout the continent.  This was not the Louvre, and the collection was modest.  Still, we loved the museum.  Our pace was slow;  there was much to see of interest.  (I will be taking my class to the museum in late September, exploring how historians reconstruct the past through the collection and interpretation of material artifacts.)

From the museum, we headed toward two downtown landmarks:  the Palais Presidentiel and the Place de l'Independance.  En route, outside the offices of UNICEF, we were warmly engaged by a man who recognized us from our Mermoz neighborhood.  Benjamin had arrived early to a meeting at UNICEF, and now, unexpectedly, had a couple of hours to kill, so he picked us up and offered to show us around.  Two hours later, we had wound through Marche Kermel, the more upscale French market, frequented by expats;  Marche Sandaga, a three-level African market;  and an artists' cooperative, where carvings are produced for sale in high end galleries.  Along the way, we were introduced to vendors selling medicinal plants, guided through the depths of Marche Sandaga in candlelight (absolutely surreal), we visited a baobob tree considered sacred by the Lebu (the fishermen of the Cape Verde Peninsula), and a textiles' workshop created to support the children of families lost in a tragic ferry sinking in 2001 (over a thousand were lost).  What a breathtaking tour, the result of a bon chance meeting with a engaging neighbor.  Amazing.

I spoke with Benjamin about my interest in traditional beliefs/practices, and how they intermingle with the practice of Islam in Senegal.  Benjamin admitted that he sees a marabout for certain ailments, and that his being a Catholic does not exclude practicing traditional medicine.  

I must here say that a former Peace Corp volunteer we met last week was of the opinion that Islam is merely a cover for the practice of animism in Senegal.  I was intrigued by the statement, particularly being that there are those who feel that the Senegalese are not Moslem, because of their tolerance and acceptance of traditional beliefs.  

Benjamin introduced Randi and I to a guy who manages the artisans' cooperative mentioned above.  The friend, a Moslem, shared his grigri with us, worn around his waist, strung with several small leather pouches containing either verses from the Koran, or traditional plant medicines, each considered a talisman to ward off evil. 

I asked how one might distinguish between a marabout with real power, and a fake.  They agreed that a marabout was expected to demonstrate his understanding/skill, and that there were certainly fakes.  By example, a grigri designed to protect one from a knife wound could be tested. Benjamin gestured as if he were being stabbed in the chest. (I'll pass on that one.)

Before parting ways, Benjamin pointed us to a third market, Marche Medine, where one could find vendors selling traditional remedies, including, as he explained, lion hide.  So off we went, down Route Quakam, a major north-south road, with it's myriad of vendors, congestion, and vehicle exhaust, headed toward the Medine.  We found what we were looking for:  vendors selling strips of hide, skin-covered skulls (we identified everything from chickens, to monkey, mongoose, cobra, crocodile, turtle, etc.), dried iguana (obviously being born an iguana in West Africa's not a good thing), various feet/paws, and a dozen other unrecognizable animal parts.  Stunning.  

I don't remember washing my hands . . .

What an amazing morning, particularly being that I broached with Randi the idea of hiring a guide to escort us around the Peninsula (and Senegal), rather than traveling hit or miss on our own.  Today was a sensational day, not the least being because we now much better understand how to negotiate the streets of downtown Dakar with some confidence.  

So I respectfully retract an earlier naive opinion made re avoiding the downtown markets.  

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Taxis, Snorkeling, & Protective Amulets

Yesterday, Randi and I joined former ISM colleagues Mike D. and Devon S. and friends for an afternoon on Ile du Ngor.  Ngor is located on the northwest tip of the Cape Verde Peninsula, in an area referred to as Les Almadies.  Randi and I took a taxi over to Mike & Devon's.  Taxi's are omnipresent here, rather like a common species of reef fish, patrolling for fares.  Walk anywhere, even along our smaller, neighborhood streets, and passing taxis will toot their horns to let you know that they're available.  Some will stop and solicit your business, especially if you're carrying something, as if to say why the heck would you want to carry that heavy thing when I could take you in my taxi!  If the condition of the exteriors are any indication, the taxis double as bumper cars.  

The taxi did get us safely to Mike and Devon's flat, after a slight detour around a stalled (in the middle of the road) car rapides mini-bus.  Schools of taxis streamed around either side of the downed vehicle, into oncoming traffic, like half-backs weaving through a defensive line. 

Bartering for a taxi fare is expected.  We were told that 2000 CFA (about $4.50) should get you anywhere on the Peninsula.  You tell the driver where you're going, and state your price.  If the driver refuses, walk away, and more than likely he'll compromise.

