Monday, January 19, 2015

Guide to being a Good Senegalese Wife

December 28th 2014 marked the one year anniversary for Mr and Mrs Mamadou Gueye! It has been a wonderful year full of excitement, learning and love. In honor of this event, Doudou and I hosted a dinner for some of our friends, an event which required only one thing from me- a perfect Senegalese style Chicken Dinner. For anyone, preparing a meal for a group of your husbands close friends can be intimidating, but even more so when you are expected to cook a meal that you have never made to the standard of women that have been preparing the meal since they were 15years old. A test which would determine if I was indeed a 'Good Senegalese Wife'...

Now, Doudou has known for a while that I will never be a Senegalese wife, however since returning to Senegal I am becoming more aware of the expectations of wives in Senegal, some of which I quite enjoy and some that I can do without. Of course these are generalizations, but from my experience these are the main points:

  1. Cooking a good Tiebu Jen (the national plate of rice and fish). This staple dish is what your family will be eating 4 out of 7 days a week so it better be good! 
  2. Keeping the house in order; as you may have guessed, this is my weakest point by far.
  3. "Topotoe" This is a Wolof word which means 'to take care of someone' specifically a wife 'taking care' of her husband. Though I've never really understood exactly what this refers to, it's always said with a wink and a nod and occasionally followed by questions about certain under-garments I may or may not own (ok that was only one time)...
  4. Bareing strong sons; though now a days the thinking on this is becoming more pragmatic given the higher costs of living and introduction of family planning techniques.

While expectations on Senegalese wives can be high, there is one main asset of which I am a BIG fan: Sister support! Senegalese women work together and are constantly lending a hand especially within families. I was very grateful to experience this myself when Doudou's sister, Astu Gueye, agreed to spend her afternoon teaching me how to prepare a perfect Chicken Dinner! Thank God for sisters.

With Astu's help the Anniversary Dinner was a great success and I think all of Doudou's friends are now convinced without a doubt that I am a good Senegalese wife. Though it was not the most romantic anniversary we will ever have, it was a wonderful evening and great to become closer to Doudou's friends and family.

See attached the recipe for Senegalese style chicken with pictures (sorry some of the measurements are strange- I did my best to approximate but in reality no measuring instruments were used in the process).

Friday, May 17, 2013

Liberia- Land of the Free

Liberia- Land of the Free!

Many times in the US have I heard that phrase “Land of the Free”, yet when my friend and work colleague told me in a very proud and serious voice that “Here in Liberia we are Free” I didn’t recognize it. She proclaimed it in a way that you would, only by knowing what it is to have your freedom taken away. For years during the war, she, like many others were forced to live outside of Liberia, away from her family, in neighboring Ivory Coast in a small crowded refugee camp. Now that the war is over it is obvious that she will never take her freedom for granted, and neither will the rest of the population that have spent 23 years of their lives in fear of rebel forces, corrupt government and a violent military.

I know I will never understand what it means to be free as my Liberian friend does, but she has given me a new appreciation for the word and I’m reminded of it often here in Liberia! 
Almost four months into my stay in Liberia and time is going by very fast! 
I used to get stares from skeptical Liberians as I walked though the community and up to my apartment, now I get a chorus of "Aunt  Kayla Hello!" from children playing and "How da day-o?" from friendly neighbors. I used to get nervous when a police officer would wave my car over to the side of the road. Now I just smile and crack a joke and only rarely do I have to negotiate my release with a small 'gift' to the officer. I used to set my mouth on fire every time I ate rice and soup from a local restaurant, now I add plenty hot pepper to my own cooking at home. I used to listen helplessly to Liberians as they spoke to each other or me in Liberian English. Now I can pick out a few words here and there...

Ducor Hotel up the hill from my apartment
My apartment/neighborhood has been one of the greatest blessings while living here. My neighbors are very friendly, I feel safe and I'm close to downtown the market and the beach. I'm situated on a hill just below the remains of what was once the most elegant hotel in West Africa and above the noise and heat in the city center downhill. My electricity is provided at the whim of the Liberian Electric Company (LEC), but it's fairly reliable until it goes out without explanation for anywhere from a few hours to a whole day. Water is provided by an electric pump attached to a reservoir  at my land lords house. Since the water here is not safe to drink, I buy my drinking water from a business called "Sparkling Water" a few blocks away, who fills up my 20L jug as needed for $1 (or 70 Liberian Dollars).

