Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, December 1


Thanksgiving being my absolute favorite holiday, and since I’d stayed with my family in Mboro the year before, I saw fit to travel this year. So I went to Dakar for the best gig in country to be celebrated in the form of an upscale dinner party. Every year the Ambassador to the United States opens her home to the lonely likes of the Peace Corps Volunteers residing in Senegal. It’s a potluck whose arrangements is organized only a few days before when a person calls, texts, or emails their desired food contribution to the PC headquarters office. I personally went through 3 rounds before settling on something not requested by others and not similarly represented. As my sister was visiting I also made arrangements for her to join the festivities as well.

The day of my sister, her boyfriend, Christine, and myself woke up in another town, organized our possessions and set out to find a ride to Dakar. Looking for a car out of Popenguine had us walking all sorts of scenic routes, until we stopped a passing car to ask directions back to town or a garage. He turned out to be a French priest at the mission in town and offered to give us a ride to the next town’s garage. After we got in, it was discovered that he’d been living in Senegal for 3 years and was currently travelling to Dakar on business… he offered to take us the distance and would not accept money or gifts. He drove us within 3 blocks of our destination in Dakar in a record time nearly half of what is considered normal travel.

On the road we discovered that my cell phone provider was offering 'buy one get one free' in cell phone credit. This felt like finding treasure as any other promotional day I've been privy to has only offered a 50% upgrade. 100% was only a myth... until now. Our phones work off of prepaid credit that is purchased in card form from any aspiring entrepreneur. They are more common than lemonade stands in a US subdivision during summer. Though this seems like a sidebar to the festivities, it could've been equated to a Christmas miracle and was therefore highly appreciated.

For breakfast we ate lunch items at the diner in downtown Dakar. Chances to sit in AC, drink lemonade, and eat pizza and fries would put anyone in an American mood. Followed by checking into the hotel, taking hot showers, and getting dolled up for the evening- all of which improved the experience. I haven’t looked that pretty since I got ready for New Years Eve 2010. Depressing and pathetic, but true… and also a cost savings. While Christine, sister, and I did our makeup and exchanged accessories, sister's boyfriend spent some quality time watching Senegalese music videos and learning the art of traditional dance. Both he and sister can do a remarkable impersonation of a appropriate leg shaking and lifting with accompanying blank faced stare.

In the early afternoon, we bought supplies at the nicest store in town for our contribution to the buffet and took them over to the regional house. There we showed sister how each local volunteer has a locker but the bunk beds are up for first-come-first-serve grabs to the people who arrive there. Unfortunately preparations for dinner side dishes and desserts worked much the same way… and by the time we got there barely any of the cooking utensils were available for use or storage. After some shifting of side dishes and bargaining for stove top space we managed to boil our pasta and cut our sausage, cucumber, olives, and onions. The dressing was to be tossed in just before dinner was served (although that was somehow lost in translation with the kitchen staff at the ambassador’s residence). And just as we were finishing it was time to grab the barely used heels from my locker and head out to our party.

We took a taxi and actually got there by telling him the neighborhood and whose house we were going to. This surprises me because I couldn’t tell you the location of any other ambassador’s house in any other country. But then, I’m not strong in geography. Upon arrival, the security guard checked our names off a list, in a VIP club sort of way, before we walked through the gates. The Ambassador herself met us at the front door with greetings and a member of the kitchen staff (there to receive our dish, which she would later transfer to a new plate and sans dressing), and after offering our thanks for the invitation we signed the guest book and headed to the patio for some drinks.

The back yard of the estate (yes that is the appropriate word for the place) was the perfect place for a twilight cocktail hour. A bar and two bartenders served red and white imported wines, beer, and local juices while my fellow volunteers and members of the PC staff mingled around the pool. Sister spent a fair amount of time chatting up and getting to know my friends who were beautifully dressed in a way that made me miss holidays, formal functions, and generally being clean and well groomed.

Just as the sun set, we headed inside to the grand living room where eight round tables we covered in beautiful white linens with matching white chair covers and place settings. It was like a fancy wedding, and combined with the lighting (which for the first time in a long time wasn’t florescent), made me consider whether or not I have a problem with season effected disorder or just bad lighting. The wait staff (I’m talking men in dress shirts and vests, seriously) brought wine periodically. For dinner we ate all the usual fixings, each made from at least 3 different “recipes from home,” and I tasted them all. Well except the green mashed potatoes… and that’s just good common sense. I ate so much that I got a second plate, but I couldn’t finish it.

We stuffed ourselves like this for quite a while before they brought out coffee and cleared the buffet table (the promise of optional take home bags whispered through the air). Then it was on to dessert, where the table was once again covered with brownies, apple pie, corn bread (another lost in translation item), carrot cake, and other items I couldn’t manage room for. Luckily the others at my table all wanted mere bites so we shared one of everything.

As the sleepy drug of turkey took hold of the room, I found the already cleaned pasta pan and secured for it safe passage back to the regional house with other friends. Then I collected my sister and her boyfriend and Christine and got them back to the hotel room, where we called our families (possibly only due to the 100% promotional phone credit miracle) and laid down in a poor attempt to let our stomachs digest. This didn’t last long, as we’d promised to drag ourselves up and out to the nearest bar for beers with friends. We made it through one sad beer before calling Turkey Day a success and going to bed. And that’s how an ex-pat does an American holiday in style, Peace Corps life style be damned.

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