Many who read this blog know Mike and Devon, both of whom taught at The International School of Monterey.  They are a young, vibrant, twenty-something couple here on their first overseas teaching post.  Both have taken full advantage of their first year in Senegal.  Devon's learning to dive, drum, and dance.  Mike is an accomplished northern California surfer with, as he put it yesterday, a flock of surfboards.  Dakar has several world-class surf spots, as profiled in the classic surf film of the 1960s, The Endless Summer.

We drove out to plage de Ngor and met a half dozen other friends and colleagues.  From Ngor beach you can purchase passage on a large pirogue to Ngor Island, a short ride across a protected bay. I snorkeled across with several others, my first exposure in the water with mask and snorkel.

Dave, an experienced local diver and surfer working with an NGO, reported that the visibility was poor.  Given that context, I was pleased.  The visibility was, conservatively, 15-20 feet, lower in areas with surge.  The water was warm, perhaps 80 degrees F, certainly no need for a wet suit.  I expect that the area across which we swam, along the rocks to the north of the beach, receives a good deal of tidal surge, thus the widespread growth of sponge on rock surfaces.  The fish varieties were familiar, from growing up in south Florida:  lots of territorial damselfish of various types, including the striped sargent major;  boxy pufferfish, wrasse, moray eel (a juvenile), three small grouper tucked under ledges and rock piles;  what I know as a blenny, a large parrotfish, etc.  For a stretch of water likely subject to lots of human pressure, I was impressed.  Dave explained that everything is better -- clearer and more prolific -- once you get out of the bay, especially around Ille de la Madeleine.  I'm game.

There were scenes, from the vantage of the water, looking shoreward, which were captivating, for which I wished I'd had a camera (and reassured that we'd brought underwater video gear, though not with us that day).  The beach on a section of Ngor was thick with bathers, Senegalese, a dark mass of kids, playing, shouting, while a colorful pirogue arrived loaded with new arrivals, all wearing orange lifejackets, the extended prow slicing up onto the beach.  It struck me that, despite my familiarity with diving and the fish varieties, this was in fact Africa!  

The group of us had dinner on the island, and walked up to the eastern-most point overlooking what Dave and Mike described as one of the most consistent surf breaks in Senegal.  Devon recalled a day last spring, twenty-foot swells roaring in, no one in the water save Mike, Devon watching from this very spot, concerned for his safety, wondering what she could do were there an accident, what could be done?

There was chanting over a loud speaker much of last night, up until around six this morning.  I was up early, five AM-ish, recording the chanting from an open window.  I decided to walk down the street to investigate, imagining that the sound was being broadcast from the mosque en route to school.  Our street was quiet, dark, and empty, save a single guard with whom I exchanged a subdued bon jour.  The source of the chanting was down a side street, and in the distance I could make out a large group, many covered.  I choose not to intrude, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, armed with a high tech microphone in my pocket.  

Note two recordings of the chanting on BOT at

As Gaucher suggested in his presentation last week, Senegalese culture is richly layered: traditional beliefs and practices co-mingle with the practice of Islam here. Devon pointed this out yesterday while on Ngor Island.  Infants, she explained, are given a grigri, a protective leather amulet, sometimes containing verses from the Koran, worn around the waist.  They could be seen worn by a number of girls there on the beach.  

(ADDENDUM:  I just spoke, by phone, with two Peace Corps volunteers, one working in Senegal, one in Guinea.  They both spoke of the use of grigri:  Boys tend to receive them more than girls because the infant mortality amongst boys is higher;  grigri tend to contain verses from the Koran, sometimes copied then burned, the ashes saved, the specific verses used determined in consultation with a marabout or imam.  There are different kinds of grigri.  By example, there are fertility grigri, which a boy may purchase, as perhaps in downtown Dakar, for a girl.)

This whole topic -- the melding of the traditional/animistic with the orthodoxy of Islam -- is of immense interest.

One could easily spend a lifetime here, as anywhere, protected within the bubble of one's own culture, and never experience the richness of world out there.  Here, the degree of difference between the expression of culture within the privacy of one's home, and that practiced out there, can be extreme.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Power Outages and Other Shorts

The images above are of the thunder storm last night (top), an airliner approaching the airport with a full moon (middle), both taken from our balcony, and Randi talking with sister-in-law Val on Skype (bottom)

It was announced at school yesterday that we can expect a greater number of power outages in the coming days with the return of the expat community to Dakar, back for the start of school.  All those air conditioners being fired up anew are apparently enough of a drain to tax the municipal power grid.  