Partners Worldwide, Partnership Manager- Liberia
In October 2012 I accepted an offer from Partners Worldwide for the position of Partnership Manager in Liberia. As such I am working with a local non-profit microfinance organization called LEAD Inc. (Liberian Entrepreneur and Asset Development, In the Name of Christ) to facilitate their relationship with a group of businesspersons supporting them in Grand Rapids, MI and another group of agriculturalists in the Midwest. These partnerships help to support LEAD as they continue to grow and engage in new strategies to empower businesses in Liberia! 

Since I arrived there has been no shortage of activity or excitement at LEAD. I'm learning as I go, and what better way to learn than being a part of the action? Here are a few things that have been occupying my time since I arrived:

LEAD Agriculture Program: Liberia is well suited for Agriculture, blest with rich soil and an abundance of water. Despite this the country is using only about 10% of it's available farm land for agriculture. Lack of education about farming practices and unavailable equipment and financing has made farming an unattractive sector, and as a result the majority of food that could be grown locally is imported from other countries and expensive. LEAD has made empowering farmers to grow one of their main objectives and they have been blest to have several enthusiastic farmers from the Midwest who have committed their time and skills to LEAD's Agriculture Program!  To learn more about how agriculturalist/farmers from the midwest have been partnering with Liberian Farmers read the document in the attached documents (right) called "Amos the Farmer". 

Cheers of joy as Larry uproots a
healthy potato seed sprouting roots!

  • Potato Farming in Liberia: The same day I arrived in Liberia by plane, 720 25kg bags of potato seeds and 80 bags of fertilizer arrived by sea. In 2012, Larry Alsum (Alsum Farms, WI), came to Liberia to visit farmers. As one of the largest Potato distributers in the US, Larry was shocked to see that there was not even one potato growing in Liberia! In the local market, Irish potatoes are in high demand, but sold at a high price as they come all the way from Holland. Despite the perception from Liberians that Potatoes can't grow in Liberia, Larry saw no reason why the soil conditions and weather wouldn't allow it. To pilot the farming of potatoes, Larry donated the container of Potatoes to give to a cross-section of interested farmers in Liberia. One month later, Larry came to visit and give some training to the farmers as they began planting and saw already that the plants were sprouting roots! The farmers are located in Nimba and Bong Counties (north of Monrovia about 7 hours drive) so since I arrived I've been able to travel to the countryside a few times to check in on this project. 
  • Agriculture Empowerment Initiative (AEI): This is LEAD's newest lending program designed specifically for farmers. LEAD had already been giving loans to micro and small businesses for 
    Amos (farmer) showing us his
    rice nursery.
    years when they identified an new category of potential businesspersons without access to loans; Farmers. LEAD is now the only institution giving loans to farmers  nd the results have been inspirational! Farmers have always been  etting by producing enough to feed their  amilies, but without an infusion of cash to buy seeds and equipment at the beginning of the season, they have no way of improving their crop. Now farmers are empowered to grow and cultivate their land by receiving a loan before planting and then repaying when they harvest their crops (normally 4 months later). Meeting with a young farmer, Amos, I learned what a difference a small loan can make!  

  • Research Farm: In 2010 LEAD bought 25 acres of land to start a research farm, dedicated to trying new crops and farming methods and teaching farmers based on their findings. The farm is currently raising Pigs, growing some small vegetables inside a hoop-house, planting Moringa (Neverdie) trees and managing five bee hives. 
LEAD new office Dedication: My first month in Liberia was pretty much dominated by LEAD's recent purchase of a property for their new office in Monrovia. It was an exciting time as the staff of LEAD had long outgrown their current office in a small space inside the Providence Baptist Church. The property purchased was thanks to the generosity of LEAD's donors who participated in the Capital campaign and it offers not only space for LEAD's office, but also a second building on the lot which will be rented out to another organization for generating income to sustain LEADs activities. The dedication ceremony on February 23rd was a complete success as friends and family of LEAD joined together in joyful celebration. By the second week of March, LEAD was completely moved in to their new office and very much enjoying the new space!

