Tampon Express

jihad coiffure

“Jihad” is often translated as a mission or war that is holy, sacred, or otherwise sanctioned by God.  Therefore this salon means “God sanctioned haircutting”

One of the things my parents modeled was the importance of being observant. Pay attention, you’ll learn something. Life is more interesting if you pay attention. (I remember that one whenever I pass the brown “Big Bone Lick State Park” sign on I-75 north in Kentucky.) All of those kinds of things.

Usually, it’s a helpful thing to be observant about my surroundings—especially when you live in a new place or a developing country. In downtown Dakar, I can tell you where the women who make beignets and fattaya sit—and, judging from the multitude of comments we recently received on the “10 cent snacks” blog post, this speaks to the importance of knowing where to find good food. These random things I observe while walking or driving often elicits comments from Mary, such as “How did you notice that? You were driving and that was behind you on the other side of the road?!”

Sometimes, it’s a curse—like when I notice fresh roadkill (such as a decomposing donkey on the side of the road)—and I wish I could train my eyes to only look straight ahead.

The part of me that was trained, for a time at least, as a journalist notices odd signs, funny spellings, strange juxtapositions, and awkward English malapropisms. Developing countries are fertile territories for hilarious signage, and it would be some sort of observant-person malpractice not to share these memorable wordings we’ve noticed during our travels the past few years.

For example, in downtown Dakar there is an “Al Pacino Men’s Store” that sells men’s clothing. It has nothing to do with the actor. He’s never visited and the salesmen don’t know who he is. There’s not even a picture of him in the store, but that’s its name.

If for no other reason that the authors are writing in at least their 2nd or 3rd language, I appreciate these signs, these brave attempts. I can’t imagine how horrible and/or hilarious my own sign writing in a foreign language would be, but I’m sure there would also be unintended laughs.

free shop

clearly this is an airport duty free shop, but the juxtaposition leads us to call it the “Free Shop”–even better than the Dollar store!

africa smoking

this is the delivery vehicle for the electronic cigarette shop—yes, they’re here too

I prefer the sweet crepes with a little jam on top, or the savory ones with gaucamole, but I suppose these would make nice curtains or blankets

I prefer the sweet crepes with a little jam on top, or the savory ones with gaucamole, but I suppose these would make nice curtains or blankets

traffic law compliance together

from Phnom Penh, Cambodia: It only works if everyone complies to traffic laws together!

From outside the Russian Market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia: "Hello.  Come here guy.  Have one sale kind of drink.  Especially have sweet and fragrant of Coconut."

outside the Russian Market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia: “Hello. Come here guy. Have one sale kind of drink. Especially have sweet and fragrant of Coconut.”

super-intense forced march

the exterior bulletin board at the North Korean embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (The only North Korean embassy I’ve ever seen): We’re all thankful we don’t have to do the “super-intense forced march of on-site guidance” in North Korea.

From Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Note the “Mother in Law House” right above the bowl of Pho.  I wonder if the soup is made by the mother-in-law or made of old mother-in-laws who couldn't cook?

from Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Note the “Mother in Law House” text right above the bowl of Pho. I wonder if the soup is made by the mother-in-law or made of mothers-in-laws houses?

Chuck Norris Dim Sum`

from Phnom Penh, Cambodia: I have a feeling Chuck Norris has nothing to do with this place, but I still hope the Dim Sum on the menu is shaped like his head or at least is made by a chef who moonlights as a kickboxer.

6 kinds of spaghetti

from Phnom Penh, Cambodia: They clearly sell everything here, but do I want a Po-Boy from a place that also makes 6 “kind of spaghetti” and schnitzel? Clearly, the chef was trained on the World Menu.

