Spring Break 2013

Madrid Plaza Mayor

Madrid Plaza Mayor

Madrid, Spain

4 hour 10 minute direct flight

leaves late at night-arrives early in the morning

2 hours time difference

Segovia, Spain by high speed train

27 minutes by train

Subway to train station

apartment rental 5 steps away from Plaza Mayor

Cafe Latte and Toast for us, Hot Chocolate and Churros for the kids

delicious tapas

lovely time as a family

pictures to follow


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Getting ill overseas–Challenges of living abroad-Dec 2012

“Guys, I think I might need to go home. I’m feeling really sick,” I said to the kids Thursday as we walked from the parking lot towards the school entrance. A wave of exhaustion and nausea had washed over me in the few steps I had taken since parking the car.

“I’m going to walk in and let Wendy know I’m going home sick,” I told them. The night before I had fallen asleep right after school, not feeling well. I had not wanted to get up for dinner. I thought our fun, lovely, beach get-away the previous weekend must have wiped me out more than I thought it had. I had woken with a slight headache, but didn’t think anything of it-probably just needed my morning coffee, showered, and got the kids ready for school.

Once inside the school’s gates, I checked in with my office mate. Turns out she also had a fever the night before–we compared notes and decided we both must have caught a virus. I congratulated her on being tougher than me and I drove myself home,  crawling into bed as soon as I got there. Five minutes later my alarm went off, letting me know it was time to go pick up the kids from school. Dragged myself to the car, drove to school and back. I went right back to bed. Slept through the evening and night, thinking I’d be fine when I woke Saturday once the virus had run its course.

The alarm went off Saturday morning, letting me know it was time to get Simon ready for his soccer tournament. Showered, got him ready, and headed to the school. “Whew,” I thought, “I’m glad that virus is gone.” I found a bench, made small talk with a colleague, and got comfortable with my Kindle. 15 minutes later-WHAM. I knew right then that if I didn’t go home right that second, I was going to have a problem. I was freezing and had my head hurt so bad it hurt to have my eyes open. I shivered my way to the car and back home. By the time I got myself there and back into bed, I knew I was pretty sick. Feeling like a little kid, I called a friend crying. I asked her to come over and help me call the doctor to come to the house.

One of the many challenges of living abroad is that Senegal is a country whose primary language is French. I have some French, but it mainly deals with getting around and everyday things such as food and transportation. There is a service here my insurance covers called SOS Medicine that will come to your home BUT I have no language for describing my illness to someone on the phone, much less the ability to explain where I live in a country and city where there are no road signs!

My friend is from Canada and speak French, thank God! She and her husband came right over to help me. (Thank you Ingrid and Scott). Having their familiar faces here made me feel a little better and we waited for SOS Medicine to arrive (It took about 90 minutes for them to get here).

Our of the doctor’s backpack came all the equipment to take my temperature, blood pressure, heart, and the short finger-prick malaria test they give anyone with a fever. We waited for the test to do its thing and made small talk with the doctor. She’d seen two patients in my area with malaria earlier in the day. Volia-the test was negative for malaria.

Relieved I only had a virus, my friends went home, agreeing to pick up Simon for me, and I went back to bed. Sleeping was the only thing that made the headache ease a little. Freezing, shivering, burning up, all the fun of a bad fever. I slept, and slept and slept. No sympathy from my teenager, lots of worry from the ten-year old. I didn’t get out of bed the rest of the weekend. I had no desire to eat anything, but did manage to get enough water in me to get a regimen of Advil and Tylenol into me. I couldn’t remember ever feeling so sock.

Monday after the kids went to school, I sent a delirious e-mail to the school nurse and asked her to come over. I knew I was really sick, even though I had the negative malaria test. God bless Nurse Wendy and Wendy, my office mate, that took one look at my e-mail, that they later told me made no sense, and drove over. They were in my bedroom right away. Nurse Wendy took a look at me, took my fever and said she was pretty sure I did have malaria. She called SOS Medicine back but without a French speaker with us, was unable to make clear the problem. Despite the fact that I wasn’t sure I could get out of bed, she loaded me in my car and drove me to a lab/medical office to have another malaria test.