LEAD Lending Program: Since 2005 LEAD has served over 3500 businesspersons with loans to help expand their business! They have six branches, in 6 of the 15 counties in Liberia, and lend from $400 to $5000 US! The most impressive stories are of course those clients that started at the $400 level and have now grown to receive $5000 loans. Even more impressive is the impact that these businesses are having on their communities, creating jobs, providing services and producing new products. In Bong County I met a man and his wife who started with a small pharmacy booth and are now running a medical clinic for pregnant mothers and children's health. In Grand Bassa County Nathaniel, who started off selling soap, now has 25 employees and is producing up to 8000 cement bricks a day for new homes of families in the growing town of Buchanan. The list goes on and I'll be happy to share more stories with you as time goes on! You can find stories on LEAD's website: under stories. 

As you can see I've been fairly busy these first few months and I didn't even mention yet my visits to Nairobi, Kenya and Accra, Ghana! My apologies for taking so long to write- I guess I'm paying for it now by having to sit down and write this very long post :) You can expect more frequent updates from me from now on!

Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers as I start on this new adventure. I thank God for the incredible diversity and wonder of His creation to which my eyes are opened more each day!



Saturday, January 28, 2012

New Beginnings

I know I was only in the US for a little over a month, but it was enough time to make me feel like my return was the beginning of a whole new chapter. For example, even though I was coming back to the same house (Mama Africa), this time I would be renting my same room and the room recently converted into a Kitchen, (which means if I want to make myself some fried eggs in the morning I can!). I came back to work with Bioessence Labs, but this time as a paid employee, already familiar with the work and armed with the contacts and experience to confront the issues ahead of me!

I have a new start and I can choose how this year will be different from the last. So I made some new years resolutions:

1. 1. Learn Wolof! I made far too little of an effort last year, so now I’m being more proactive. At Bioessence, I am surrounded by Senegalese women who are always speaking Wolof amongst each other and it kills me that I still can’t understand what they’re saying! Last year I usually would just sort of zone out when I couldn’t understand, but now I’m listening closely for words and patterns. This, along with Wolof lessons from my friend Doudou in exchange for English lessons should have me at a good level by the time I leave…

2. 2. Make things happen! Looking back at my last year, I realized that while I was learning a lot and working, my accomplishments aside from getting organic certification for Baobab were small. I can talk in depth about all the different development strategies to different problems and all of the short comings, but I haven’t actually acted on any of them. Maybe I’ve read too many books and reports on the harm that “development projects” can do. So much so that I’m afraid to do anything at the risk of it doing more harm than good. Letting go of that fear (at least a little) I’m going to be more bold in my actions and more confident in my own ability to decide what is going to be beneficial to communities, the environment and the economy in Senegal. After all, lots of organizations plan projects without ever stepping foot on the ground. At least I have a year of observation under my belt.

3. 3. Preparing for my depart. I know some of you may be wondering if I won’t just stay here in Senegal for the rest of my life, but I do plan to make this my last year. Even if I wasn’t, planning on leaving a project can help put you in the right mind set to making it sustainable. My goal is to transfer as much of the responsibilities into the hands of the communities so that they aren’t ever too reliant on me or Bioessence for their whole wellbeing.

What project is she talking about?

Sorry I got a little ahead of myself talking about goals when I didn’t get a chance to explain why I came back to work for Bioessence in the first place! My official title at Bioessence is Quality and Social Responsibilities Director . I will continue working with the producer groups in Kédougou to improve the quality of the shea and baobab that is processed there, as well as directing Bioessence’s social responsibilities in the area. Since we are already about a month into Baobab fruit season, my main focus is on making sure that producers have the materials they need and are following the protocols we put in place last year for the organic certification. In addition to maintaining the organic certification, we will also be adding the fair trade certification. Bioessence already has a long history with community development and providing fair prices and additional trainings and materials, however, getting certified will push Bioessence to go a step further and make their relationship and commitments to producers more official. Fair Trade will also be another boost for marketing products abroad.