Each ISD school computer is accompanied by a bread loaf-sized black box, called a UPS, a universal power supply, which ensures a steady stream of power in the event that there is an outage.  Perhaps a half dozen times this afternoon, while working in the computer lab, the overhead lights went out, and the two-dozen UPS boxes beeped in synchrony, charging, off-setting the power loss, with no interruption in internet connection.  

In a similar way, businesses and even whole apartment buildings are each tied to diesel-powered generators which, theoretically, fire up automatically when there's interruption of service.  We witnessed this yesterday while grocery shopping at the so-called big Casino (no connection to gambling).  While in the check-out line, the lights went out, but the operation of the electronic registers were unaffected.

Dave, our new Athletic Director, who is married with two young children, explained that the power went out in his building for hours last night.  There is a generator, he said, but it wasn't wired-up properly, and when it was finally repaired, all of the building regained power except for his flat.  Dave ended up biking to the market to buy a flashlight, and transferred refrigerated food from home to school.

We had our first full-blown thunder and lightening downpour last night.  After all, it is the rainy season.  I was up with the camera, shooting long exposures, braced on the door frame.  We just haven't seen much in the way of Florida-caliber summer thunderstorms in the past ten days.  

We have concluded the first week of orientation for the newbies at ISD.  The full staff returns on Monday for another week of trainings, meetings, and set-up.  The school is modernizing it's technology infrastructure, adopting new programs for curriculum planning (Atlas Rubicon), intranet, and electronic grading, guided by our new network guru, Santha.

On the home front, Randi and I have settled-in nicely, establishing new routines, new patterns, from figuring out meals and grocery shopping, working with a gas stove, rinsing veges and fruits in a bleach bath prior to storing/eating, drinking bottled water, spending evenings with BBC and KGO San Francisco radio (via the internet), etc.

I walked home from school this afternoon reflecting on the sights and sounds of the milieu, and being comfortable with it.  The Call to Prayers was broadcast from a nearby mosque.  A young man was praying on his prayer mat behind the fruit/produce vendors next to the closed grocery.  I exchanged a bon jour, ca va? with several groups of guards along our street.  Each acknowledged the greeting, and returned a genuinely warm ca va in exchange.  

It takes no material wealth to be a good person.

I just spoke with ISD parent and Dive Master, Bruce, with whom I had exchanged emails regarding diving around Dakar.  I had planned to go out snorkeling at the plage de Ouakam tomorrow, though the runoff from the rain may spoil the visibility.  Bruce cautioned me about the presence of sea urchins, currents, and electric eels.  I need to experience all this for myself, weather permitting.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Things That Spray

Help!  I'm totally confused by the appliances in our master bathroom.  Beside the sink there is a low porcelain bowl, potty height, with a faucet attached.  Were I eighteen inches tall, the basin would be a very convenient place to wash my hands, but what purpose it serves in our bathroom is a complete mystery.  

Here's another one:  Just beside our toilet (I hope the photo doesn't challenge your sensibilities;  I closed the lid for modesty's sake), there is yet another sprayer thingy, for what purpose I have no clue.  I think it would be perfect for watering potted plants while sitting on the toilet, but why would someone want to garden while pooing?

Any insights regarding these matters are much appreciated.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Call to Prayers

We were up early this AM, early enough to hear and record the morning Call to Prayers, emanating simultaneously from several directions and sources.  It's quite special, particularly at sunrise.  You'll find a link to the audio files on BOT: (Gallery 3).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mango Flies & Catered Curry

There are mango flies here (alias tumbu or putzi flies).  Apparently the little buggers will lay their eggs on laundry hung outside to dry.  When you put the clothes back on, the fly larvae will burrow into your skin and grow there.  Do you really want to know the rest?  Google tumbu fly.  It'll make your day!  The cure?  Iron your clothes, or bring them in and just not wear them for 48 hours.  That'll kill the larvae.

I can't tell you how good it makes me feel to be wearing a t-shirt fresh off the line.  I itch. Is that a bad thing?

The newbies met for dinner tonight at Wayne's (the Director).  Wayne and his family live close to the sea, and have a spectacular view of the coast, south toward Ille de la Madeline (a national park), and north toward the high volcanic bluffs of des Mamelles.  Quite the house, quite the view, and quite the dinner -- catered Indian food.  Very cordial company in a very pleasant milieu.

