Saturday, December 31, 2011


We have a new "bonne" - our new house hold helper. We've actually had her now for 2 months and it's been nice to have the  <unpleasant> situation with the old one behind us. (see the post - A Sort of Short Story About a Bonne )  After dispensing with the old one and discussing the particulars with our landlord - we had thought with the simple parameters of what we needed he suggested we share one between him - he always has 2 working for him - a head one and a kind of assistant that works with the head one.  We shared "Fatou" for a week - good - this will work -  until he told us she was leaving - as she was just temporarily replacing one of his original bonnes "Fatou-Cham" who we first met when we moved in and for whatever reason he thought she was coming back and did not - (simple org chart with ever changing names). Hmmm. Okay - we'll wait until you find a new one so we managed for about 2 weeks until then finally a knock  on our door to introduce us to the new one - we learned he had hired a "sister team" so we would would actually still have our own. Hmmm. Okay. At this point we just are only hoping that no matter how he found them or knew them - we were going to have someone on the up and up.  When she shared her name with us "Esperance" - we thought - Hmmm. Okay. With a name that means "hope" - maybe we've got a chance. 

Up to now - I can say it's been a treat and a delight to have her help and assistance with cooking, cleaning, shopping and laundry.   When we explained the schedule that she will only work from 8-2  Monday through Friday - she got it!  When she is in the apartment we've noticed she's extremely discreet about how she maneuvers around the place to do her job with out intruding.  And she manages the activities accordingly so about the time she knows the boys will be home for lunch - she is already out to the market, washing the laundry or even doing ironing quietly in their room, or she has left for a bit to actually eat lunch with her sister in Mr Diallo's house. She's very patient with us speaking French to her and we actually understand her too.  Fingers crossed we stay on course with her.  Any concerns of things missing have evaporated and  I'm just **so happy** I can actually make lunch without someone staring at me!!  

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Turning 10 in Dakar

Two Friends, Sand, Pool, Pizza, Ice Cream and Water Pistols supplied by their friend Gazi - all the right ingredients for a memorable birthday in Dakar.  Of course, friends from home were missed (and others here who were gone as is always the case during the holidays), but that's all Parker and Addison wanted for a grand birthday celebration here in Africa (wow)!. They picked taking their friends to 'our oasis' for simple reasons - their friends Gazi and Amadou - classmates who live in the neighborhood so it was an easy thing to meet up and walk to the pool, there is no clean up on our part, and it's just a fun place to go with alot of clean open space to run around.  It was a balmy 80 degrees and would you believe these 4 boys had the entire pool and beach to themselves from the time we arrived at 1 until we left at about 6. Okay, it was Saturday, Dec 24th (their birthday) and it being Christmas Eve day things were quiet around town. However, we've noticed in the last month - end of November and all of December - the population of people coming to the pool has precipitously dropped. We asked why and it turns out people find the weather kind of "chilly" now. Certainly not a show stopper for these boys! WHAT? Okay we all have our 'internal thermometers' but I have to say this is paradise - a slight breeze, clear sunny skies, yeah the pool feels colder but you warm up fast and relaxing in those lounge chairs is a dream. Even little lizards like parties too! (and won't turn away from a pizza scrap with ham when tossed towards them).  The finale (unfortunately) to what turned out to be a great day happened just 5 minutes before Manning and I were saying maybe it was time to pack it up - Parker fell on the stairs between the beach and the pool - with a hard hit to his eye area - producing a beautiful shiner that he would not let me post but you will certainly see the residual in future blog episodes.  He's doing great!

Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hanukkah and Christmas

How did we celebrate Hanukkah in Senegal? - all I can say is "the best way we know how!"  Our first night was at home and the second night - let me just say - we made it "on the list" this time  (see blog post  Where Mosques Outnumber Synagogues for a historical perspective ) thanks to one of my DWG members Joelle.  Read on...
Let me start with Hanukkah at Home. What do you do when you don't have a menorah? You make one!  A simple design of collected seashells from the beach glued on a piece of wood. And in a country where you realize finding Hanukkah candles would be futile - you go for the next best thing - birthday candles.  Creativity and resourcefulness is our motto.

 The good thing about living here - is there is **no shortage** of potatoes so while we could have had mounds and mounds and mounds of latkes - the Latke King  (aka Manning) - 

followed a recipe on-line that called for only 1/2 kilo of potatoes - so he ended up only  3 large potatoes resulting in 8 latkes - 2 each -  WAAAAAAAA! 