For a small enterprise, with a staff of about 6 people (not including factory workers or the producer groups), this is a huge and expensive undertaking, which is why most of my time so far has been directed at finding investors or grants. But within the next week or so I’ll be traveling back to Kédougou for the first time since last May to evaluate the situation and make sure that our facilitators have the information necessary to survey the work being done and assure that procedures are followed.

Oh, and I almost forgot my most important New years resolution: Be more attentive to my blog...

More to come on current events in Dakar- Things are starting to heat up a little over coming elections!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Latest from Senegal- read all about it!

A little more than two months till my departure, I’m really in the last leg of this journey. The first few months I was here were a scramble to find my footing, adjust to the culture and gather information. The second leg was a cross between developing and establishing my project at work while at the same time jumping between visitors and vacation days/weeks… Now that all my visitors have come and gone and now that I have a good grasp on life and work in Dakar, my last leg will be focused on making things happen- using what I’ve learned to get the project for Fair Trade up and running and to a point where I feel comfortable stepping away or handing it over. Same goes for my work at Bioessence. Here’s the news from both the Beyond Fair Trade Initiative and Bioessence Laboratories.


NEW INTERN: From July to the end of August, a Bulgarian student from UCLA came to Dakar to work with me on the Fair Trade project. Hristo Marokov’s experience with project development and insight into the factors hindering economic growth in Senegal helped immensely during his short stay and he continues to work with me from California. It was so wonderful to have someone to bounce ideas off of and I only wish he didn’t have to leave to go back to school!

NEW WEBSITE: Hristo took on the task of creating a new website specifically for the Beyond Fair Trade Initiative so that all our work, proposals and research could be easily accessible to interested partners! We are continually updating this website in French and English and it’s a great place to visit if you want more details about the development of this project! Visit:

GLOBAL GREENS CONGRESS 2012: To launch the concept of fair trade cooperatives as a method for adding value to agricultural production in Senegal, Earth Rights Institute will be leading a 2 day workshop during the annual Global Greens Conference in March 2012! This annual conference assembles members from different Green parties world wide and they will be holding the congress in Dakar this coming year. Because of ERIs work with sustainable economic trade systems, the planning committee was interested in Beyond Fair Trade playing a key role in the event.

We will be inviting representatives from Ecovillages to present their expectations for fair trade between villages, representatives from several different non-governmental organizations, and from the National Ecovillage Agency of Senegal. Through discussions and presentations we will be developing ideas that will help producers to work together through community led cooperatives. This is a great opportunity for us to launch the Beyond Fair Trade project and attract support from other international actors that will be attending the conference! More information about the conference is available here:


ORGANIC CERTIFICATION APPROVED: This month Ecocert approved Bioessence laboratories for organic certification of Baobab fruit!! Since my last trip to Kédougou for the organic certification inspection I really haven’t been too involved. Mame Khary Diene (director of Bioessence) returned from France about a month ago with her new baby girl and has been pretty preoccupied with being a new mother. In Kédougou, it’s still mid rainy season which makes working there pretty difficult, and traveling there even more difficult. There’s still a lot of follow up to assure that Bioessence is ready for any later inspection from Ecocert, but the hardest part is done. Now its just assuring that all the procedures and training that we developed are put into practice!

VIDEO: In 2008, Mame Khary Diene won the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award for the most influential new business in Africa- Bioessence Laboratories. Now in 2011, Cartier came to Senegal to follow up on her progress. When I was in Kédougou in May, a French camera man came to film the women in action and now the film is available to watch on youtube (sorry its only in French…) here:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tribute to the brave souls

A lot has happened since I last wrote, and I promise to get caught up eventually, but first I wanted to write this blog as a tribute to the brave souls who came to visit me over the summer! Daniel Pluth, Tom and Karen Casavant, Libby Casavant and Megan Cochrane.

I’ve often thought how much I like living in Dakar, except for the fact that its so far away from all the people I love and wish I could be close to, but aside from the obvious joy it brought me to see friends and family after being apart for 6 months, there were a few other thing I gained from the experience:

First, I get to revisit and hone my skills as an adventure tour guide. You have just to ask one of my visitors to confirm that visiting Senegal is different than your average vacation- I guarantee they each have their own horrifying survival story to tell. Its actually crossed my mind that I could make good money organizing tours in Senegal now that I have the connections and experience. The tagline would read something like: “Have your African Adventure- horrifying bus ride included at no extra charge!”

