Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bird watching on our street

Growing up in Cameroon, I became an avid birdwatcher, something I more or less dropped in the US, because how exciting is it to get up early on Saturday morning and see the same old cardinals, blue jays, mockingbirds, robins, and starlings (yes, I know, there are other birds, too - but bear with me). I made sure I had the Field Guide to Bird of West Africa in the luggage that came with us on the plane, rather than having to wait for a shipment, and it has been well worth it. Here are just the birds that we've been able to get good pictures of on our street, mostly from our house - this doesn't count those that we see all the time on our street but haven't taken pictures of yet (common garden bulbul, warbling silverbill, bronze mannikin, village weaver, hooded vulture, sunbirds, rock pigeon, house sparrow), or the ones we've seen around town and gotten pictures of (white-breasted cormorant, black kite, pink-backed pelican), or the gray woodpecker I saw a few streets away when I didn't have a camera on me.

Senegal ring-necked parakeet
 Long-tailed glossy starling
 Spur winged plover
 Red-beaked hornbill
Senegal fire finch 
 Senegal parrot 
 Gray plantain eater
Looking forward to getting out of town and to a bird sanctuary at the mouth of the Senegal River with my cousins Jay and Jennie next month!

Monday, February 20, 2012

President's Day trip to the island of Goree

Since we had today off, we asked our social sponsors (Brian and Jenny) if they wanted to join us on a trip to Goree, since they hadn't been there (Brian is below). Eli came along too - since she might have been bored at home otherwise! Here we are on the ferry still in port - it was a beautiful day - blue sky, good breeze, low 70s - but then a lot of days are like that this time of year. The ferry to Goree leaves most hours on the hour from the port.
 JB rocking the sun hat - and still not sure what he thinks of it. Also, this is the mood that results when little boys don't want to take their naps. But isn't the double chin adorable?

Goree is a very small island - about half a mile long, and a short ferry ride from Dakar. When I was here in 7th grade, we used to come here sometimes on Sunday afternoon. Then it was fairly calm, sparsely populated, a little desolate - and the fort at the higher end of the island was an excellent place to play hide and seek. Now it's kind of a tourist trap - the walk to the fort at the top lined with paintings for sale and other stuff for tourists to buy and dozens of men wanting to be your guide. Goree has made a name for itself as the last stop for hundreds of thousands in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the Maison des Esclaves (Slave House), where slaves were supposedly held, has become a major tourist attraction (both Bush and Clinton visited and had their pictures taken there), with guides eager to regale you with details for a buck. In fact, the building wasn't built until after the trans-Atlantic slave trade was close to over, and historians agree that the number may have been closer to 200-300 per year in peak years. However, it has become somewhat of a memorial (helpful sites: ). There are huge cannons on the remains of  fort at the highest point on the island. Though all the local guides will tell you it was where The Guns of Navarone was filmed, the movie was actually filmed in Rhodes. The only substantiated fact I could find was that the cannons had been used during WWII and sunk a British boat.
However, Goree does have a fascinating history, has changed hands multiple times, and has a certain run down beauty - and has French colonial architecture reminiscent of New Orleans. I love it for a day trip, even a half day trip - a nice ferry ride, a good lunch, wandering around the island, and if it's warm, a swim.
 JB and I near the top of the hill, looking down toward the harbor - it was super windy!
 Ed managed to climb up on one of the cannons. It could supposedly shoot 14 km (~ 8 miles)!
 We had lunch in a restaurant toward the top of the hill, with an amazing view. But I always take pictures of my food. Here's lookin' at you, fishy! (They do grilled fish really well here.)
 From the ferry, across the harbor - I always think this row of houses is incredibly picturesque. There is a nice restaurant in the yellow one at the left. We got a text from the RSO (Regional Security Office) that there was a demonstration planned downtown at 3pm, so cut our excursion short and took the 2pm ferry back - and made it safely back home before 3. :)

A good end to a fun day - a bath and getting wrapped in my lion towel. I am JB, hear me roar!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Our house - a few pictures

As mentioned, we've been granted quite the house, which we are slowly starting to get comfortable in! I love all the natural light and the high ceilings. I can't wait to get our art to cover all the white walls!