Our meal consisted of some rice, applesauce,  veggies (not shown) and the yassa poulet (made by Esperance our bonne) - a national dish which is a mix of grilled chicken along with lemony, spicy, mustard and sauteed onions.The meal in total was oh so good! The latkes were of the finest quality - just the right amount of grease and crunch -  despite the lack of production. A request has been submitted to ask "the King" to make some more and triple the recipe post Hanukkah!!.


The 2nd night of Hannukah was spent at the residence of Ms. Irit Amitai, Deputy Chief of Mission, and Mr. Perry Amitai , Commercial Attaché  both of the Israeli Embassy.  This lovely couple and their young son graciously opened their home up to help celebrate a holiday for "the Jewish community"  currently residing in Dakar. There was maybe 30-40 folks including kids.  Joelle - a vivacious and energetic member of DWG (she is now the president of the club) - was kind enough to pass my name along to the Amitai's at the Israeli Embassy.  Joelle happens to have a vast network she is established with here - and the Israeli Embassy is one of them.

    So thanks to her we made it - "on the list" - and enjoyed a very memorable evening.

Israeli Ambassador (with red watch on)
Irit Amitai

Parker and Addison held their own for a bit - drinking Coke and eating the wonderful finger food that was served.  Unfortunately, in terms of their age,  they were kind of stuck in the middle  between the adults and the really young kids - so of course it was "Mr Blackberry" who became their friend for a bit.  Eventually but by the end of the evening they had warmed up to the younger kids in the crowd (not pictured).

If there seemed to be a few things missing this year  (beyond celebrating the holidays with long time friends back in the bay area) - I would have to say it was -  the dreidel, chocolate gelt and even my favorite Hanukkah tunes (even at the party). Obviously not the end of the world kind of things, but just observations and recognition of what is different because it could not be found.  

And speaking of observations, being the Christmas holiday season here in a country that is 95% Muslim - the downtown where we live had it's share of "Joyeux Noel" decorations, lights, streamers, holiday plastic trees and quite a few fireworks blasting, shooting or spinning on the streets. (It's legal here).  As far as preparing for Christmas - no crowds to fight - for all you have to do is  just stand on the corner and anything Christmas you need or want (including the firecrackers) for decoration will come to you!
You could see that people are in a "holiday spirit" - it's a different kind of thing here and it's really hard to put my finger on it. It's certainly a day of celebration for those who celebrate. And since we did not spend any time with a Catholic Senegalese person we don't know what their day is like for Christmas. With that being said I think I was mindful of a few things noticeable  --> coming from the US with all it's commercialization and holiday songs that start just after Thanksgiving --> while watching tv, listening to the radio or driving in a cab here not one tune of Jingle Bells, Silent Night, White Christmas, Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer, Here Comes Santa Claus, Feliz Navidad, Please Come Home for Christmas, Jingle Bell Rock, or Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas to name a few could be heard. Not even in any of the local languages that we could discern with a melody we might recognize!  Okay,  so perhaps maybe I kind of miss those tunes - after all these years I do now know them!  But - I think it was the commercialization I recognized as extremely tame - and in a way I actually did not mind that at all.  The other thing that stuck out for us was the cost of toys here - the Casino Supermarche  as just one example was still lined with toys - and perhaps not surprising - a toy for $20 new and maybe even the same toy for $10 used in *great/good condition* in the US (I'm a reuse kind of gal) - could start at 30,000 CFA which is $60 here. And we saw other things past 60,000 CFA (and we are not talking electronics here but like legos!) but of course there's always Sandaga Market!!.  On a side note too - credit does not exist here that we can tell except maybe for fine restaurants and hotels.  I'm not sure who is buying those toys or who can afford them when I've mentioned before that the yearly average wage is $1,000 USD.  I think it comes down to not having the funds or means to purchase but a reality and recognition of less and a much more simplified way of living....



Saturday, December 24, 2011

Demonstrations in Dakar

A friend was concerned about our safety here after hearing a report about some violence  that did take place (and did result in a fatality). While we received the following announcement from the US Embassy -  I've added an article too about the reason - Manning and I with the boys went about our day on Friday, Dec 23rd - so we figure - seemed no more safe/unsafe than what we read about for  "Occupy Oakland" or "UC Campus Protests" back home that took a turn back in October? While we were not necessarily rushing to see the action (and it's prudent for us to be registered with the Embassy to receive such notices) - it was a distance from where we live - we are also not letting this keep us captured in our apartment. 

It's all relative but activism is alive and well! 
U.S Embassy Dakar, Senegal Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens
SUBJECT: Planned Demonstrations for Friday, December 23 December 22, 2011 This message is to inform U.S. citizens in Senegal of upcoming demonstrations in Dakar. On Friday, December 23, both pro and opposition political parties have planned political rallies in Dakar. The location for the pro-government rally is on the Voie de Deggement Nord (VDN) at the Parti Democratique Senegalais (PDS) headquarters. It is currently scheduled for 3 p.m. The opposition has also scheduled a rally for 3 p.m. at the Place d’Obelisque. Large crowds are expected in the area of PDS headquarters on the VDN. The VDN is likely to be closed to traffic either officially or due to the sheer volume of people by early afternoon. The crowds at Place d’Obelisque are expected to be smaller, but the area will be extremely congested. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid planned demonstration areas.. U.S. citizens should also continue to exercise caution when travelling on the Corniche and Rue de Ouakam in the area of the university as students continue to conduct periodic protests. Student demonstrators have shown a willingness to block traffic, clash with police, and damage passing vehicles. While most demonstrations in Senegal are non-violent, the potential for violence exists, particularly in this period prior to the planned Presidential elections in February 2012. U.S. citizens should avoid political gatherings and alter routes to avoid planned demonstration areas. U.S. citizens are encouraged to stay current with media coverage of local events, and practice good situational awareness while moving about Senegal at all times. U.S. citizens should modify travel plans to account for protests and/or ensuing delays in affected areas.
Senegal president to run for 3rd term
Fri Dec 23, 2011 11:30PM GMT

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade's ruling party has announced that he will run for a third term in the coming presidential elections amid criticism of his spending policy.

On Friday, the Senegalese Democratic Party announced Wade's nomination in the elections, which has been scheduled for February 2012, during a special meeting in the capital Dakar.

He was first elected president in 2000 and was reelected in 2007 to office for five years after a constitutional reform shortened the presidential term by two years.

Later in the day, June 23 Movement (M23), a coalition of activists and political groups, organized a protest rally in the capital, where thousands of demonstrators marched to a square against the candidacy.

The protesters carried signs bearing slogans such as “Wade Go Away,” 'Against Violation of the Constitution,' and “Rise Up Against the High Cost of Living.”

The opposition Socialist Party also expressed discontent with the announcement, which came one day after one person was killed in a politically-motivated clash in the capital.

According to the party's spokesman Abdoulaye Wilane, five vehicles filled with armed Wade supporters attacked one of the party's local councils in Dakar on Thursday. The leader of the party's youth wing, Barthelemy Dias, “returned fire” and caused the fatality, but was acting in 'self-defense.'

The Senegalese media criticize Wade for excessive spending, while the country experiences 'poverty and inequality.'

He, however, has also been credited with building roads, an airport, and other key elements of infrastructure.


Thursday, December 22, 2011


Let's be clear there are no cooties here!   Honestly - I'm glad it's someone else!  I know what's involved in the hair treatment and the cleaning of the clothes and bedding - last thing I want to take on here ;+} -  And anyway- lately our attention seems to be on that one pesky mosquito we have to contend with in the evenings - zzzzzzzzzzzzzz - WHAP!


The latest clients of  Manning's "man on the street coiffure" (Click here if you want the original story)

Me - on the other hand - went for  'the salon' in my neighborhood and got my hair cut by Evelynne -  and she was doing a great job until that last extra snip of my bangs. Oh well - nothing a few weeks won't fix (thankfully).   Maybe next time I gamble on the "man on the street".

La Pouponniere - How they found me

Having now explained how to find La Pouponniere (click here for the first part of the story) - here is more of  the story and of how they found me!

A few weeks ago I was finally thinking to myself - it's time I got cracking on some volunteer projects. We have a handle on how things work here (or don't) now and have made the right strides to adapt and adopt. While I thought we had some leads that Manning had pursued prior to our coming here - they seemed to have somewhat vaporized - leaving me with an open question on what to do.  For a brief moment I thought I had a chance to help at "Save the Children".  I assessed an opportunity to provide basic technical training (use of word, excel and e-mail) for some Senegalese employees there through a contact we met. This person  wanted to help improve conditions - but sadly upon providing my professional assessment  it was clear that the computer they had access to was totally inadequate to be effective and offer any success for the training. Until there would be some commitment to fix the things I recommended - that lead died.  While the OLPC project for Manning was taking root -  it wasn't one that we could both assist in - since it required me being here for the boys on the days he has to take his trips to M'boro. And truthfully I really wanted to have something to focus on in Dakar.

Then  Manning receives a phone call on his cell phone - out of the blue from a woman asking for me. Not just any woman but a "nun", "a sister" who has committed her life's work to serve God and to help others with what I thought she said was an orphanage but also a school for young woman. It was the school for young woman they were looking for someone to come on Friday's and teach English to the girls. I tried valiantly to talk with her both in French and English over the phone but it was nearly impossible for me to understand - I think it is because of my hearing loss problem coupled with tinnitus and that it *IS* hard to hear on a cellphone. So, at this point  I've got 3 strikes against me but I'm not giving up to find out who this person is and what she is requesting. And yes I'm recognizing now it's hearing aid time when I get back to the states - Happy 50th Birthday present to myself  I guess.

What I discerned most importantly at the end of our conversation on the phone is that we would meet to discuss the details face to face. I asked her how she obtained my name and number and while she mentioned the Dakar Woman's Group I'm a member of - I could not pin down from her who may have passed my name along - nor could I seem to get that out of asking the group members as well. I was feeling a little more comfortable that she did mention DWG but still a bit uneasy until I got a better handle from some of my DWG members who confirmed for me that it was a "real place with real needs"  -They have a website ( Click here to go to their website)  and the person I was likely meeting was "Sister Charito" - So now I finally  have a name and a place with a website - we're moving in the right direction.

As it turned out - I ended up sharing this story with a recently new found friend in DWG who arrived with her family the same time we did.  Carine - who is French -  but whose English is top notch - really wanted to come with me that day to help if I needed it with the conversation.
She was so excited to be involved - she was gracious enough to pick me up in my neighborhood in Plateau (out of the way from where she lives) for us to go there together.  That is the day I paid no attention to how we got there. 

We arrive and make our introductions with  "Sister Charito" - she's a petite woman (slightly smaller than me) who speaks French, English and Tagalog as she is originally from the Philippines - and has been with La Poupenierre for the last 6 years. 

She sat down and explained the role of Le Foyer (the school) and La Pouponniere (the orphanage) to us.  The orphanage houses from 90-100 babies on two floors between the ages of  weeks to 1 year. One floor is the 0-6 months and the other 6 months to 1 year. The babies come here because their mothers have died in childbirth. And they are babies from all over Senegal. While they still do have families the families are not in a position to care for the baby in providing it the proper nutrition that it needs the first year. So the child is temporarily placed at La Poupenierre in hopes it will get the best developmental start before he or she returns to the family. The family could either consist of the father or even other aunts, uncles or cousins to whom they can be returned. The program is setup as well for the families to come for their special and one visit a week on Sundays and it is mandatory a family member come. There have been other situations where some babies are entrusted to the facility because they have actually been abandoned - and in those cases the babies are cared for and all attempts for adoption are made.

Le Foyer is a dormitory style building with classrooms that allows up to 50 young girls, 18-25 years of age to live during the week and get trained for 2 years - to learn child care, household chores, cooking, sewing, French (some arrive with only their native African language) and English. They make up the bulk of support for the care of the babies.

For our focus - what Carine and I  learned is that there were to be 6 young woman - attending Le Foyer for an extended 3rd year - and the Sister wanted them to increase their command of English to help broaden their chances to obtain a job perhaps with an ex-pat Anglophone speaking family or even in a hotel or restaurant that may cater to Anglophone speaking guests.  It was to be 3 hours every Friday  - which presented three challenges - only meeting once a week, meeting for 3 hours (I myself was not even going for more than 90 minutes with my own French class 3x a week - it is draining) and finally the coordination of the twins and Manning's schedule to make this work.  At this point Carine steps up to assisting me to start on Fridays and see how well we could collaboratively teach the English (she could step in and handle any French translations and also see if I could manage the French and English on my own). Our overall goal was to meet the girls on the next up coming Friday and make an assessment of where they stood with their command of English. And for us to report back to the Sister if it was doable and reasonable - can we go for 90 minutes or is it possible to go for more. Oh - the final challenge - we confirmed - there was no curriculum, no books, no lesson plans, nothing - we are on our own to make it up.  YOWZAH - certainly not a showstopper but an initial head scratch to start.   For my part, I was very clear that I was not 'a professeur' every time she would mention the person as 'a teacher or professor' of English. I think in the end she did get that it was awkward to be given that 'title' when in fact I have had no training nor any certificate or degree to suggest I was anything more than an American in Senegal who can speak English. Apparently despite her usage of terms - what I had to offer was good enough for her (degree or not)

During our conversation the Sister than mentions to Carine that she is also looking for a French teacher to come fill a slot for one hour a week for another group of 14 girls. From what I recall Carine and I realize - let's make it work for Sister Charito - Carine will take on the French for the girls, help me to start but ease out of the English class on Fridays. Problem solved! At this point Sister Charito makes a quick glance up to the ceiling and says something like or close to this - I'm paraphrasing because she said it so quickly -  "J'ai prié Dieu et mes besoins sont répondus". It took me a moment to comprehend what she said and what just happened - and in that split second I was totally choked up in realizing with our simple gesture "she was thanking God as her prayers were answered"

And here I was pondering up to this point about how she got my name  - I'm not sure why I was wondering - it's obvious it did not matter - she has a direct link!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mission: Possible!

After commuting by foot or taxi over the last 3 months - I was presented with an opportunity that would challenge me to finally ride one of the local buses. There are 3 types that careen through the city - small white mini buses, colorful car rapides (deserving of it's own post) and the blue buses - which are known as the Dakar Demm Dikk.

Demm Dikk. means "to and fro" in Wolof. Quite the motto - in that it lives up to getting  you "to and fro" but beyond that there is no commitment to when the "to" is and when the "fro" is. It is impossible for this system to offer up any kind of reliable time schedule due to the nature of the traffic and people jammed city streets.  My destination - La Pouponniere. I had actually been here on one prior visit - but I went with a friend who picked me up and she had a "driver" take us so I really wasn't paying attention to how we were getting there. And now that I think about it - we came along the Corniche which is the road along the Ocean - and the trip on the bus took a totally different route.

I have to admit I wasn't ready to go it alone - so Manning who had a previous engagement using this mode of transport was willing to take the first ride with me so I could eliminate the intimidating angst I had about taking the bus.

I was told that to get to this place we needed to go we could catch either the bus #6, #7, #12 and #23 - as they all go along the same route to start.  In this case - options are good!!  Not knowing where to even get on this bus our Bonne (Esperance - yes we have a new delightful one who deserves her own blog post soon) - walked with us to what was a very distinctive bus shelter to start - where it was clear a number of line pass.  We started our journey sometime after  9:30. Our bus  started off rather spacious and empty - since we think we were at one of the starting points for the line and also because it was past the morning 'rush' - but who knows what that really is here.

In each bus there is a man in a cage who basically is the toll taker. It costs 150 CFA to ride the bus which in comparison to a taxi is a steal.  The taxi would roughly cost 1,200 to La Pouponniere.  Eventually when the bus does get packed and you can't reach the toll taker -  I've learned that you can actually pass your money (if you don't need change) through the crowd and they will make sure he gets it along with your 'paid' Demm Dikk ticket in return.

It did not take too long for the bus to start getting full with bodies - I'm thinking the 
38 Geary or 30 Stockton or even the 30X when I lived in San Francisco when it was over-capacity. Yep Yep - lots of people packed in a bus - I'm in my comfort zone.

Here are a few views along the way...

Life here --> sidewalks constantly packed with vendors - stall after stall after stall, which is why so many people  have to walk on the streets. Add to that the  jammed streets with cars, buses and taxis!! - it's so hard to absorb sometimes. It never shuts down. A thought that just came to mind - a **constant sidewalk sale** that **never ends**.

So we are on the bus - not knowing the route and I was told to be sure to get off at the Casino-SAHM (whatever the heck that was). Fortunately someone must have known enough English and overheard Manning and I talking and at one point - the woman says to get off  "maintenant" - NOW.  Okay so we do that without really knowing what we were doing and come out to this scene below. It's this mish mash transfer spot where people are catching all kinds of transports - the white buses, the care rapides and the Demm Dikk. What you can't see behind the buses - is the Casino SuperMarche - which was the landmark reference but we did not get that until now. So between the Casino and the Total Gas station we were left pondering - now where - in terms of finding La Pouponniere.

Manning as you can see in the background is surveying the area and yes in the foreground is a pile of trash. Sadly there is alot of that strewn about **everywhere**. On first thought it would seem so obvious and easy to resolve if  there were trashcans systematically placed on every corner - but I just actually do not get why this one thing is that difficult to implement.  It's truly beyond my comprehension but I digress. At this point I have not explained La Pouponniere - so I will just add for the moment that it is  not only an orphanage  run by an order of Franciscan missionary sisters, but supports young women who are themselves in a two-year education program, alternating between assisting in looking after the babies and classes such as tailoring and cooking. Ultimately the goal being - for the young woman to obtain a level of French literacy and on the job training - in order to increase their chances and opportunities to obtain employment in the service sector at a hotel or restaurant or as a nanny or bonne. 

From afar - Manning catches a glimpse of a cross - 'a sign' - I suppose - so we figure - let's head in that direction - we cross this main road - and walk just a bit when I start to recognize the surroundings from the first trip. And in a split second after that I turn my head and - I see the entrance.  WOW - we made it!

So - my mission, should I decide to accept it - which I have - is to teach English to a select group of 6 young woman who are staying on for a 3rd year.

Now, hows that for an assignment!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Adventures in Technology - Senegalese Style

A post from Manning....

A story regarding my volunteer project which is finally catching some momentum.

On Thursday, December 1st  I traveled to the town of M’boro to visit the one and only One Laptop per Child (OLPC) school in Senegal. What is OLPC? - It's a non-profit organization that started back in the U.S. in 2005 and its mission is to  "provide each child in developing countries with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop. When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future. The goal being to provide them with access to knowledge, and opportunities to explore, experiment and express themselves"

The OLPC program was set up and installed at l’Ecole Notre Dame in M'boro, Senegal in 2009 by a group  of 4 university students from U-Miami, Cornell, and U-Minnesota who received a grant from OLPC to distribute 200 laptops in Senegal. Here's a clip that was done by them with the Principal of the school, Pierre Kahr,  speaking regarding the initial installation.

Sadly since that time, I learned through contacts I had made  - they were in need of some serious help to repair a good percentage of the laptops. With our plans to be in Dakar and a stones throw away (actually more than that when you read on) - one of my volunteer projects then was to take on this effort and help them get a fresh start in using these machines. 

Getting There:
So here's my first account of what it is like to get to M'boro without a car!! -- I left Dakar south of the N1 on the map above at 6:00am by taxi to reach  this large parking lot (by 6:30 a.m.) called the Garage Pompier where there are hundreds of old Peugot station wagons with roof racks, signs for the city they go to and the usual chaos of people selling things (in this case - Nescafé coffee, bread, nuts and eggs mostly).  There is no “direct” service to M’boro (but coming back there is - go figure), so you take the “ Sept Place” which as the name implies in French,  room for 7 people, plus driver.  It’s pretty much first come, first serve and in this case means the first person who gets there - gets the front passenger seat and the last people get the rear most seat (2 in front, 3 in the middle and 3 in the back).  There’s a small place for luggage or boxes in the hatchback space in the rear, and anything else goes on the roof.  I kept my laptop bag in my lap…The price is fixed and quite reasonable - but for the comfort I'm not so sure:  1500 FCFA (a bit over $3.00), but only to Thies, the intermediate transfer city.  (kind of a hub and spoke model, I suppose).  Once there are seven passengers, they leave the station.  