Second, I have become an excellent translator! Each of my visitors made a valiant effort to speak both French and Wolof while they were here, but there was some translating needed. In conversations with my friends and host family, I really enjoyed being able to bridge the communication gap and in doing so bridge the space between my life in the US and my life in Senegal! I love that now, when I’m missing someone from home, I can talk to my Senegalese friends about it and they actually know who I’m talking about! Vise versa, when I return to the US it will be so nice to have some people that understand who and what I’m missing back in Senegal.

Finally, the great thing about having guests is that you have an obligation to visit and do all the interesting and touristy things that you might not do on your own time. Having four different guests really pushed me discover new areas of Dakar and Senegal.

Like the hidden waterfalls of Ségu

the birds-eye view of Dakar from the fez atop the largest copper man in the world (Statue de la Renaissance)

the wildlife preserve isle de la Madeline via the dodgiest boat ride I’ve ever had

and an island in the Sine Saloum where Muslims, Animists and Christians live together as harmoniously as the sacred Baobab which has literally become one with two trees!

Each one of these things I can honestly say I would not have done if I hadn’t had such adventurous and adaptable guests! Thank you all for coming to visit!!!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

God bless the rains down in Africa

After living for 6 months in the dry heat of Senegal, it finally rained- and man did it rain! It happened the morning of June 25th at 10am. I was in my room when suddenly I realized how dark it had gotten. Then the wind started up, swinging my shutters open and shut and sending dust through the air like a tornado! Even before the rain started to fall, you could smell it in the air, and then it came down in sheets and I barely got my window closed in time to prevent my room from becoming a lake! It was magnificent! The past month or so, the clouds have been frequenting the sky more often and the air has been noticeably more humid. When it finally rained today it was like the clouds were breathing a huge sigh of relief and I did too. In fact I ran out on the rooftop terrace outside my room to dance in the rain and then ran downstairs to the rest of the family and proclaimed "Alhamdulillah" (Praise God!). Mama Africa joined me in my rejoicing, but not everyone was so excited. My host brother, Cissé, was disappointed that the rain had started so early (normally the first big rain isn't until July) and Marie, who had been out getting the bread, came into the house a little soggy and not smiling.
The rains cause a lot of flooding in Dakar, and even though everyone understands that the rain is important for rural areas, it makes life more difficult for two months in the city. I'm sure the novelty of rain will soon wear off, but for today it was wonderful!

Its been ages since I last wrote a blog, and a lot has happened over the past couple months. First, Bioessence finished their application for Organic Certification (we’re still waiting for the verdict). Second, I had some visitors and was able to take some time off work to travel with them!

Despite all my reservations, the inspector, M. Boukary (picture right), for Ecocert (the French organic certification body Bioessence is working with) came from Burkina Fasso to Kédougou to see if the procedures and the organization was up to their harsh standards. I wasn’t worried because Bioessence isn’t secretly adding chemicals or stripping the environment of its natural resources. No, the Baobab fruit is about as organic as it gets coming straight from the Baobab forests of southern Senegal and being harvested manually without bringing harm to the environment. What really worried me was the lack of organization and documentation that would help Bioessence to be considered professional and transparent enough to assure a product that is uncontaminated and traceable from harvest of the raw material to packaging of the finished product.

I went to Kédougou about 5 days before the inspector from Ecocert was to arrive so that I could prepare the women’s groups and make sure that all the facilitators were available. The inspector would need to see every production unit and also where the fruit was collected. He would also need to speak with the producers directly and all the facilitators. But since he was only able to stay in Kédougou for no more than 3 days, there was a lot to organize beforehand. Luckily I had some help!

My boyfriend, Dan, arrived in Senegal just before the big inspection, and while I’m sure he was hoping to have a more relaxing vacation, I really appreciated having his help and support! I also had Basse with me as our driver from Bioessence who did so much more than just driving us around. Our mission included:

1) Finalizing formal written partnerships between Bioessence and the women’s groups/ fruit harvesters of Kédougou.

