Monday, April 25, 2011

Nyam...Nyam Buy!

I don't think there has ever before been a time in my life that I appreciated food as much as I do now. I have simply made it a mission to conquer the art of cooking.  When presented with the opportunity to do so my goal is to create the most beautiful entrée that radiates with both taste and design.  You may ask, where does this new desire come from?  My response is that after eating a year of village food my body appreciates taste more than ever.  I want to clarify that village and Senegalese food, though resemble one another, are quite different.  It is like saying BJ’s Pizza is the same as Papa John’s (sorry California comparison). The only difference is, when under the influence of your favorite alcoholic beverage, Papa John’s actually tastes decent. Village food, on the other hand, has become something I put into my body in order to function.

It is quite important to understand that Senegal, like any other country, varies from region to region in economics, education, and even culture. What may be true in the North may be completely different in the South.  Even in the south villages may follow extremely different practices than their neighbors. (I will go into the cultural aspect in my next blog but for now it remains food.) Cities and towns are much different than villages; therefore the quality of food changes as you travel throughout these different communities.  One of the most popular questions I am asked, by outsiders is  “What do you eat.”

I know I have mentioned this before but, to clarify, I live in the land of Pulaars.  Pulaars are located around West Africa and are typically known as cow herders. I live in an area where Fulakunda is spoken (a different dialect originated in southern Senegal). Thanks to the large number of cows that share my living space, dairy products tend to be a staple. My village also farms peanuts, corn, other types of grain, and rice.  These are the essential staples to my diet. Fish is an occasionally luxury and chicken or red meat is a gift from Allah.

A Typical Day of Meals:

Breakfast (kachatari)- There are a few choices for breakfast. They usually switch it up every day so you have something a little different. 
1.                    Gossi is one of the most popular dishes. To be called Gossi it can have a minimum of boiled rice that imitates a thick porridge. In village, especially during the starving season, this is what is served.  Often times they will add peanuts to it (crushed and grinded of course) and if they feel like splurging they will add sugar and sometimes Kosam (soured milk like a non flavored yogurt).  In my household it usually contains peanuts and Kosam but most of the time it does not have sugar.  I just have to say that I am not a big sugar person, but Gossi without it is a good remedy if you want to make yourself gag.
2.                    Mouni is another popular dish. It is prepared the day before by sifting a type of millet, adding water and forming tiny little balls. A rotational movement of the millet forms the tiny Mouni balls. The water and the right hand technique causes them to stick together. (It's a difficult process to explain and even harder to try). It then, like Gossi, is formed into porridge.  Again depending on financial means Kosam and sugar are added to taste.
3.                    Kosam and millet  This is usually consumed by adults in families that have more money. It is Kosam with sugar (like yummy yogurt) with hard millet added to it.  The millet is not soft and ball shape like the mouni, but instead has a texture like a fine grain cereal.  This is by far my favorite choice but is not often served.
4.                    Bread and Coffee- Thank the French for their baguette, which is a popular choice for those who live near a bakery. (cities and towns)  They usually eat it with butter, mayo, or chocolate with this terrible coffee called Nescafe. Instant coffee that, ugh I cringe just thinking about it).
I ate breakfast with my family in the begging but have currently discovered that by body now rejects it.  Instead, I drink my imported Starbucks or Dunken doughnuts, with imported granola.  Sorry I just can’t support the local cause in this matter. 
Hadji eating Gossi for dinner  with the same face I have when forced to eat it :) 

Palm oil, locally known as Tentalou

Lunch (Botarri) 
Lunch, if prepared well can be some of the most amazing food I have ever eaten. Again, most of this amazingness has been experienced outside of village.
            1.Cheb- is one of the most famous dishes in Senegal. There are two different types: Red and White Cheb. (my favorite is the red)  White refers to white rice while red refers to rice that is cooked in tomato juice and oil. The best cheb is when rice is served in a large bowl (shared with everyone) with veggies (typically an eggplant, cabbage, carrot, turnip and bitter tomato) and fish.  They are  put in the middle of the dish where everyone will share by tearing off small pieces and eating it with the rice in front of them.  The veggies are limited to what is in season and accessible at the time.  Sometimes (really good cheb) will have Tamerain (a tree seed that is cooked and is delicious)  accompanied by Follerae. (Boiled okra and leaves that are smashed and mixed together to make a sticky green substance. Also if cheb is really good, the fish will be stuffed with parsley, garlic, hot pepper mixture that is delightful.
            2. Yassa (my favorite) can be made with goat, chicken, beef, fish, or have no meat at all.  If there is meat it is marinated in oil, onion potato, & garlic sauce. It’s cooked and then served over rice.  If there is no meat then just the sauce is served over rice. In village there is usually no meat so we eat sauce and rice.
            3. Maffe Gerte- Is a peanut sauce that is cooked with oil and seasonings that is served over rice. The more money you have the more likely you are to have meat or vegetables with it. In village it is usually a peanut sauce, lightly seasoned. I used to like it, but it’s hard to eat it 5 days in a row. (yes this is what I typically eat for lunch.
            4. Fish Balls-  These are my favorite things to make. I find them so interesting, and if done correctly, absolutely delicious.  After the bones have been removed, the fish is pounded into a thick texture with garlic, onion, sometimes parsley, salt, and pepper. You also add a little water and dry grinded peanuts to hold it together. They are then lightly fried and then added to either an onion sauce, or leaf sauce and served over rice.
5.  Kodde or rice with Follerae- The worst meal ever! It is also one of the most commonly served in village. It is a thick type of millet or rice served with sticky green paste.  The paste is good with cheb, but is not filling when served with just rice. They also will add a little red palm oil which is not very good. 