We arrived at the medical office, right off the Corniche and at the bottom of a steep hill. It overlooked the Atlantic Ocean, which at the time, really bothered me as a cold breeze was blowing off of it. I was ushered into what felt like another era. I’ve been calling it 1950’s Cuba-although I don’t know why I settled on that description as I certainly have never been to the 1950’s or Cuba.  We waited and waited for a doctor as they wanted me to see one before they’d do a blood test. The doctor was of Arabic background and was a cardiologist of all things. He spoke French and English in addition to his primary language. We were ushered into his 1950’s office. The equipment looked like it was from the set of a 1940-50’s movie.

In a heavy accent, the doctor asked some questions.

“You need to stop eating so much ‘gateaux’ (cake),” he , as he announced as he escorted me around the corner from his desk to the examining table. “You need to lose some kilos,” he proceeded to tell me.

Thanks doctor. That’s REALLY helpful as I haven’t been able to eat since Thursday and I certainly haven’t had any damn cake since arriving in this country. Thanks for the commentary on my weight when I feel like shit and want to lay down on the floor. Fortunately my illness kept my tongue in check, and I didn’t tell him where he could shove a gateaux.

He made me take my clothes off so he could weigh me, again told me to lose kilos, looked in my throat, and listened to my heart. Then he explained that I had the “grippe” (whatever the hell that is) and wrote a prescription for 3 stupid medicines that I didn’t need- including one for Benadryl.  I knew none of them were what I really needed.

Nurse Wendy navigated the paperwork. By this time I could not even sit upright in the waiting room chair. They called me for my blood work and put me on a 1950’s Cuba metal patient table and a young woman tried to take my blood 8 times while I shook like a leaf from the fever. After the 8th time when I managed to yell “Ow!” she went to get another person to take the blood. Thank god for the Sister Theresa looking nun- nurse who was able to do it on her first try. Wendy poured me back in the car, went to finish paying and doing the paperwork and drove me home. I crawled back into bed and went back to sleep. I could not believe anything could make my head hurt so bad.

Several hours later Wendy called to let me know that the new blood work did confirm that I had malaria and that she was going back to the doctor’s office to get the prescription for the medicine.

Three doses,  one a day for three days of anti-malarials. More sleep than you think one person would be able sleep.

While I slept a week away, a few lovely colleagues and my housekeeper took care of my children and got them to and from school. I couldn’t get out of bed. I had the worst headache I’d ever had in my life.

There were a few low moments in among the sleeping. Wednesday, the second day of anti-malarials saw the fever abating, but not the headache. I told some nice colleagues that stopped by that, “I hated f***ing Africa” and “If I was in the states, I’m pretty sure I’d be in the hospital.”

Thursday, Nurse Wendy was back to say I needed to have another blood test. I told her there was no way I could get out of bed to go back to the lab. She and another French-speaking colleague managed to get ahold of a lab that comes to your home. The test was necessary to make sure that the malaria was on its way out and that my blood count was on its way back towards normal. Sleeping and headache was still the name of the game. Nurse Wendy came back with the Codeine equivalent of Alka-Seltzer. She delivered it to me along with effervescent codeine. I didn’t know such a thing existed, but it was my friend, as it was the first thing to be able to put a dent in the headache. It knocked the headache out, but also put me back to sleep.

Friday-still terrible headache. Still couldn’t eat. Finally managed half a banana my housekeeper went and got for me. Went back to sleep.

Saturday-friend Andrea arrived to help take care of my kids. That afternoon I started to feel human and left the bedroom and house for the first time in more than a week.

December 2012

Damn mosquitoes! I hate those bloody insects!

