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By lrich522

On Saturday, I went to a wedding with my three American friends, my four host sisters, my host brother, and their onslaught of friends and extended family members. My sisters had invited me and my friends a few weeks back. When I asked where it was, they responded "Dakar". When I asked where in Dakar they said a name that I was not familiar with, and my host brother said it's far away.. but I assumed he was just sulking about being forced to go because he hates weddings.

My friends got to my house between 11 and 11:30. We got ready together and put on our traditional Senegalese dresses (at first I was uncomfortable with the notion of wearing traditional garb but my sister explained to me that whether you are Senegalese, American, Muslim, Christian... anyone at all can wear them and it is more a sign of respect to attend these events dressed appropriately). I had forgotten to factor in Senegalese time because we didn't end up leaving until 2 pm (sorry to Clara who took half a shower so that she could make it to my house by 11).

When we were on our way out of the house I saw a big van waiting for my sisters and their posse (the first sign that should've made me realize the wedding wasn't all that close). The four of us got into my brothers car who drove us to pick up his cousin who was going to direct us how to get there since he didn't know the way (second sign). Then we got stuck in traffic, I fell asleep, and when I woke up we were very much not in the city of Dakar anymore (third and final sign).

An hour and a half after leaving, we realized that the wedding was in the region of Dakar and not the city.. classic mixup. As we drove through the sand streets, we eventually stopped once again because the other van broke down. Since we were close to the actual wedding, my host brother tried to drop us off so that he could loop back and pick up the others but then his car stalled and got stuck in the sand. We attracted a lot of attention and pretty soon there was a crowd of kids surrounding our car yelling "toubab"  (white person).

...continue reading "I’m still confused"

By lrich522

This past weekend was Easter, and while I didn’t get to participate in any egg hunts, I did get to observe how Senegalese celebrate the holiday (and I even got to eat pork for the first time since I have been here). The religious split in Senegal is roughly 95% Muslim and 5% Christian, and I would argue that the relationship between the religious majority and minority is very unique and completely different from that of the United States.

During the Christian holidays, those who are celebrating will cook massive amounts of food so that they can share with all of their Muslim neighbors and friends. On the flip side, Muslims offer food to their Christian friends during Muslim holidays. Being here during Easter definitely gave me the sense that celebrating holidays, even if you’re celebrating for your friends, is an absolute must.

Year after year on the day before Good Friday, Senegalese Christians prepare ngalakh, a sweet peanut butter dish made with fruit from the baobab tree, millet, and whatever other sweet fruits are around. Our Christian friend here told us that his mother stayed up all night and ended up making 3 massive tubs of it to share with the community. I hadn’t realized that when I was eating it for lunch that day, it had come from his house. Later, I saw all of our other friends with little personal sized buckets of it. For the rest of the weekend you would see people whip out a mini bucket and go in on some gnalakh. It is absolutely delicious and I only wish I could eat a bucket of it every single day.

...continue reading "Pass me the bucket of Ngalakh, please"

By lrich522

This past week was spring break, so my friends and I decided to plan a short trip not too far from Dakar. There were students in our program who traveled everywhere from Morocco to the Gambia to Italy to Spain. We had decided to stay in Senegal both for financial reasons and because there are so many places within Senegal that we want to see before leaving, and this break seemed like a good opportunity to do so.

One of my host brother’s friends has a friend with a house in Saly, a town along the Petite Côte, which he said we could rent for the weekend. So my three American friends along with a couple of our Senegalese friends and I were able to spend the first weekend of break there. It was extremely beautiful and definitely a tourist trap, but we had a great time hanging out, swimming, and going to the beach. We tried cooking some American food for our friends (I’m pretty sure our cooking french toast one morning then tacos with gauc that night doesn’t necessarily constitute a good representation of typical American food but we tried) and they roasted an entire chicken.

...continue reading "Spring Break: À L’aise quoi"

By lrich522

This is a blog post about food in Dakar, Senegal.


  • Breakfast: chocopain (chocolate spread) and bread with kinkileba tea
  • Lunch: Sandwich omelette frites at CIEE study center – This is literally just eggs and fries with ketchup and mayo in a massive sandwich and I LOVE it (500 CFA = 82 cents)
  • Dinner: Doorat which is an entire grilled fish with fries, mayo, and yassa (an onion sauce)



  • Breakfast: bread and chocolate
  • Lunch: Ceebujën (this means rice and fish in Wolof)
  • Snack: biscrème cookies (100CFA at all of the nearby boutiques = 16 cents)
  • Dinner: ndambe which is pretty much just a massive plate of beans with more bread



  • Breakfast: surprise surprise more bread, chocolate, and tea (I don’t hate it tho)
  • Lunch: yassa poisson which is a fish with the yassa onion sauce, and white rice. This was the plat du jour at CIEE (1000 CFA = $1.63)
  • Dinner: Spaghetti with an onion and meat sauce

...continue reading "What’s in my stomach??"