Thai Crispy Sesame Morning Glory Nest

from Phnom Penh, Cambodia: We actually ordered the ‘Thai Crispy Sesame Morning Glory Nest’ and it was quite yummy. It’s my new favorite Thai dish!  All of these dishes cost $1.75.

man cut hair

from Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Again, do they cut men’s hair is a man going to be cutting your hair, regardless of your gender?  (And do monks get free haircuts?)

spirituality $1.75

from Phnom Penh, Cambodia: All the spirituality you need for $1.75, but if you want better, fancier, top shelf spirituality, it’ll be more! Take that Catholic Church of old. We’re selling spirituality on the cheap!

Cock light

from Phnom Penh, Cambodia: I think this one speaks for itself.

Chocolate Fartons

from Ronda, Spain: No, we didn’t try them.  We eat plenty of legumes as it is.

Tampon Express

from Dakar, Senegal: Tampon Express is downtown and near the fabric store Mary frequents, so I couldn’t help myself. Custom made stamps while you wait!

2015-04-16 17.59.17 copy

who doesn’t want a stamp from Tampon Express? We got one for my sister’s flower business, Bellaire Blooms.


10 cent snacks

a regular sunset from Restaurant N'gor

a regular sunset from Restaurant N’gor

“What do you eat?” is the most common question we get about living in Senegal.  The short answer: we make largely the same recipes at home as we did when we lived in the States. There are not many awesome restaurants in Dakar, but many of them offer beautiful views of the ocean.  A restaurant with a great view, however, is the equivalent of describing a blind date with the familiar line: “They have a nice personality.”  In restaurant review-speak, we call these restaurants “Dakar good.”  You can’t beat watching sun set over the edge of the continent, no matter how unmemorable the food is.

Despite the lackluster restaurant offerings, there are some Senegalese foods that are delicious.  These favorite things are often found on the street, and not in restaurants.   I know I’ll miss a few of these things when we leave Senegal in less than seven weeks.



Ditakh – Pronounced DEE-TAK – This strange looking but tasty fruit juice comes from a baseball-sized fruit grown on the Detarium senegalense tree.  This tree is native to Senegal and the juice tastes pulpy, fibrous, and similar to kiwi, but also kinda grassy.  It’s good, but an acquired taste.







hibiscus leaves make bissap juice

hibiscus leaves make bissap juice

Bissap – Pronounced BEE-SAP – This favorite drink is often available the white and red varieties, but both tastes the same as they’re each made from hibiscus flowers. The rich red (nearly purple) variety is more common and my go-to drink on a hot day. Of course, there’s sugar added. The best bissap juice also includes a little mint in it.




the many long pours required to make the tea are a learned skill

the many long pours required to make the tea are a learned skill

Ataaya – Pronounced AH-TIE-YA – This is tea and do Senegalese like their tea!  I’m not usually a tea drinker (except sugary Chai tea or minty Moroccan tea), but ataaya is more of an event and a cultural ritual. Senegalese people stop to have tea multiple times a day so you can find it everywhere.  The distinct elongated pour of the tea (as shown in the photo) is extremely appealing and maybe most attractive part!  Did I mention I don’t drink tea? However, by the third cup (and third mixture of water, tea leaves, and sugar), the bitter flavor has mostly vanished and the attractive sweetness comes through.  You’re supposed to slurp the tea to be polite.  It usually costs twenty cents on the street in a roving cart.









FataayaPronounced FA-TIE-YA – This is my favorite snack in all of Senegal and remains the highlight of our trips to the famous HLM fabric market. And just about any other time I see a street vendor selling fataaya on the street, I buy a handful for the expensive price of … ten cents each. These fried little goodies (you knew fried was involved!) are essentially breaded onions, spices, and either meat or fish.  Depending on you what you fancy, you can cover them with spicy mustard, tomato sauce, or vinegar.  They’re served to you wrapped in wax paper and a sack.












Beignets – Pronounced BEN-YAY – While not perfect like their cousins at Café de Monde, these beignets are quite delicious for only ten cents each.  Unfortunately, you’re not magically transported to all the other fun things to do in New Orleans when you eat a beignet (where else do they taste so good?).