If you go to the market, this is what they typical lunch table looks like. 

Barbie eatingYassa with no meat!

Dinner (Hirrande) There are two things eaten for dinner though it’s not un common to have gossi, when times are difficult.
1.     Lacherie Jambo-  Corn is pounded and then steamed which makes it similar to a quinoa type of texture.  The sauce varies;  sometimes it is a light watery peanut sauce, a thick leaf sauce, or if in the rare occasion your family is awesome a bean sauce.  For the most part it is the watery peanut or leaf sauce.
2.     Futonk – This is sticky white rice cooked with grinded peanuts and dried fish. It is salty and not bad tasting, but definitely not fulfilling.  
Leaf sauce

Adama (host sister) preparing lacheri 

Red Cheb fancy style with meat!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Growing Pains

“When in pain be like flowing water. When suffering near the bottom, feed off what you can, like the brilliant fish, and spit back the rest. When feeling burdened, watch small birds to see how they begin to fly. When feeling finished, watch newborn animals open their wet little eyes and imitate their innocence. Once giving full attention, you will come back-one drop at a time-into the tide of the living”
(Easier said then done, right?)
My baby goats Happiness and Princess

Pain, suffering, burdened, finished, etc. It is so bizarre how all these things seem to hit you at once.  One moment you feel like you are on top of the world and the next you are at the bottom of a well screaming for someone to pull you out.   Never before in my life have I felt the changing of emotions so strongly.  Maybe it’s because, in America, life moves at a more rapid pace and all the distractions inhibit ones ability to follow the swinging pendulum of life.   It could also be that, in America, I don’t sound like a two year old and can express at assert myself more readily.  It is also very possible that the need to prove myself and understand the purpose of my work is not so intense.  There are many reasons to justify my recent unstable state of mind.   However understanding why life is so much harder here does not make dealing with my struggles any easier.

The last month has been the longest and most trying period thus far.  I felt quite powerless as I observed my life unfolding before my eyes.  I found myself lost in an abyss, unable to justify my actions. Because of this lack of control I was overcome with guilt. It was like a cloud of guilt was following me wherever I went. It was guilt of not being stronger, not being able to fight through, and succumbing to my weakness. Confusing weakness with letting go, I refused to be broken!  I wish that my competitiveness would subside once in a while. I wish I could allow myself to obey the natural flow of the universe without trying so desperately to control it.  This is the battle I am currently. I am growing and the coming to terms with my stuborness is quite an adventure.

I have a memory of growing pains from my childhood. I remember being on vacation and being so miserable because my body ached all over. I remember my mom telling me that my body was growing and that the pain would go away. It’s funny how such a physical change can be related to the process I now face mentally. This process of growing reminds me of another conversation I recently had with a friend.  We were talking about the 7 year cycle.

 The “7 year cycle” is based on the theory that your body actually sheds a layer of skin every 7 years.  Though science argues that everybody’s rate of change is different, many cultures and mystical theories attribute a magical force relating to the number 7.   It is thought to be a year of reflection and stillness, but also a year of deep insight and emotions.  Though I am not in this 7th year, I feel as if this process has begun to unfold.  It is like my body is preparing itself to shed. This ephianey came to me in a dream that I later contemplated over my ritual morning coffee. I saw myself so clearly being transformed. In this image I remember thinking numerous things about growth, but the one that registered strongly was the idea of shedding skin.  I was standing naked in the middle of space with my hands at my heart. They preceded to remove my skin like a thick winter coat. As it was being removed, a powerful white light engulfed me. I can relate it to the Little Mermaid when Ariel is transformed into a human.  A powerful moment that  physically and emotionally alters you into a new person, a new state of being.