We are quickly becoming a tight group, after several days of settling-in, shopping, and getting oriented.  Speaking for myself, I'm ready to get on with the school year.  I've had summer holiday enough, and am ready to meet my new students.  I met with the director and principal this afternoon, and had a chance to run through my inquiry units and general plan for the year.  All looks good.  I can expect 18-22 students, about a third new to ISD, no details as yet regarding where they're from, or any academic information.  The overall enrollment is growing rapidly, and the specific numbers are subject to significant change.  Apparently Dakar is increasingly seen as a stable West Africa hub for all sorts of things, particularly NGOs.

I've begun firing up the class website, and will be uploading content daily now.  See 

Yesterday, the newbies went shopping at THE (meaning not THE-as-in-the-exclusive, but THE-as-in-the-ONLY) department store-like store in Dakar, called Orca.  We also stopped at City Sports, a well-stocked sports' store, carrying a nice line of dive gear, bikes, etc.  

I learned several important lessons from this trip.  

First, in our time here in Senegal, I will head downtown only on rare occasions.  Downtown Dakar is as much a reflection of Senegal as Tijuana is of Mexico, or Amsterdam Holland.  I will spend my time in and around the sea and, hopefully, in and around the interior of Senegal.  Downtown Dakar is, I suppose, something someone needs to do once or twice, or to contact a particular person in a particular place, as perhaps an artisan, or an antiques' shop.

Second, Randi and I agreed that there will be no need for a car while we're here.  Taxi's are everywhere, and easily affordable.  A five dollar/2000 CFA fare (requiring bartering to get there) will get you just about anywhere on the peninsula.  And walking is a pleasure, particularly coming from the automobile-dependent culture of California.

Lastly, Randi and I are well-stocked with the various household items we need to settle-in.  It was a good move to purchase all of the former teacher-resident's belongings.  It has much simplified the transition.

Mike and Devon are due back tomorrow, and are participating in a first year panel discussion for the newbies.  It will good to finally see them here in Dakar.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Walk to Soumbedioune

We expanded our horizon significantly today by walking south along the coastal road, the Corniche, down to the fish market at Soumbedioune.  The Corniche, from the French word meaning road on a ledge, is here broad and lined with estate-sized homes.  The day was overcast and breezy, moderating the temperature and the effects of the oft-oppressively high humidity.  True to it's name, the Corniche runs along the bluffs overlooking the sea.  The shore here is largely rocky, with open beaches in protected coves.

We picked our way along the bluffs, taking advantage of the on-shore breeze as much as possible.  Along one section we discovered a pile of abalone-like shells, glistening with mother-of-pearl interior.  Abalone in Senegal?  Who would have guessed:

I had read that the Senegalese were beautiful:  lean, strongly, and stately.  Based upon the individuals we passed this morning, the description is absolutely accurate.  Admittedly, many we encountered were athletic -- playing soccer, jogging, etc.  We passed a little area reserved for doing sit-ups, with a horizontal post in place for hooking your feet, and cardboard cushions for your backside.  There was even a sign depicting someone doing sit-ups.

The geology of the coast is puzzling, certainly a subject we'll investigate this fall.  How do you explain all the volcanic rock, much of which is rounded, boulder-like, perfect catapult ammo?  Is this pillow lava?  I know the rock is not terribly old, in geological terms.  It's seems more likely that it was formed underwater, from a sea vent, than a terrestrial volcano.  That would explain the roundedness.  Are we seeing magma that blooped out of a vent.  Details to be determined.

As we approached Soumbedioune, the Corniche became gradually more congested with people and traffic, smells and noise.  In our travels around our neighborhood, there are no tourists, and we experience few solicitations.  There are no husslers or pirates.  But immediately upon reaching the Soumbedioune area, and the marche aux poissons (fish market), we were immediately and constantly harangued, and so stayed only a short time.

I wondered at dinner, how might we respond to an insistent, annoying hussler, while remaining respectful.  How about:  S'il vous plait, monsieur, mais j'habit ici, j'habit du Dakar.  Translated, buzz off, I'm a local.  

Our first day here, I noticed something zip through the tall grass along a sidewalk, and I flashed on one of the velociraptor scenes from Jurassic Park.  The lizards are large here;  well, larger than the blue bellies out beside our garage in Carmel Valley.  I don't know the type of lizard yet, save that they're big enough to take down a small horse.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Morning Sounds

Having enjoyed two solid nights' sleeps, I was up with the sunrise this morning, and collected several audio/video files from our balcony.  


The bird song is intense.  

Heard the buzzing of a first mosquito, and responded by strategically placing a bottle of DEET on a patio table, as if to say, I dare you!