While waiting for Mary to finish shopping at the fabric store, I’ve completed thorough beignet research in downtown Dakar and can tell you which street vendors have the best beignets. [Can you tell that Mary is often sewing?  We go fabric shopping often on the weekends, and thankfully snacks are nearby.]







Dad and Sherry enjoyed mafé the most when we visited the rice shack for lunch last May

Dad and Sherry enjoyed mafé the most when we visited the rice shack for lunch last May

Mafé – Pronounced MA-FAY – This is a popular, but heavy meal that includes red meat covered in a peanut butter sauce. It’s yummy, but you don’t feel like running anywhere afterward. When my Dad and Sherry visited Senegal last May, it was their favorite dish (see the nearly empty blue dish in the picture). We shared a plate for two dollars at one of the roadside shacks.













that bowl is about three feet across; the big chunk in the middle is fish

Thieboudienne – Pronounced CHE-BOO-JIN – While there are many ways to spell the name of this dish, everyone in Senegal knows as “The Senegalese Dish” no matter what language you speak. It can be made with white or red rice, but always includes bissap-stuffed fish and whatever vegetables are available.   Normally it includes carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, eggplant, jaxato (a bitter “tomato”/eggplant), cabbage, and/or bissap.  The bissap in this dish means hibiscus leaves pounded until they have a slimy texture.  The added sauce  is mostly fish oil and tamarind.  This dish is sold everywhere you can find Senegalese food.  A good place near the embassy sells it for two dollars for a big plate that is more than you can eat.  It is customary to eat this dish with your hands out of a big bowl with everyone else.



Brochette de Lotte – Pronounced BRO-CHET de LOT – This is my favorite meal in Senegal.  I dare you to find a better one!  It’s basically kebabs/skewers of the common white fish, “Lotte.”  My favorite version of this dish includes fish that was marinated in lime, onion, and pepper and includes a side of sautéed potatoes in garlic. The version of this dish pictured below is $9 but only because I usually buy it at a restaurant with a premium view. (So it really is the view you’re paying for). It’s available other places for three dollars.  There’s another added bonus with this dish: even at the most questionable of Senegalese restaurants, you can find brochettes de lotte and it’ll usually be good–because it’s that hard to screw up, I think.

brochette de lotte

brochette de lotte


ten to fifteen seconds (maximum)

beach view

the beaches in Senegal can be beautiful; this man is selling baby birds (which you buy and release for good luck)

We began surfing the first weekend we arrived in Senegal and even went surfing on Christmas.  Perhaps it says something about the challenges of the sport, or something about our mutual challenges with physical coordination, that we are still taking lessons two and a half years later.  In the intervening period, we’ve grown to be experts in the different stages surf lessons follow.

Mary calls this warm-up exercise 'practice eating sand'

Mary calls this warm-up exercise ‘practice eating sand’

The first stage of surf lessons are uniformly hilarious, and anyone who enjoys physical comedy would like being a spectator.  A horde of white people descend on what was once a local beach, contort themselves into matching black neoprene suits, and splash about in the chilly water while grimacing and trying to avoid the plastic sacks, pieces of styrofoam, and tiny trash particles that float past.  This is the warm-up “swim” that begins every surf lesson. 

Following the swim is the highlight of this stage: a changing array of bizarre exercises led by one of the surf instructors.  Stand on one foot and hop up and down!  Kick your butt while running backwards through the sand! 

raise the roof!

raise the roof!

After the beach-bound humiliation ceases, what follows are two hours of seemingly endless paddling interspersed with:

  1. tossing water in handfuls behind you as you frantically glance back over your shoulder to see if you can catch an on-coming wave
  2. being thrown off your board by a wave you were not trying catch
  3. being thrown off your board by a wave you were trying to catch
  4. being left behind by a wave you were trying to catch
  5. catching the wave you were or were not trying to catch and enjoying ten to fifteen seconds (maximum) of bliss.
Mary looks hot in a wetsuit

Mary is getting better at surfing and is ready to graduate to the next beach

Even when one is finally up on the board, the feelings of bliss are tinged simultaneously with paranoia …

  • Are my feet placed correctly?
  • Straighten up!  
  • Are my eyes pointing where I want to go?
  • More pressure on the front foot!  
  • Wait–is this a wall of water or a reform wave–maybe it’s supposed to be more pressure on the back foot?