It is this transformation that I was met with understanding. It was as if someone was saying “be patient, trust and try to comprehend that it is long and painful road. You may feel stuck at the bottom of a well, but you will survive it.  You will figure out how to climb out.”

As all this mental insight was bombarding my brain I was also unfortunate to fall victim of Amoebas. (a parasite that if you want to know more about you can click here: I didn’t eat or move for three days and spent most of my time sprawled out on the floor of my hut praying for the polar forces to shift and make Senegal’s heat disappear.  I did manage to have energy to read Andre Agassi’s biography “Open”.  I felt myself relating to his journey with tennis to my journey of life. There were a few quotes that moved me, the follwoing being one of them:

“Life is a tennis match between polar opposites. Winning and losing, love and hate, open and closed. It helps to recognize that painful fact early. Then recognize the polar opposites within yourself, and if you can’t embrace them, or reconcile them, at least accept them and move on. The only thing you can not do is ignore them.”

That word “ignore” struck a cord with me.  The way he wrote it made me question whether ignoring this pendulum of life is an option. I don’t think we can ignore it entirely but we do have the decision to dive into it or not. We also have the capacitiy to be aware of the shifts within our body. We have the ability to embrace the pain and pick out the thorns as much as we have the ability to prevent ourselves from feeling it at all. Distractions are a good vice for escaping and I find that, in my current situation, all my vices have been removed.  Senegal has made it more difficult to ignore the rawness of life.  This theme is being woven into my soul and it is something that comes up frequently in my journal entries, emails, and blogs.
As Andre put is:

It’s inexplicable, mystical, these twin forces, these contradictory energies, but they both exisit, I know because I have spent much of my life seeking the one, fighting the other, and sometimes I’ve been stuck, suspended, bounced like a tennis ball between the two.”

I would like to conclude with acknowledging the process within you. I don’t think you have to travel around the world to face these types of challenges. You can be anywhere in any type of situation and feel the need to grieve. Grieve for that layer of skin you are loosing and bathe in the pain that the sorrow brings. I think we as humans need to do a better job at accepting this process within ourselves and within others.  If we are more honest in our challenges then the possibility  to relate on a deeper demension of life becomes achievable. Maybe then we can heal ourselves in this crazy world, together.

P/S Next blog will be about Senegelese food, the market and all that good stuff! 

Friday, April 8, 2011


 This past month or so I have felt this incredible flow of energy moving through me. It has brought to surface many new emotions, feelings, and desires.   I was at a loss of how to interpret it all.  This morning as I did my yoga and meditated, I felt something new and a little different.  I felt that life was trying to convey something to me and so I picked up my book  (thanks z & v) and sure enough I came across a quote that struck me as un-coincidental. It was fantastic and I felt the need to share. This is not my usual type of post,  but I hope you enjoy it anyways.

I continue to struggle with what people think.  I am affected when someone becomes angry or disappointed with me and it tears me up.  It is something I have struggled with for years.  I was not aware of its influence over my body until I came to Senegal.   For some reason, under these conditions, I have come face-to-face with a choice to either let it destroy me or fight it.   This battle is an emotional one and it can be quite draining at times.  It is easy to get sucked into the game of wanting to please everyone, or feeling the need to do so.      One day it is “Buy me a millet machine” the next it’s “give me medicine”.  It is hard to say no!  It is hard to understand that giving things out for free perpetually hinders their ability to grow and develop.   I tell myself this, but am then filled with guilt and a longing to make a difference, even if it is a short term fix. 

They wonder...   she comes from America (the land of riches) why am I not doing extraordinary things like fixing their roads, bringing electricity and raising the dead from their graves. 
  All she does is hang out with the girls and plan events that try to motivate them to stay in school.  School is great, but I need my daughter to help around the house. Why doesn’t she just fix our well pump that would really help? 

It is hard not to let these ideas bring you down. It is hard to explain why I am in this country. It is hard not to constantly feel guilty for taking a day off.  It’s just HARD and I care way too much. 

“How does one stay open to what others feel, and not to what they think? We cannot live without being affected by others, but we are only real when we let truth and love shape us from within. Our want to be liked, out want to avoid conflict, out want to be understand- all these traits tease us away from taking the voice within seriously.”

How does one recognize this voice and listen to it regularly? I guess the voice itself is a whole other blog discussion, some call it god, others call it a guide, and some call it a neurological response. There is no need to debate what it is.  If we ultimately acknowledge that something in our body directs us in making decisions, or stimulates emotions, then we should go about learning more about it and possibly figuring out how to listen to it.    (going off subject a bit...) 