By lrich522

This past weekend I traveled with my public health class three hours outside of Dakar to a village called Niarhar, in the Fatick region. I had never taken a public health course before, and chose this one at the beginning of the semester because I thought that Senegal would provide an interesting context to learn about the subject. We hadn’t realized until we arrived that we were in the town that our professor is from, and we were able to meet his entire family.

The point of the trip was to complete an “enquête”, or survey, that consisted of finding 40 kids and asking their parents questions regarding their children’s health. The class was split into 3 groups determined by the kids’ ages. I was in a group of 4 students charged with the task of finding the parents of 40 kids between the age of 3 and 5 years old.

Initially when our professor described the survey that we would be conducting, I was a bit apprehensive towards the idea of showing up to a village and asking parents medical questions regarding their children, especially considering none of us are actually studying medicine. The village itself was mostly Serer, and each group was provided a translator, meaning my already weak Wolof wasn’t useful for the most part.

We asked questions like age of child, sex, is he or she vaccinated, total # of children in household, has he or she been sick within the last month, did he or she go to the dispensiaire, was traditional healing used, what was the treatment, do you face obstacles in going to the local hospital, parents’ education level, and where they receive their information regarding health. I found that certain parents were more than willing to answer these questions for us, whereas others seemed a bit wary. In hindsight, I still feel uncomfortable about certain aspects of the experience.

...continue reading "Public Health Excursion"

By lrich522




We’ve reached the point of the semester when it feels as if I’ve fallen into a routine and the days are flying by. Towards the beginning, I was constantly confronting new ideas, cultural differences, and what seemed at the time to be insurmountable obstacles. While I still face (plenty of) obstacles, it’s starting to feel like things are comfortable. At face value, comfort doesn’t necessarily have a negative connotation, however I realize I chose to study abroad in order to push myself beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone.

The on site CIEE staff organized a meeting last week in which a former student came to talk to us about this very topic, which made me much more cognizant of how my falling back into a comfort zone could be negatively impacting not only my own study abroad experience, but also more importantly the people of Senegal.

The speaker, Jacob Winterstein, is a teacher and a poet based in Philly, so you already know he’s cool. His presentation pulled themes from an article called “The View from the Veranda: Understanding Today’s Colonial Student”, in which the author, Anthony Ogden, defines and discusses this study abroad student archetype. (No, a colonial student in this sense does not mean a student who comes from GW). After having just arrived in Senegal, I had spoken with my friends studying abroad in South Africa and Rwanda (hello Emily and Carly) about feeling like I did not have a right to live here. I was struggling to understand my place and Carly said to me, “Ecotourism and voluntourism are topics, why don’t ppl write about educational tourism???”. Well, Carly, have I got the article for you.

...continue reading "To be a Colonial"

By lrich522

This past week all 40 CIEE students traveled across every region of Senegal to complete a mandatory part of the program: the rural visit. We had heard a couple of horror stories (real or not I’ll never know) about rural visits from semesters past; students getting lost without being able to speak the local language, people losing all of their money, and there was even the story of a girl getting bit by some mysterious bug and going blind for a bit (I actually met this girl and she can in fact see again) .

The anticipation was intense, and only made worse by the fact that we would be traveling independently of our program staff/host families. A few days before we left, we were charged with the task of ranking our top three locations that we wanted to visit while taking into account whether or not we wanted to stay with a peace corps volunteer, their specific sector within the peace corps, travel distance, and whether or not we wanted to travel with another CIEE student.

I am an extremely indecisive person, and normally when given a few options I ALWAYS pick the wrong one. So I decided to take the list of places and google each of them. In doing so, I was the very last person to turn in my ranked villages and ended up being assigned to one that was not where I had hoped to go and not in the sector that I had hoped to observe. I need to be less indecisive. That being said, I was still placed with peace corps like I had hoped, and I was partnered with another student who is absolutely marvelous. (Shout out to Sarah for always laughing, for sharing her “meta moments”, and for almost passing out on the bush car then sticking through the rest of the trip like a champ). In hindsight, I am extremely grateful for the week I had, the people I met, and the honest and thought provoking insight I received from my Peace Corps volunteer host, Taryn.