And then it’s over, and you start paddling again.

Benjamin surfing like he's about to fall over

although not known for his form, Benjamin can see all the other surfers within 2 miles when he gets up

But those ten to fifteen seconds are pretty good–even if they only occur maybe five times each lesson.  (In two hours, one might actually end up standing on a board for a total of two minutes maximum–if it’s a particularly good day with predictable waves and a helpful instructor.) Thankfully, the recollection of getting up and riding a wave lasts longer than the memories of endless paddling  For Benjamin being able to say, ‘I got up on the board five times today!” is a great feeling that lasts the rest of the weekend.  Mary tends to think more about the ones that got away.  [This won’t surprise those of you who know us well.]

"let's go surfin' now, everybody's learnin' how, come on a safari with me"

“let’s go surfin’ now, everybody’s learnin’ how, come on a safari with me”

An array of extraordinarily fit young man (Senegalese or French) serve as surf instructors and offer you “tips” after each attempt.

Mary’s favorite tips: “Yeah, you should have caught that wave,” and “You were supposed to stand up.”

it's good that our surf instructor, Rene, is good at dodging flying surfboards

it’s good that our surf instructor, Rene, can dodge flying surfboards

Benjamin’s favorites: “Next time, try not to fall off the board,” and “If you don’t fall off, surfing is more fun.”

The instructors also offer invaluable little pushes–which is really what one pays for with the twenty dollar lesson, in addition to the board and the wetsuit.

These pushes can mean an additional period of respite during the endless paddling phase (a little tap on the back of the board that doubles the effectiveness of each stroke) or an extra source of power during the frantic flailing phase (when you are trying to match the speed of the oncoming wave).


a rare moment when the beach is quiet

Lately, Benjamin has taken to lounging on the beach while Mary takes surf lessons.  Herein lies the appeal of living near the beach–being able to go to the beach, read, relax with a cold beverage, occasionally go surfing, and be back home in five minutes whenever you’re ready to leave.

Relaxing is only part of that equation, however, as going to the beach in Senegal means there’s loud music playing from the beach restaurants and a constant stream of vendors involved anytime one chooses to recline.  The vendors sell everything one could possibly never ever need on the beach: remote controls, baby pigeons, cell-phone chargers, second-hand t-shirts, pirated dvds, baseball caps, and the ubiquitous carved wooden African crafts.  A vendor appears about every two minutes, and they often queue up to speak with you if another one already has your attention.  Here’s Benjamin’s half of a typical conversation:


vendors get right up in your face like a pirate! (this one is selling pirated dvds)

  • No, thank you, I don’t need a Yankees cap today.  
  • No, the hat I’m wearing right now is nice, and I don’t need a second for my wife.
  • No, she is not coming.  She is surfing and doesn’t want a Yankees cap.
  • No, we don’t have children who want Yankees caps.  Thank you.

The most unlikely wares these vendors sell are definitely the giant plywood boards full of seemingly random remote controls for all varieties of televisions, VCRs, and other electronic devices (need a garage door opener?).  They’re in plastic bags, of course, because they have to be protected from the sand before they’re attached to the boards by rubber bands.

It would be appealing to have a different sort remote control at the beach.  This magic device would enable a beach visitor to fast forward past all the vendors that come by, mute the bass pounding hip hop music from the beach restaurants, freeze frame the great surfing moments, and pause the beautiful views of the waves–which remain very appealing for two people who didn’t grow up near the ocean.

we've yet to master the one-handed beach handstand, but we do appreciate it when we see it

we’ve yet to master the one-handed beach handstand, but we do appreciate it when we see it