2008 July : focus to infinity


July 30, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Leave a Comment 

The Internet age prayer went up (see last entry). After blogging about the near-death heat here, it rained yesterday. And last night. And this morning. It’s still raining. The sound of dripping is mixed with the LOUDEST frog calls you’ve ever heard. I was told that here in Dakar, after it rains, the frogs call out in the trees for more rain. Greedy little things.

Their calls are so loud. I thought it was a heard of geese outside my bedroom.

Meanwhile, the breeze is blowing sweet relief.

Last night, the power went out (six dozen times), so as my friend and I were walking the dark streets where the only lights were headlights in the middle of the pooling water where the streets have no gutters so semi-tropical downpours quickly turn into semi-tropical flash floods of sand and mud, my too-long pants were dragging in the pooling water and I was actually chilly for a few moments and it was so beautiful.

Note: Here in Dakar, everyone is so closely packed together in the urban underdeveloped neighborhoods that you can hear when the guy down the street sneezes. So when the power goes out, there’s a collective.. “Ohhhh…” That rumbles from the old men inside the homes through the windows and to the children playing soccer in the streets. It’s like an urban third-world musical scene. This also means when the power comes back on there’s  a sweeping cheer that accompanies the recharging pulse of electricity.

Hot Feet

July 28, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 2 Comments 

I hate wearing shoes. I hate wearing socks. I hate having anything on my feet.

Remember those little kids one-piece pajama jumpsuits with kind of furry outer-layer that stretched from your fragile child collarbone all the way down to your constantly growing child toes?

According to my mother, when they would dress me in that outfit before bed, I used to run around the house screaming… “Hot Feet, Hot FEEEEET!” until finally they had to cut the feet off of those pajamas. (which of course begs another point – who the heck invented those jumpsuits?! Shame on you, whoever you are)>

The reason I bring up the feet thing is I am SO HOT right now.

Weather.com reports it was 32 degrees Celsius today in Dakar. That translates to 345 degrees Fahrenheit, I’m pretty sure.

Things to compound Dakar heat? Not so many air conditioners, folks. And even if there were, in this heat the power goes out six times before noon (not exaggerating). Power outages also mean fans don’t work. Awesome.

Another compounding factor is the fact that I feel it necessary to cover my knees. I don’t really get shunned all that much if I do show my knees, but I’m trying to be PC lately for some reason.

So in honor of My Melting, here’s a photo of some hot feet. Jac from Jac et le Talikeifa in his barefeet at the concert a couple weeks ago. (They all played in their barefeet, which is one more reason they are cool, and I want to join the group. Have you ever heard me rock out on the harmonica?)


More Scrabble Photos

July 25, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Leave a Comment 



Senegal Scrabble

July 23, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 4 Comments 

I covered the Francophone Scrabble World Championships yesterday with Naomi for The Christian Science Monitor. Turns out Senegal’s got quite the reputation in the international Scrabble community–they’re churning out world champs left and right.

During the competition a popular Senegalese musician came in and sang a special song about Senegal’s prowess in the game, and there was some flag waving. I heart this shot.senegalflag.jpg


July 22, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 1 Comment 

The 2010 World Cup is in South Africa. I have decided that I WILL be there to take photos.

In the meantime, here’s a couple shots I took last week while Jesi was here and we went to go see a local match.
Note about Senegal football. They usually don’t wear shin guards. They barely drink any water in the 90-degree heat and scorching sun. It’s pretty darn rough.
I must add that growing up in Macomb, I knew nothing about soccer except for that the local American football coaches felt that if our high school began a soccer team, it would end life as we knew it (life as we knew it was centered around Friday nights under the lit-up 100-yard greens where little boys with lots of padding ran into each other as teenagers cheered, drank hot chocolate and wore the school colors like they were needed to identify themselves from enemy snipers from 200 yards away – it was a nice growin’ up).foot5.jpg

So the point here is, I don’t really know what’s going on. But then again, I didn’t know that much about West Africa when I got here, and that all worked out great.

Hot off the presses

July 17, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 4 Comments 

The story Naomi, Kari and I put together is up on the Christian Science Monitor website today.

Check it out. There’s a photo, story and video. Now THAT’S multimedia.

Here’s us from that day — inthe-field.jpg

Hot and thirsty and working hard.


The Championship

July 16, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Leave a Comment 

Ibu’s team played in the Senegalese championship Sunday.

This was surprising but good news. They were supposed to play three weeks ago, while I was in the States, but true to form here, the game was postponed. So Jes and I went to the game and watched.


Unfortunately, Ibu’s team lost. But it was fun to cover them through the entire tournament, and Ibu of course has asked my cousin and I to come over to his house and eat while she visits.


The Sound of Music

July 14, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 3 Comments 

On Friday I was out photographing and reporting for another multimedia story – this one on a family band in Dakar called Jac et la Takeifa.

Jesi came along with me and a couple friends. They found seats while I slipped backstage for a few photos.


“The concert was full of fun upbeat music, and everyone in the crowd was excited,” went Jes’ review.

“It was kind of inspirational. They’re topics weren’t just like..’la, la, la lalala.. he fell in love with a girl. I mean… it was… real.”


Five of the six band members are in the Keita family. They grew up listening to music with their mom and dad, and eight years decided to start a band together. The oldest, Jac had already semi-established himself as a solo artist, so he kept his name at the front, rearranged the family name, and added “Fa” for family at the end.

I stumbled upon them at a free concert right before I left Dakar for vacation, and I loved their folk/rock/Africa/jazz mix of music and their use of lyrics to sing about current issues in the area.