On Monday, with travel instructions and duffle bag in hand, I set out to take a taxi from my home to the gare. Sarah and I were meeting there that morning so that we could take the sept-place together to Linguère, which is the town closest to the village we stayed in. Luckily we got there within minutes of each other because right when I stepped out of the cab there were a bunch of men asking me where I was going and offering to lead me there.

...continue reading "Rural visits: mosquitos, bush cars, and a full moon"

By lrich522

Leah 2/13-3

Things haven’t been particularly easy in this third week, but overall I’m really and truly enjoying myself and loving it here in Dakar. There is definitely a more relaxed vibe here, and no one is ever too rushed to stop and ask how you're doing. Now that I’ve started my internship and found myself in a routine of sorts, I thought I’d outline what a typical week looks like for anyone who may be curious, or interested in this program. (note: details vary for everyone. Except for the part about not having toilet paper. That's definitely a constant.)

Mondays and Wednesdays are for classes. I wake up around 6:45, shower, get ready, eat breakfast (which is always a giant piece of baguette with chocopain and tea), and catch the bus around 8:00 with some other students who live in my neighborhood. The bus stop is only a five-minute walk from my house and the stop where we get off is about ten minutes from the CIEE study center.

We normally arrive at the study center somewhere between 8:30 and 8:45. Classes start at 9 (however I have the first time slot free so I try to get some homework done during that time), and each one is an hour and fifteen minutes. After my free space I have beginner’s Wolof, public health, lunch, democracy and governance, and advanced French for development studies, all of which are in French. For lunch, we can leave to buy food, go home, or even ask our families to pack us a lunch, but normally we eat on the roof terrace where there is a small kitchen with a kind woman named Marie who sells spectacular food. There’s a menu consisting of massive sandwiches on entire baguettes or you can by the “plat du jour”. Each of those cost 1,000 CFA francs which is equivalent to about $1.60. Last week I had the plat du jour, which was a plate of couscous and beef, and it was absolutely fantastic.

...continue reading "Une semaine à Dakar"

By lrich522

It has now been two full weeks since I arrived in Dakar, and my self perception has evolved only in the sense that my “identity” abroad has become much more complex and difficult to reconcile.

In almost everything I do I wonder how Senegalese nationals perceive me and my actions, as well as how that may reflect on the United States. Given the current political climate in the US, it is extremely common to hear something along the lines of, “Hey, what does Donald Trump think he’s doing??” as soon as people learn I am American. Living with a Muslim family in a country where 95% of people practice Islam, it’s difficult to discuss Trump’s policies, specifically his executive order barring travel from 7 predominantly Muslim countries.

When I was eating lunch with a friend at the study center last week, a local student approached us and asked us why Americans have the right to travel wherever they want then ban people on the basis of religion. As an American fortunate enough to go abroad to a country where I have been accepted and welcomed with open arms, I had no answer for him. Since the executive order was put in place, I have noticed that I am asked about who I voted for much more frequently.

My homestay family has the news on everyday, and we had a very in depth conversation about their feelings on the ban. I have always known that America’s actions affect the world, but I don’t think I was as cognizant of just how influential these policies are beyond the affected countries, even if just in changing the course of day to day conversation.

...continue reading "Student?? Guest??? TOURIST???? AMERICAN!!"

By lrich522

This is a question I have received A LOT since making the decision to study abroad in Dakar, especially within the last couple of weeks as I prepared for my departure. I have noticed that the answer I give to this question varies depending on who is asking. My close friends and family tended to ask why I chose to study abroad in Senegal with genuine curiosity. They wanted to learn more about what went into making this decision, and to hear about the kind of experiences that I could have.

HOWEVER, the majority of reactions I received usually followed the same predictable dialogue consisting of, “Where is that?” to which I would say “West Africa,” which usually produced a contemptuous tone when they would proceed to ask, “why??” coupled with a face that bordered somewhere between confusion, judgment, shock, and distaste, along with the occasional offensive comment.

While most reactions were not that extreme, a common thread and I think the worst part of these interactions has been seeing the immediate reactionary facial expressions to the word, “Africa”. My friends at GW were pretty much all so supportive and inquisitive, that when I came home for winter break the blatant racism that I sometimes saw from my coworkers and complete strangers directed towards an entire continent was shocking. I hope to be able to know how to react better to these comments upon my return.

...continue reading "So why Senegal??"