2) Providing a short training on organic certification (what does it mean to be organic, why get the certification, quality and hygiene procedures required, etc).

3) Organizing demonstrations and interviews for the inspector.

Organization has been the real challenge since written contracts and documentation are not developing Africa’s strong suit. To build what Ecocert calls a “System for Internal Control” we used a mix of on the ground supervision by designated members of the production groups and a chain of documentation to record production and practices.

When M Boukary came to Kédougou, he was escorted by Adama Diop, the mother of Mame Khary (director of Bioessence). She is also one of the most enterprising, motivated women I’ve met here in Senegal (or anywhere, for that matter) and her presence during the visit really made everything come together! We made a good team because she knew how to communicate with the local producers (literally, she could speak their language) much better than I could, and I knew who to contact on the ground and the technicalities of the internal system of production. We were also helped by the fact that the inspector was not on a mission to seek out all the faults of Bioessence, but more to help identify areas of weakness that we can strengthen as we get certification. It turns out that they often deal with businesses that are much less organized than we were and he was fairly impressed by what we had been able to do so far.

So now we wait to. In my opinion, even if we don’t get the certification, we have succeeded. Just looking around the factory in Dakar you can see how this certification has pushed Bioessence to develop and raise their standards. In Kédougou also, there are new storage buildings, equipment, signed partnerships and promises for further development in the future.

It’s been very rewarding taking part in this process and the lessons I’ve learned about running a transparent and sustainable enterprise in Senegal will serve as a guide as I continue to work with enterprise development in Senegal.

To see more photos from the trip, check out the link to photo album "Dan and Kayla in Kédougou".

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mission Impossible

I just spent the last 16 days in Kédougou on a mission for Bioessence to continue preparing for organic certification- something that requires a level of organization and equipping that has been relatively nonexistent up to this point. Along with a team of 5 others from Bioessence we were also sent to build two stocking containers and negotiate the purchasing of baobab grains from villages to be sent back to Dakar on the truck that came charged with the building materials. It was a mission filled with many unexpected challenges and complications, and for that it became lovingly known to us all as “Mission Impossible”

There was sweat, blood, frustration, confusion, yelling and even some tears, but just as Tom Cruise never fails to do, we accomplished our mission (more or less) and survived to tell the story.

The missions:

1. To construct two stocking containers (one in Bandafassi one in Ebarak) to protect Baobab grains and other Bioessence products from the environment and from contamination.

2. To purchase Baobab grains from the villages in the area and load them onto the truck to be driven back to the factory in Dakar where they will be pressed to obtain the oil used in their cosmetics.

3. To collect necessary information about current working conditions in the villages in order to prepare for obtaining organic certification. Also to devise an organizational structure to facilitate and legitimize the relationship Bioessence has with the producers in rural areas.

The team:


Vieux (left) was with us to put together the structures for Ebarak and Bandafassi. Assane (right) was sort of the operational leader for our team. Some of my fondest memories of the trip I shared with Assane, repeatedly going over the financial deficiencies and logistical problems we faced.


Basse Mboup: By profession he is a driver, but by birthright he is a Griot ( the caste of Senegalese society that are story tellers and musicians). Even though the caste system is no longer dominant in Senegalese culture, Basse fulfilled his family tradition and provided a much needed comic relief to some more tense situations.

Gallo the truck driver and mechanic. We also started calling him Bébé Gaté (spoiled baby) because he pretty much did whatever he wanted and slept way past when everyone was up and ready to begin working.

Oumar was also along for construction of the storage buildings. He was no d oubt the quietest member of our group, but also the hardest worker, never complaining or showing anything but a smile as he carried out manual labor in the heat of the day and late into the night.

The setting:

Kédougou in April is hot, very hot and dry. The temperature reaches 107 degrees midday and cools off to about 75 degrees overnight. The dryness is at its peak and everyone is waiting in anticipation for the long rainy season which runs from mid may until October. Kédougou itself has typically had reliable electricity but just recently there have been long blackouts lasting most of the day or several days even. This has made the heat even more intolerable with out the use of fans or refrigerators to provide cold water.

Village of Ebarak

*More pictures are available to see under "Photo Albums" on the right side bar.

To be continued....