To prove how much of a family affair this truly is, when I went to their house before the concert, their little nephew Mohammad was banging on one of the drums as they tuned their guitars.


Then a few hours later, during the concert Mohammad jumped up on stage right in the middle of one of the songs and started to play along again.

It might have been of the cutest things I’ve ever seen.

And as much as I’ve tried to refrain from referring to them as the Senegalese version of the Von Trapp Family, I just can’t. If you’re not familiar with the Von Trapp family, that means you’ve never seen the Sound of Music, which means we can’t be friends. Until the age of 8 I lived in the small town of Carthage, Illinois, where there was no proper video rental store, but there was a library where you could rent movies. I think I watched the Sound of Music twice a week for the first 8 years of my life. Then when I moved to Macomb I would try to learn the big church organ in our living room by banging out the songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein book that contained the entire score from the Sound of Music. Thus another recurring theme in my life: The Sound of Music movie. I think this all falls under a recent post by Heidi on her blog where she writes about Carl Jung’s theory of Synchronicity.

The Cousin Arrives

July 10, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 4 Comments 

My cousin Jesi just flew in from New York to spend 12 glorious days with me in Dakar.


She’s more like a sister than a cousin, and I’m so excited to have her here. And I have to add she is a good sport. Before she arrived, she told me,

“I just want to come along and do everything you would normally do.”

I asked if this meant she wanted to go on reporting trips, etc, as well.

“Yes, definitely.” She said.

Thus my dear 25-year-old cousin got into Dakar on 3:30 pm yesterday, and after that rugged 15-hour trip, she got up at 5:30 the next morning to go with Kari, Naomi and I on a 2.5 hour-road trip to do some reporting in a couple villages.

That’s right. I put my cousin in a Sept Place (one of the most ominous forms of transportation) within 24 hours of her arriving in West Africa.

First we haggled at a “station” about the price of our ride and then spent an hour and a half in a half-broken down station wagon with no air conditioning. Then we got to a meeting point where one of Naomi’s sources (we were all three working together to produce a multi-media story for Christian Science Monitor) picked us up and took us to a village. We scoured fields of bissap and Jesi took it all in, and I of course took photos.


fields.jpgThen we went to another village, and it started to get hot. And we started to run out of water. But Jesi was again a good sport, and she kind of acted as a diversion by attracting the local kids to her as she took pictures so they wouldn’t get in the way of Kari and I shooting the peanut fields and harvesting that was taking place.


After photos of harvesting, we went to one man’s house, where he played a makeshift drum and his kids danced around while the cutest baby goats you ever did see hobbled on the outskirts of the circle.

On the way back, it was about 4 pm and we hadn’t really eaten anything, and our water had run out a couple hours before. So we began daydreaming about liquids. Kari saw a mirage of a Big Mac and a Coke. I fell asleep in the car and literally dreamt of a waterfall of ice-cold apple juice. Then we got to a gas station (in real life) and each of us downed a cold drink before we even got to the cash register.

About an hour later the public transportation we had hopped into for a ride back to Dakar blew a flat tire. We pulled over to change it, and Jes and I bought a mango each. About halfway through the juicy fruit, Jesi looks at me and says, “OH, I think my mango has maggots.” Sure enough, a little white bug wriggled into sight. I looked at my mango, and the little guy’s brother (or, maybe cousin?) came wriggling out of my fruit.

So, let’s see, that’s:

Waking up before the Sunrise
Haggling to get into broken down, crowded cars without air conditioning
Getting picked up by sources who whisk you away to interesting places
Fields of bissap
Fields of peanuts
Photos – Lots of them
Dying of Thirst
Flat Tires
Fresh Mangoes
Wriggling insects inside of said mangoes



July 9, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 2 Comments 

Sorry for the lag in blogging during the past few weeks – been traveling beaucoup.

In fact, I did the math, and since I initially left for this Senegal journey on January 13, I have been to airports in 14 cities. This does not count repeats, such as the fact that I’ve been in and out of the Dakar airport five times.

The verdict? I’m addicted to traveling, or rather, just plain moving. I don’t know why, but I love the constant change that is part of airport hopping. From the automated walkways in the O’Hare airport, where neon lights of wavy lines hang above your head and make you feel like you’re in a movie about the future, to the Ouagadougou airport in Burkina Faso where I joked with the guard until he would let me take my extra baggage (I will NOT check my cameras). From the modern, light filled airport of Madrid to the one room-airport at Zigguinchor where you watch your baggage rolled out on a cart as you walk up to the tiny airplane, when you travel you get to see the diversity in the world in small, but seemingly simultaneous doses.

I’ve learned a few important things, and I have a few things I always like to take on the plane with me. On my way back to Dakar this time, in O’Hare I changed clothes in the bathroom—always have a spare outfind easily on hand. In D.C. I walked back and forth through the terminal for 45 minutes during a 3-hour layover to get in a quick workout—take advantage of leg room when you have it. In New York I brushed my teeth, washed my face and freshened up in the bathroom—always have a small toothbrush and face wash on hand. During the 7-hour flight from New York to Dakar, the South African Airways flight crew let me sit in the back of the plane where the attendants sit and charge my computer while I photo edited (Sarah – your wedding photos were completed somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean around 1 in the morning)—this reaped two lessons—Don’t be afraid to ask if you need something, and fly South African Airways. I’m serious about this South African thing. They were the best intercontinental flight service I’ve ever had.

Now I’m in Dakar, and so happy to be back.

Haven’t gotten to take any photos yet, but here’s another image from my recent Guinea Bissau trip.


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