Our living room is pretty long - greatly improved by being divided into 2 separate living spaces. Note the USG standard issue couches, coffee tables, and hutch. You will see the same furniture anywhere in Africa (and probably the world) in houses managed by the US Embassy.  At least you feel at home and there is no question about the decor. :)

 Kitchen - spacious, with a gas stove - but only a couple drawers, and the the bottom of the wall cabinets is even with the top of my head. :) Like our outdoor table and chairs? I'm designing an island, so those can eventually go outdoors.
Our dining room table - we call it the Viking table - perfect for lots of guests! Note the flowers Ed gave me for Valentine's Day (and the Nalgene bottle!).
 Our entry way - complete with spiral staircase - note the baby gates that were already installed. It has a very convenient space underneath for storage of all sorts of stuff.
We are trying to work on our poor yard - we have all the old ratty plants weeded out or pruned, and now we're slowly getting new stuff planted. We're hoping for a huge multi-colored bougainvillea hedge along our wall in the not-too-distant future!
Our front porch and side yard - sort of barren for now, but has potential. And I love the huge mango tree overhanging most of the side yard!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Now in Senegal

My last blog post was forever ago (well, OK, almost exactly 2 years) and I have intermittently had dreams of filling this blog in with all the travels in the meantime - Tanzania several times, Senegal several times, Thailand several times, Cambodia twice, Vietnam, South Africa, Malawi..... but if I wait until I have time to fill it all in, I will never blog again.
So here I am, at (almost) the beginning of 2012, with a new baby - well, sort of new - Jeremiah Benjamin (JB) will be 6 months old tomorrow, and a new job - resident advisor for CDC to the President's Malaria Initiative in Senegal. So I'm starting  my family the way I was raised - in a French-speaking west African country, and I'm overjoyed to be here!
So where are we? Dakar, Senegal (Link: <>), in a neighborhood called Fenetre Mermoz. How did we get here? Plane, car, ... I accepted a job (ok, honestly, I asked for it and some nice people said yes) as I mentioned before, as the CDC Resident Advisor for PMI Senegal. I had been traveling to Senegal several times per year to support the program, came to love Senegal and my co-workers there, and saw the interesting things happening here, and it seemed like a good fit on a number of levels.
While Ed and I had been talking about working internationally since before we got married, it was admittedly a little bit more of a stretch for Ed when it came to doing it - and not going to some English speaking place with great safari opportunities (like Tanzania) like we had talked about, but to a French-speaking ... desert. OK, well there are a fair number of trees and plants, but there is an awful lot of sand! In addition, the chances of both having a job in the same place are somewhat slim. Having JB in the picture suddenly made it make a bit more sense - we could afford one career, a nanny ... and end up with more of a family-friendly life style than we had in the US. I'm grateful for a husband willing to ditch a job he loved and step out into the great unknown, with no firm plans as to what he would do. As we'll see in coming weeks, he's not bored. :)
We've been here for 6 weeks now, and feels simultaneously much shorter and much longer. We  might finally be settled by about a year! Everything seems to take a little longer - partly being in west Africa where things are a little harder to come by, but having a baby around, not having a vehicle, not knowing our way around town. But we'll get there!
We have been so blessed to be a 5 minute walk from an English speaking church where we already have a number of good friends, a 3 minute walk from a couple we had made friends with last time I was in Senegal (and when Ed came for the "yay or nay" visit) who have a baby boy just 2 weeks older than JB, and just around the corner from fruit sellers, a bakery, a gelato place, and a little grocery store. It's also a 3 minute walk to the road that hugs the cliff along the coast, and on cool mornings, it's a beautiful run.
I'm hoping to post short posts regularly - to avoid building up into a monumental task!