I had access to heath care as an expat living in a country where, according to a 2007 Human Development Report, there are 6 doctors per 100,000 people. The disparity of my expat illness has not been lost on me. Since then, my night guard Severyn’s brother has died of malaria. Sobbing, he had to ask me for money to help pay for the funeral. His brother lived in rural Senegal and by the time they got him to the doctor, it was too late. No one in his extended family owns a car. The country has 17 cars per 1000 people. In the capital city, we still share the road with horse carts. In the more rural areas, horse or donkey carts are the MAIN transportation besides walking. Hitchhiking is just a norm outside of the city. If someone has a car, and it’s not packed full, they will pull over and give someone a ride. That’s their normal. Buses or Car Rapides often have people hanging out the back, occasionally on top.

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Driving in Dakar

When my mother and cousin were here visiting, they remarked on how calm I appeared while driving in the chaos of Dakar. I didn’t tell them that it had really helped me to pretend that I was in a driving video game for the first couple of months here. In those games, the objective is to not let anyone run into you and to not run into anything that would prevent you from finishing the race. Kind of a combination of reverse Frogger and Mario Kart.

Reverse Frogger because instead of being the frog crossing the road, you are the car (or log) trying not to hit the Senegalese version of the frog (dog, person, goat, cow, mother with three young children, man on a motorcycle, etc.) so you can get to your destination.

Mario Kart because you never know when something is going to come in at you to try to knock you off course-Car Rapide, Tata, taxi, motorcycle, wheelchairs, etc.). Changing lanes and merging/creating lanes do not follow the same logic that you have in the states. You must be constantly ready for the unexpected. A car might be stopped in your lane with no hazard lights or other warning. A bus might be broken down, blocking parts of both lanes.  Horse and cart. Man pushing all hand cart. All kinds of things might be in the road. If there is a road or gas station within a block or two of a roundabout, it’s not unusual for bad drivers to decide to go the wrong way on the divided highway instead of going all the way down to the next roundabout. Watch out!

I really relied on my children to help me navigate the first several months we were here. My job was to not be hit or hit anything and their job was to look for landmarks that would let us know we were going the right way. There are still places I’ve never actually ‘seen’ because I was so busy with my not-getting-hit job. Without road signs of any kind, you have to navigate by landmarks, yet there is so much construction going on, sometimes landmarks change overnight. Thank goodness both my kids are good at their navigating job!


Crazy things that have happened while driving:
I’ve been rear-ended at an intersection of 5 ‘roads’-no one stops when that happens unless cars won’t keep running

I’ve hit a taxi driver in the head with my side mirror-I didn’t even realize I’d done it until Guy told me. There were too many lanes of cars/motorcycles trying to fit on a two lane road with pedestrians and he stuck his head out too far. I felt bad, but it was inevitable.

We’ve seen roller bladers hitching a ride on the bumper of a taxi

We’ve seen a man in a wheelchair hitching a ride on the bumper of a taxi

Motorcycles might have an entire family on them. Or a man carrying a mattress. Or a giant box of something.

Carrying cargo is not always logical. We’ve seen boats in makeshift trucks where the boat was almost twice as big as the truck.

Boxes of bananas and bags of bread might be carried by bike.

The Police:

You see a fair amount of police and gendarmes along side roads and intersections. You often see soldiers with guns out along the roads as well. Most times they are just ‘watching’ and not too actively involved in things. Perhaps they might help direct some traffic at a busy intersection.

Last week I was stopped, for a legitimate reason–I had just decided the ‘right’ way of  driving a certain intersection was more likely to cause me to be hit, than my ‘wrong’ way u-turn I’d been doing for months. The lounging police officer got off his motorcycle and got in the middle of the road to wave me over. I had to show him my license and get out of the car. My bad very French was enough for me to understand that he did not approve of my u-turn and that if I didn’t offer him some money, he was going to write me a ticket. 2000 cfa ($4USD) was all I had in my wallet, having just gone to the grocery store. He was very disappointed, but took the 2000 cfa in disgust and waved me on my way.