The need to please others happens everywhere in the world. The pressure of society, friends and family all challenge us to act or behave a certain way.  Many times we loose our voice and compromise.   We do it in relationships, jobs, and even with strangers.  Why do we care so much? How does one not care so much without being empathetic?  Discovering the answer to that question is been my journey these past few weeks.  

and to be honest, I have no answer. The book says listen to the voice within. I say "What do you think?" 

Sunday, April 3, 2011



It’s 7pm, I have been on a bus for 8 hours and we are approaching the half -way point.  I am starving and day dreaming about the delicious bean sandwich that I will devour at the next stop.  (yes bread and beans, it’s amazing!) All of a sudden a terrible screeching sound fills the air. I’m guessing it’s a flat tire. This is not at all surprising because they happen all the time.   Most of the roads are dirt and the ones that are paved have terrible potholes.   The bus pulls over and all the Senegalese people file off the bus. They stretch their limbs and gather around to tell the driver how to properly fix the tire.

This scenario is quite common and one I have experienced a few too many times.  This story, however, plays out a little differently.   We waited about 20 minutes before we were ready to continue our journey.    I find myself sighing with relief. One it did not take that long and second, I am really hungry.   About a minute and a half passes before the sound comes back.  This time it is accompanied by smoke and the smell of something burning.  We pull over again and this time the atmosphere is a little less optimistic.  We are in the middle of nowhere with no towns, just open fields full of trees and bushes.

An hour or two pass by and they are still diligently working (now by flashlight).  It appears the axel is the major problem. which seems to be the problem.  Another hour passes and people are starting to make a fire in front and behind the bus to keep warm.  (Though it’s probably on 70 degrees outside) It appears we are not going anywhere for a while. Someone tells me they sent a mechanic to buy and part and that he should be returning soon.  I receive that with a little bit of hope because god knows when that will be.  I instead simply day dream about AAA and imagine how cool it would be if they were located worldwide.    I don’t bother to sleep because the bus is full of bodies sprawled out all over the seats. I am not that tired so instead I continue to read Stephanie Myer’s, The Host by the light of my nook. (Good junk food book, by the way)

  Time continues to pass and eventually after 6 hours of being stuck on the side of the road, another bus pulls up. In a matter of seconds people are shoving and pushing to claim a good seat. Now, one would think that the seats would remain the same.  And if this were the case I would still be sitting next to my friends. This is a good necessity especially when you need a shoulder to nap on.  But that simplicity is a little too difficult for Senegal. Instead a 20-minute yelling match breaks out over whose seat is whose. RIDICULOUS!  I do want to point out that the buses are not your typical Greyhound. They are falling apart and there is also no aisle. Instead, they have flip seats that allow for more people to cram into the already limited space. This time I am stuck between two men who want nothing more than to become my husband.  I try to zone them out with my headphones, but the guys are relentless.  

We finally make it to Tamba, the half way point, and even though its 1 am I still devour a delicious bean sandwich.   Our break happens quickly and we are off again.  Off for about 30 more minutes before we stop again. This time the smell is gasoline and it turns out there is a leak.  You have got to be kidding me right?  Fortunately it only takes 45 minutes to repair and that is, thank God, the last major delay of the trip.

Transportation is anything but easy. The night bus is how the majority of people travel. It is cheap, but it is long, especially when you encounter problems.  They second most common way of travel is by sept-place.  (7places)   These cars are old beat up station wagons.  Once in a while you will get a nice one, but for the most part they are falling apart.  Often times the door will be held together with rope and only the driver’s special technique can open it.  Sometimes it will open unexpectedly, and not always when the car is stopped.  The knob to roll down a window Is also a luxury as it a working radio that plays Senegalese music.  There is definitely no air conditioning or seatbelts.  The 3 seats in the back are the worst. There is no leg room and if your sitting in between two larger people, your know its going to be hard to walk in 8 hours when your back and but bones have been re arranged.  For a car that has 7 places plus the driver you would assume that is the total number of people that would be allowed to travel in it.   Oh no! My record is 13 people! Yes 13!

The third way to travel is by an “Alham”.  This is an old beat up min van. One usually takes this in the city (rather than a taxi) or to travel a shorter distance. This usually fits about 20 people though it’s not uncommon to have much more.  I usually take this when I want to travel to Velingara, where the post office is.  It stops frequently and usually has people hanging off the back or even on top.

Overall, each journey is an adventure and you really don’t know if you will get to your destination in 20 minutes or 3 hours.  When traveling in this country, one must learn to have humor and not stress over the small things.  (easier to say than do)  I want to promise if you come visit me, I won’t make you travel like this J  

Until next time
<3 J