In the afternoon, Randi and I walked down to la plage de Ouakam, the nearest easy beach access for swimming/snorkeling, about a 20 minute walk from our home.  The Mosque de la Divinite is located there, with it's tall white minarets.  The beach is classic Senegal:  fishing pirogues (West African narrow flat-bottom boats) line the beach;  goats are dragged by the forelegs into the water for a wash-up;  kids play, while adults mend nets in the shade.  

I suspect that Randi and I were a bit of an oddity, given the looks we attracted, perhaps perceived as misplaced tourists.  There were no vendors hawking wares, or begging kids here, just people at work and play.  We were engaged by only one person, a boat owner who offered his name and telephone number should we like to hire his pirogue for diving or fishing.  As is now common in our interactions, he presented himself as gentle and respectful.

The water was WARM, clear, and inviting.  I did jump in, if only for a few minutes.  Delightful. Here, too, several were out snorkeling, wearing extra long free diving fins, not something I expected to find here.  I'm extremely curious to discover what they're after.  Lobster (wishful thinking)?  

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Randi and I walked down to our local grocery tonight to check out their inventory.  The street was busy with locals (Senegalese), as if the neighborhood had awoken after a refreshing afternoon nap.  After successfully negotiating the market, we wandered over to peruse the fruits/vegetables being sold by a group of vendors.  Our approach drew their immediate attention, and in quiet, respectful tones our patronage was courted by the competing sellers.  We chose one at random.  Perhaps the seller knew it was an advantage to be at the middle of the pack, just as all liquids are drawn to the center of a funnel.  We came to her, no solicitation required.  With her guidance and many suggestions, Randi purchased some potatoes, onions, a bell pepper, and zucchini.  I played the dumb spouse, and deflected the guy pushing avocados toward the real customer.  Once the transaction was completed, the seller asked Randi for her name, spoken in clear English.  It was a nice touch, personal, prompting relationship, suggesting a sense of felt connection/obligation, an implied contract (you-will-buy-exclusively-from-me-now-because-you-are-Randi), good for future business.

The above photos were taken from the patio a floor above us, the home of ISD Principal, Eric K. Later in the evening, clouds to the south were dramatically illuminated by bursts of lightening, weather cells heading west toward warm waters. 


We arrived in Dakar early this AM after fifteen hours of travel.  I entertained a number of overlapping contradictory emotions/voices en route, from elation, to relief, to panic (why am I doing this?!), to counseling (you'll be fine).  Moving through customs and baggage claim was no problem, despite the few pirates (guys who insist on helping you collect and transport your baggage).  We took it all in stride, remained patient, handled one detail at a time.  Only a few passengers deplaned in Dakar, the flight continuing on to Capetown, another eight hours down the continent.  As a Delta steward remarked to Randi:  Oh sweetie, you don't want to get off in Dakar.  That's REAL Africa!

ISD Director, Wayne R, met us at the airport, and drove us to our new flat.  We're on the third floor of a four-story building on a poorly maintained side street, about a 15 minute walk from school.  The flat is large:  three bedrooms, three baths (the master bath has an adult-sized bathtub and a bidet), a large kitchen and living room, high ceilings, and good-enough furnishings.  All residencies in the neighborhood are set behind gates or high walls, each guarded by a Senegalese guy, some in uniform, others in t-shirts and jeans.  There is clearly a lively social exchange among the neighborhood so-called guards, as they congregate in the shade of trees.

It's the rainy season here (through October), and though we had no rain today, the clouds felt very tropical, big and billowy.  This shouldn't be surprising being that Atlantic hurricanes are often spawned in north Africa, departing the continent by way of Dakar and the Cape Verde Peninsula, headed for the Caribbean.

It's very humid, though we've had a pleasant breeze throughout the day.  In the moment we're cloistered in the air conditioned living room.

We toured the school with the Director this afternoon.  The school is relatively small, serving about 300 students K-12.  Classrooms border a central grassy field, a unique feature in this part of Africa.  The school is adjacent to Club Atlantique, which has a 25 yard-ish lap pool, weigh room, snack bar, etc.

My classroom is a nice size for a smaller group, no frills, certainly will need to be transformed in advance of the school year.  Or, better, the kids and I might take on the setting up of the classroom as an opening project:  how to turn it into an efficient and pleasant work environment.

Many things to do:  shop for groceries (there's a Casino chain grocery market just down the street);  jump into the Atlantic;  get Randi a bike;  look for a photo printer;  jump into the Atlantic;  get a little notepad for recording the names of the many new people we're meeting;  jump into the Atlantic.