Now I had decided upon arriving that I was not going to fight the occasional bribe I might have to pay. I was very worried about getting stopped when I first started driving. The first time I got waved over, I was scared stiff. The officer looked at my license and insurance paperwork and when I tried to explain I spoke only a little French, started talking to me in English and couldn’t have been nicer. Same experience the next two times I was stopped.

A colleague who decided they were not going to play the bribe game, refused, and ended up having to spend more than half the day downtown in the police station and ended up with a fine 10 times bigger than the bribe.

Another colleague just waves enthusiastically at any officer who tries to wave her over and zooms off, pretending she thinks they are just being friendly.


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A wonderful student project

If you’d like to know more about La Pouponniere or adoption in Senegal, check out the new blog written by one of our high school students at ISD, completed as part of an independent project.

Adoption in Senegal 

Posted in Dakar, La Pouponniere, Senegal, Uncategorized, voluteerism | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Interesting blog post

Does a good job summing up international schools


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What I wished I had packed. What I wonder why I packed. What I’m glad I packed

Things I’m glad I packed:



bug spray (with Deet)

brown sugar

cocoa powder


pancake mix

maple syrup-you know the kind kids like, not the real stuff

storage containers for the kitchen

ziploc bags (wish I had packed more in the 2 main sizes)-ditto Press and Seal

contact solution

some basic school supplies for homework

dog food (but wish I had done what some friends did, which was figure out how much their dogs eat in a month and then multiplied that for the year)

Things I wish I had packed: 

chocolate chips padded in some type of insulation material-perhaps marshmallows! I packed a giant bag of chocolate chips in my overseas shipment, but they melted into a giant block, as did my candles

Water bottles-several per person, not just one for each child. If I don’t drink at least 2 litres of water a day during the rainy/hot season, it’s going to be a problem. You can drink the water at school-there are filters on the water fountains, but I don’t drink the water out of the sink (unless it’s an accident) unless it’s boiled or just brushing for teeth.

Gatorade powder

baking powder

Other mix type powders (lemonade, fruit punch, ranch dressing)

Starbucks/Trader Joe’s instant coffee packs

dog treats, dog shampoo, dog grooming supplies

wrapping paper, birthday cards, some generic birthday gifts for birthday parties

our Christmas ornaments (at least some of them)


Things I really didn’t need to pack/ship:



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Groceries-just in case you don’t know how good we have it in the states


Groceries are really expensive in Dakar, Senegal. I just went to the grocery for a few items at a ‘reasonably’ priced grocery (Superplus L’Essential), spent 15, 000 cfa ($30 USD) and got 2000 cfa ($4) in change.  I bought:

1 litre Sprite 700 cfa

1 litre Fanta 700 cfa

2 litre apple juice 1700 cfa

small box ‘film’ (what we’d call Saran Wrap) 750 cfa

1 can Pringles 1500 cfa

can black beans 850 cfa

can black-eyed peas 775 cfa

can northern beans 775 cfa

15 eggs 1500 cfa

1 litre milk x 2 2400 cfa for both (UHT-can sit on a shelf)


now obviously Sprite, Fanta, and Pringles aren’t necessities, but we don’t have them every day, or week and the kids really wanted some. They are using the soda to try to make homemade popsicles.

Yesterday, I went to City Dia to get some other things.

Cheddar Cheese (1/2 kg)

Bread (small baguette good for sandwiches)

turkey for sandwiches

Other interesting thing-they don’t mess around with small coins. I gave them 15000 cfa, the total was 13050 cfa. The exact change would have been 1950 cfa, but instead they gave me 2000 cfa. If it had been the other way around, and the change had been more than 2000 cfa, but less than 2200, they would have rounded down.

IMG_0798The fridges and stoves are small here compared to the US. That’s my fridge-it’s tall and skinny. Next to it is a big jug of water with a hand pump that allows us to get the water out.

The washing machine is as well. The air conditioning that is available is mounted high on the wall with the compressor immediately outside. A/C is room by room, not central. For instance, in the one “mall”, the stores have a/c, but the corridors connecting them do not.

Posted in Africa, Dakar, expat, Senegal | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments