Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Packing like I've never packed before.

Ahead of time.

Sunday was electronics day. Highlight: new keychain with new 8 GB USB, computer cord lock, bottle opener, and tiny mace.

Yesterday was food day. 25 clif/luna bars, one gigantic jar of peanut butter, 3 packs of favorite gum, almonds, and go. Clif bars taste so American when you're not in America. It's amazing. Interesting fact- one of Senegal's top crops is ground nuts, yet there is no peanut butter in the country. At least I had a warning.

Today is toiletries day. I brought 3 gigantic bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash to rural Kenya last summer. That didn't work out because there wasn't enough water to wash away the amount of soap I wanted to use. I do not know what the water situation in Dakar is exactly, but I bet it'll be better than that. I'll probably bring less of the same stuff this time. I also have less hair.

Next is books. That's always the hardest for me. I'm a pen and notebook snob, so I'll probably bring those along for my classes.

Seems to me that the more I travel, the less clothes I need. I get high quality clothes that can take a beating (laundry by hand) and be worn every day. I fill up the extra suitcase room with all of the above. Of course an average temperature of 75 degrees doesn't require lots of layers. (Yes, I'm bragging.)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

My Ironic Christmas Gift

A watch.

Americans' concept of time is drastically different from the rest of the world's. In my time abroad and my interactions with others who work abroad it seems that every country has a time delay except the United States. This past summer I had to work on "Kenyan time". Soon enough I'll be learning the rhythm of life in Senegal.

I'm not sure that a watch will be the most useful instrument in Dakar. I'm not sure if my classes will even start on time. I'm actually at that point in preparing for a trip when you realize how little you can know about somewhere you've never been.

I hope that the watch will at least minimize the times I have to pull my Blackberry out of my pocket, displaying my wealth for everyone around. The watch is perhaps less American than the Blackberry. At least that's what I'm hoping.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


"The best training is to learn to accept everything as it comes, as from Him whom our soul loves. The tests are always unexpected things, not great things that can be written up, but the common little rubs of life, silly little nothing, things you are ashamed of minding one scrap. Yet they can knock a strong man over and lay him very low."

Amy Carmichael

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Yes, I changed the name.

I couldn't bear the possibility that I was unintentionally teaching my readers an incorrect spelling of my almost new home. And, since I am Schwamily, and I will be in Senegal, I thought that made sense too.

I also should submit an official apology to the French language. Je suis désolée.

In which I buy a flight.

Disclaimer: This post is for my own sanity. I'm sure most readers already know what is written here (except for the websites in Do not's #1&4). Thank you for letting me vent.
I believe that I made every classic mistake when buying my flight for Dakar. Luckily, it's now behind me and the flight is booked. I decided to describe the purchase in a list of do not's.
  1. Do not watch your lovely price disappear overnight and frantically buy a flight the next day. With international flights, prices rarely go down over time, only up. My experience tells me they don't go up every day, only every week or two. So buy early. And use a service like Farecast or Airfare Watchdog.
  2. Do not use an unorthodox travel company or website without a personal recommendation or a thorough investigation of their business online.
  3. Do not expect to be able to change your flight without a fee. The only company I've used that does this cheaply is STA Travel. They only charge $25 dollars to change a flight. Other suggestions welcome.
  4. Do not use www.wholesale-flights.com. Apparently, after further research, it's a bait and switch company run by Russians in California. Don't let the accents distract you from the poor customer service and "you don't know what you're talking about" attitude. I say this despite successfully booking a flight through them. From now on I'm going to rely on airline websites, Travelocity, (love the gnome) and Vayama to purchase int'l flights. Their prices are just as cheap as any out there.
  5. Do not not check with the airline you're flying for a confirmation of your flight, even if they say that you should only work through the agency that bought your flight. I waited 3 weeks for my flight to appear online and finally called today and found out I had a invalid confirmation code.
I really hate flying. I hate the whole process- watching prices, buying, dragging heavy suitcases around, paying to bring your heavy suitcases with you, going through security, expensive food in the terminal, waiting in line, no leg room, being cold, awful food, swelling feet, damaging your eardrums to watch a movie, etc. You can tell I don't like it. It just seems like you spend so much money to get treated like a fool.

To help you erase that depressing list from your mind and avoid in flight annoyances, here's a short list of do's for flying. Common knowledge for anyone who has flown much, I think.
  1. Do bring socks. Nice warm socks.
  2. Do drink water and get up and go to the bathroom on long flights. It makes you feel soo much better in and after the flight.
  3. Do bring a travel pillow and blanket with you- some airlines aren't giving them out because of H1N1, supposedly.
  4. Do bring your own snacks.
  5. Do pack smart- keep everything you need for security out, wear easily removable shoes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

For fun.

By a famous Senegalese musician from Dakar- Wasis Diop. Via Scarlett Lion. If you like this check out this other track. To get this all day- Last FM has a Senegal Station- check it out here.
I will understand this. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

Chaussures- Shoes

Shoes are a big deal. So are socks. I just got two new pairs of sandals to prepare for my trip. I love both of them. So I thought I'd share and practice my review writing skillz.

Keene Barbados Sandals- can't stub your toes, comfy with a bottom that has tread, unlike Teva's comfier flip-flops.

Crocs Malindi- somehow cute, comfortable, quality, and cheap at the same time without looking too much like the dreadful Crocs. I got black and brown BOGO!

But I also must remain true to my old faithful shoe options that will definitely be coming with me.

Merrell's- Breathing, sturdy, great hot weather hiking shoes, but this model isn't waterproof.

Chaco's- so comfortable and durable. I like sans toe strap. I got mine at REI on clearance for $70 three years ago and they're still running strong.

Socks- I wish I could always go with SmartWool, they're amazing but a little pricey. I keep my eyes peeled for sales.

This year, I've been depending on Sierra Trading Post for everything footwear related. They have great sales right now, but shipping is never free. Still great prices.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I'm currently in the throws of grading final papers for the class I TA at Duke and the last thing that I need is the internet to distract me. I've been wishing the internet wouldn't be so pervasive so that I can constantly be distracted by music or facebook or buying Christmas gifts or writing blog entries.

I'm sure my wish for technological isolation will seem ironic in a month when I'm in Senegal. From my time in Kenya this summer I learned some low-internet habits that helped me get things done with little to no connection.
1. Plan everything you need to do before you get online. Write emails, know what you're looking for, etc.
2. Bookmark all you important links before going abroad. Even tiny sites can take forever to load.
3. Don't unplug and replug, stay online. Giving up on a slow connection isn't usually worth it. It will always be slow.
4. Get the right gear. I'm not the person to ask about this, but there are faster and slower ways to connect, and some are cheaper than others. I'm trying to figure out what the best way to connect in Senegal will be. I'm trying to cover all my bases by bringing a Sprint Blackberry 8830 so I can use with a Senegalese number and hopefully get my email.
What I didn't realize before I went to Kenya is that the whole continent of Africa leaves one gasping for a fresh breath of connectivity, not just the rural parts. Even connections in the best malls of Nairobi are slow. Interested in more? Check out this poster on the internet in Africa via Eric and AppAfrica.

There's lots of talk of how 95% of people in Africa have access to a mobile phone. How this works out in reality is a different matter. Phones were guarded like gold in the rural community where I worked in western Kenya.

Good news- Senegal seems to be one of the better connected countries. And there's cables-galore being built in the next few years. Who will use the internet in Africa is another question. Study abroad students aren't a huge market.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Passport Update. Also, introducing the famous baobab tree.

My passport has found its way home. Hallelujah. Ends up the embassy wanted a letter straight from Senegal, not the one I sent them from the US university that is sponsoring the program.

Also the visa has a baobab tree on it. Have we talked about those yet? Apparently it's said that the tree is growing upside down and its roots are reaching for the sky. I'll forego the Little Prince reference for now, I'm sure it will pop up later in the semester.

On Dakar and Senegal, Recently

Another in the New York Times on the music scene in Dakar.

A link to a current student's blog that is on the program I will be on.

The same student's reflections in a Duke Magazine on her time in Dakar.

Also, for those really intending on traveling to Senegal, the Lonely Planet has a good resource site and you can buy individual chapters from their guide books.

Got other sites? Leave them in the comments.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Early Departure

I find that when I travel, I usually mentally go to the place before I'm ever there. Right now, I'd say I'm about half in Senegal and half here. Meaning, almost half of the time I am thinking about, planning for, worrying or wondering about Senegal. In the other half of my life, I still have to work, do laundry, and be sad to say goodbye to people for a while.

I'm very bad at planning this time into my brain. (It's also inconvenient that it's around Christmas, which feels a lot different than summer when everyone else is leaving too.) I expect to be fully here until I step on the plan January 8 and fully in Senegal January 9. But that is definitely not the case. Really, I have become homesick before ever leaving. This happened when I went to Kenya as well. All of the sudden I'm asking, "Why am I doing this again? Why was this a good idea?"

I'm trying to remember all of the good reasons that I chose to go to Senegal while giving full emotional quality to the bad reasons. I don't want to pretend like I'm not saying goodbye to the friends that I'm leaving. On the other hand, this feeling will definitely remain while I'm in Senegal because my brain and my language is American. So I'll be there but culturally and linguistically isolated. I'm not sure when I'll feel like I've actually touched down in Dakar. I'll let you know.

I guess this is another reason to Skype!

Passport update: Still not back. Still.
Flight update: Booked but not officially booked. Not sure if I should have trusted my cheap option.

Monday, November 30, 2009

That's all I've got right now...

Today's phone call to the embassy. Hopefully more will come out next time.

Woman in Senegalese Embassy: Embassy of Senegal. Bonjour.
Me: Bonjour. Uh... I'm calling because...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pouvoir- Power

Basic question: how will I charge my phone and laptop while abroad? My laptop is newish so I'm trying to do my homework to prevent any damage. You have to wade through lots of junk to figure out what you really need. Here's what I've found.

1. Voltage specs for your machine- mine is a MacBook. It is "dual-voltage" meaning it can be plugged in without a voltage converter outside the US if the voltage in Senegal is within its range.

100V to 240V AC

2. Plug type in destination country. There are lots of guides out there, but I like this one best because the plugs look like faces (Denmark seems happy). Senegal's is similar to France's. Surprise.

3. Voltage range in destination country. Found in same guides. Senegal's seems to be around 220 on all sites, but one went up to 250. Should I be concerned? Not if I have a surge protector.

Using this information, you can select a plug adapter or converter. I've used the universal adapters in the past and have been mostly happy except for their size. They usually include surge protectors. I'll think I'll stick with what I've got for now.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's in a name?

There are several things wrong with the name of this blog, which I feel I must acknowledge before I go any further. If it is any comfort, the mistakes are purposeful.

Let's just say that Sénégalə is the correct French spelling with schwa along for a ride. This name has an unintentional double entendre (quelle surprise! français!). Schwa is both my nickname and a phonetic letter, used in linguistics, and I am going to Senegal to learn a language. Voilá.

If it was possible I would have put the schwa in Senegal, instead of on the end, but I haven't found a way to type that. So, in summary, I am sorry. The title, I know is incorrect and insufficient, but perhaps that is the troisième (third) entendre- when learning a language through immersion, failing is the best way to improve.

To make reading this worth your time, here's a link on how to type French accents on a Mac.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oh where is my passport?

This is not a humorous posting.

I sent my passport through FedEx to the Senegalese Embassy in Washington 10 days ago. I am waiting for them to return it to me with my visa for the semester inside. Waiting.

My passport is the one thing that I am uber-conscious of while abroad and it made me very nervous to send it away. Without that, I can't get anywhere! And plus, it's got cool stamps.

Also, yellow fever. A must have for travelers to Africa, the vaccine, I mean. I spent what felt like days searching for my yellow book before going to Kenya this summer because I needed proof of vaccination to cross over the border to Tanzania. When I reached the border all they wanted was my 100 USD cash. Better safe than sorry?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why West Africans Don't Like the French.

A great article from the Times on the post-colonial relationship between France and countries in Africa. I would highly recommend reading the whole thing. Some excerpts are below.

In Africa, “opposition to power also means opposition to France,” said Mamadou Diouf, the director of Columbia University’s Institute of African Studies. “We find ourselves in a paradox: The champion of the rights of man practices a politics absolutely contrary to its principles,” Mr. Diouf said of France’s policies in Africa.

Mr. Joyandet (France's Secretary of State for Cooperation) said that “for us, the relationship with Francophone Africa is especially difficult. When we do too much they say we’re colonialist,” he continued. “And when we don’t do enough, we hear complaints.”

“People don’t like France because France isn’t helping Africans freely choose their leaders,” said Achille Mbembe, a political scientist and historian at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. “And the democratic process is blocked, practically everywhere.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Neo-Post-Old-School-Colonialism. Also, maps.

Why are there no websites on Senegal in English? This question could begin a long history lesson, but I'll try to make it simple.

Look at a map of Africa. See which country names you have heard or have not heard. I bet those you've heard are mostly former colonies of Great Britain, or the oddball Liberia, a resettled slave colony with closer ties to the U.S. I'd also take a gander that you haven't heard of many of the 16 former French colonies. Gabon, for example. Where in the world is Gabon?

Part of the reason I'm going to Senegal is because I'm interested in Africa as a whole, not just the part that speaks my language or has closer ties to my country. Some would call the current reality neocolonialism. I guess this is an issue I'll have to poke around while I'm there.

Check out this awesome map of Africa that shows the progression of the continent through history. Here's a screen shot.

If you're into maps, you'll also love Gap Minder, another tool that moves across time and uses great visuals. This map is a great visual of the history of the HIV pandemic.

Lastly, if your eyes aren't tired yet, World Mapper is a must see. Below is a visual of infant mortality burden by country, which is a great proxy for poverty. Try looking at other indicators- demographic, economic, health, education, it's all there.

Monday, November 9, 2009

french according to my generation..

But of course, parapluie!

On Friday, I randomly said parapluie, the French word for umbrella. Needless to say, I was quite proud of my subconscious. I took French in middle school and the first two years of high school. After that I took Spanish and traveled to Argentina. I know that somewhere deep inside my brain all the French is still there and parapluie is just the beginning of that. I've also been making bad stereotypical French puns hoping that will motivate subconscious schwa.

Some great sites that have helped me in practicing my French:
1. Word Reference: The internet's best language dictionary, complete with verb conjugator.
2. UT French Grammar Site: Everyone's favorite subject explained by an armadillo.
3. UT French Verb Practice Site: Conjugate the night away.

In starting to plan the details of my trip, I've realized that there is no information (renseignements) on the internet about Senegal in English. It's all in French. That has definitely forced me to pick up the pace in my self-guided relearning. It also is indicative of the colonial divide still present in Africa, which I'll talk about next post.

Here's the best travel site I've found thus far, titled Routard, French for backpacker. Also check out the language center I'll be studying in, named after Senegal's famous tree, the Baobab.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Hi, I'm Emily or əmily or Schwamily (hence the name of the blog).

This blog will chronicle a semester abroad in Dakar, Senegal. I hope that it can be more than a description of one person's experience but rather a reflection of what it is to travel and live abroad in West Africa as an American. I hope that I can describe what it is to travel and live abroad and share lows, highs, and "best practices", if they exist.

You'll notice I'm starting two months early. In my other travels, I have only written while away which leaves out a substantial amount of the (pre)preparation and (post)processing. In any case, half my brain is already in January, so why not?

I hope that I can make these blog entries interesting, relevant to a diverse audience, at least a little amusing, and meaningful. I also hope to teach a little bit of language, which is most of what I will be learning this semester. So be prepared for the occasional French or Wolof lesson.

I also hope to perfect the art of the hyperlink. We'll see if the internet is good enough in Dakar to support this habit.