Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thies Round-Up

Dinner at Alyssa’s house was one of the more difficult things that I’ve had to do on my trip, and not just because I had to concentrate on not using my left (unclean) hand. Alyssa had prepped me pretty well on the etiquette. It was just going to be her host father, Alyssa and me at the table for dinner. I kicked big Ahmed off the table, so that started the awkwardness. The hardest thing for me though was the knowledge that the rest of the family was not going to eat until we were done with our food, and the amount of food the rest of the family (~8 people) was whatever we left in the bowl. In America I’ve been known to buy a rotisserie chicken, clever it half and eat it no problem; but knowing that people much more hungry than I am were waiting for my table scraps made me eat the bare minimum of chicken and then push my food around on the plate. Dinner was over around 11pm when Alyssa’s host dad proclaimed that we both had not eaten enough and that he was done. After dinner Alyssa and I watched some Senegalese music videos and I retreated back to her room for a Cliff bar. Now I am truly glad I bought about four 12-packs of Cliff bars and other assorted snacks for the rest of her stay.

I awoke the next morning to a sound that I’ve heard many times before during Skype conversations with Alyssa. It was Alyssa family’s two roosters crowing and the neighborhood mosques competing for who could be the loudest. The rooster/ chicken / sheep / pigeon pen is literally right next to Alyssa’s wall and this rooster is very fond of crowing loudly every 30 seconds no matter what time of day it is. As a side note I don’t really get why they keep pigeons as pets but cats are considered pests. Anyways, Alyssa brewed up some great coffee, which consisted of heating up some water on her propane burner and mixing in a Via packet, so then I was good to go. We had a long day ahead of us. We met up with Katherine to go see the infamous Madame Ly. We got to the Ly compound around 10 for an 11 appointment, which meant we had to entertain ourselves for about an hour and a half. Thus explains the copious amount of pictures of Alyssa on a Senegalese exercise bike. It was great to see someone that has impacted Alyssa’s service as much as Madame Ly and she was a gracious host. She really wanted us to stay for lunch and absolutely wouldn’t let us leave until we had a piece of meat with onion sauce.

After Madame Ly’s we went to the “Catholic Bar” which is a speakeasy outside one of the few Catholic churches in Senegal. We made ourselves at home in the back of the bar, outside where I met a lot of Alyssa’s PCV friends and distributed the treasure I brought from the US. By treasure I mean two large bags of tortilla chips, 3 kinds of dip, some cheese crackers, two packages of Oreos and a couple box if ginger snaps as a special request. Even Alyssa thought I brought too much food, but it was all devoured; washed down with a couple Flag and Gazelle Beers (shout out to “beercheese”). Alyssa has a great group of friends and I’m sure it’s one of the ways that she has stayed sane in an otherwise pretty chaotic environment.

We then made a trek to chicken Dibi. While I must admit that the décor wasn’t the best (dirty walls with one out of place French oil painting) the chicken was really good. It definitely helped my appetite that it was extremely dark inside and I had my back to the kitchen, but I would go back for the Dibi chicken challenge any time.
Alyssa was nice and only planned one night at her family’s compound, so we ended the night at her favorite hotel in Theis, Masa-masa which is thankfully much quieter and has western plumbing.

The next morning, Mary, Katherine, Alyssa and I met up at the post office, to meet her buddies there and to pick up a package. It was interesting to see the Senegalese postal system at work; let’s just say that they didn’t have to worry about Y2K. I was also a bit surprised they asked Alyssa to open it in front of them to make sure there wasn’t contraband.

We then got a cab to Mary’s site called Ngeye Mkehe which is home to a large basket market. After getting out and recovering from the diesel fumes we’d inhaled in a car, Alyssa spotted two of the artisans she collaborated with at the expo. Meeting them was a great stroke of luck as they were able to negotiate for us and we were able to get some good prices for the baskets. I could barely walk in the basket market without either stumbling on a basket or a person. The market was lined with trucks piled with baskets, making them twice as tall as normal (luckily there are no overpasses in Senegal). These baskets, made by the same people are exported and can be found in stores such as pottery barn. Some of the exports profits are re-invested back into the community as school fees for the children who live in these villages.

I was excited to meet Dioss as he’s worked with Alyssa a lot and does pretty impressive work. When we arrived at his compound he was painting in a new style that I’d describe as cubist-inspired. He was working on only his third piece of this style but it was already looking polished. After greeting him, Alyssa and I took a walk around his compound and looked at some of the more abstract paintings that I was interested in. Dioss went back to a cigarette and painting (typical Dioss protocol) until he offered us some tea. The tea comes in shot-sized glasses and has equal portions tea, mint and sugar and is boiling hot. The proper way to drink the tea is to slurp up, I believe the louder the slurp gives style points. Alyssa pawned the tea drinking duties off on me and I actually liked it, but probably wouldn’t make it part of my normal routine.

Dinner was at Massa Massa where I was dying to try the lasagna that Alyssa has raved about on her blog. We shared a bottle of wine and the lasagna which lived up to the hype! Dinner was only briefly interrupted by a blackout until Massa Massa’s generators kicked on, saving the day.

Alyssa’s Note: Shout out to the Onyshko’s for sending me a fantastic package! Katherine waited for a LONG time at the post office in order to get it since she thought it was the package you sent to my box for her! While Katherine may have been a little disappointed, I am really excited about all of the treats inside and the new, really cute shirt! Thank you! Can’t wait to see you in Chicago!


  1. Thank God for Starbucks and Via! Seriously, a little bit of civilization in a cup!

  2. Fun guest-blog entries, Matt! Looking forward to these photos of Alyssa on an exercise bike...? lol


  3. Matt & Alyssa - glad you guys are together enjoying your time with one another. It sounds like things are going well. Matt, I'm happy you're getting to experience all of the things Alyssa mentions in her blog. Give Alyssa a hug for me.