The drive from Dakar out of the city was busy with traffic, considering it was 6:30am but once we left the outer city limits there was little traffic.  The country side was actually quite pretty with the national tree, the baobab visible most of the way.  No one talked (a casual car pool of sorts for those who know this back in Berkeley, but no NPR ;+}), just dozed a bit and the radio played something religious in Arabic, then I think the news in Wolof and then French before playing African pop.  It was a very nice break from the Arabic, for my ears.  About 1 ½ hours later we arrived in Thies, and being around 8am, all the school children were walking to school in their uniforms.  It was nice to see everyone happy, smiling, joking around and making their way to work and school. 
The “garage” in Thies was much the same as Dakar, only smaller.  There was no sign for M’boro, which I had been warned about – “just go to your far left” is what I was told, and after doing just that, I was able to find a car going to M’boro.  The cars in Thies seemed older (40+ years old), and a few of them didn’t start, and had to be pushed to start – a common occurrence, it appeared.  When I say “old” here’s what I mean: the dashboard completely missing, no door panels, doors that open up when you’re traveling down the highway, holes in the floorboards that are open to the road, broken or cracked wind shields.  The seats, however did have their original upholstery or a cover.  This leg of the drive was interesting, because the Sept-Place I was in never got out of 3rd gear.  So, it was considerably slower – but it wasn’t hot (thankfully) and the windows were all open.  And I managed to get in the second set of seats, in the middle which was quite comfortable!

View of Senegal "countryside" nearing M'boro

The school:
An hour or so later (9:30?) I was dropped off at the TOTAL gas station  on the outskirts of town and walked to the school.  The school "Notre Dame" is run by the Pierre Kahr who is the Director.  It's a Catholic elementary school with about 50 kids per class for the upper grades.  

After a very, very nice introduction * to each and every class (pre-school through 5th grade) we returned to his office to discuss what was needed to be done.  (*wow, not anything like you’d experience in the US.  Each room we entered the class was called to attention, the kids stood, greeted the director and me (very slowly "B-o-n-j-o-u-r  M-o-n-s-i-e-u-r") in unison and then thanked me for coming.  And it was the same when we left each room too  - everyone saying goodbye in unison.  It was touching.)

The State of technology:
As it turns out the problems were larger than just the laptops…the entire wiring and hardware infrastructure had been “removed” at the end of last year “for security reasons” (over the summer break). As well, a large storm which flooded the directors office - wreaked havoc on the equipment.  So the wireless routers were removed from the classrooms, the server was missing and the laptops were sitting in a pile in Pierre’s office.  On top of that, Pierre wasn’t or couldn’t get a fast connection and was using dialup. Does *anyone* remember those days?  So, in essence, nothing was working.  And the worst part really is that with school having started in October and it was now December - these kids were not getting the benefit if it's intent in the last 2 months - and the school year is at least 1/4 over.   Given the state of things,  for this visit I focused my time triaging the 60 or so OLPC laptops that weren’t working.  The hope was to identify those with screen and keyboard problems that might be fixable.  I managed to get through them all, categorize them, number them and even fixed a couple.  And for those machines with monitor and keyboard problems that can not be fixed - directly - there are plans to ship new pieces for me to replace.

Laptop with Monitor problem

The plan:
The next step is to return, setup the wireless, locate the server, try to fix the 20 or so that may be fixable and upgrade the Operating System(OS) to the latest version.  In the meantime, I think they are supposed to get their connection to the internet re-enabled in some fashion.  I hope to train a couple of local kids (age 13 or so) to repair them, and possibly a parent or two.  I wrote a quick guide on how to take them apart, but I can show them how to do it and we can practice on some of the broken ones.  I also met a computer science grad from Dakar who’s unemployed that I hope to enlist in helping.  I plan to take him with me on my next visit and then we’ll see what arrangements we can make for the future - having some kind of local support would be ideal! And trust me - I won't be living before our year is up without the appropriate documentation and training!

All in all - I think this is a doable effort and I sure hope to make a significant improvement in the time we are here.

The Return Trip
The return trip is direct from M'boro to Dakar.  You'd think it would be faster but nothing is that way here - a long 5 hours (with no bathroom breaks). It's hard to explain  the traffic pattern - but there is one - you are driving along a major thoroughfare into Dakar at a certain point where it is **the only** way in to the city and then you stop. Cars are passing on the right side in the dirt, people are meandering selling mainly, oranges, peanuts and cellphone card credits (different than in the morning). It's crazy and intense when you add in all the cars and taxis and buses on the road AND the people who are on the various buses - inside the bus, atop the bus and hanging out of the back of the bus.  It always seems like sheer random chaos. Let me know forget  - the flies attacking (with a few mosquitoes in force)  and being in an incredibly uncomfortable  rear seat of the car.  My neck still hurts from bending sideways!  We were dropped off "somewhere" alongside the road and everyone walked away and/or tried to find transport.  A curious system, but it works. And lucky me - will get a chance to do it all over again in another 2 weeks.