Whenever I pack for one of my trips, I have help. Here are photos of my assistants. One moment I’ll be alone in the bedroom, placing the empty suitcase on my bed to pack. The next moment, I’ll have at least one assistant, and sometimes more than one.
I can always count on Blaze to help me pack. Once he settles into a suitcase, it’s hard to get him out. If I try to lift him out, he’ll simply plop right back into it.
Ashley often glares at me while I’m packing. I think she’s scheming about what kind of trouble she’ll make for my husband while I’m gone.
Blaze is especially fond of the small size of underseater bags. They’re just the right size for him to curl up. Though, perhaps they’re too small for his 14-inch tail.
Sometimes two of them try to help me at the same time. That’s always interesting.
Blaze seems to be telling me that he thinks I’m done packing, whether or not I agree.
Ashley is finding my brand-new suitcase interesting. She’s making sure I pack it with some cat hair.
I thought it was a suitcase. But he thought it was a bed or a bathtub!
In my travels over the years, I’ve visited many places that had experienced issues with terrorism, including London and Paris. I live in a country, the U.S., which has experienced many terror incidents as well.
When I received word that my IBM Corporate Service Corps assignment would be in Senegal, my husband immediately jumped online to investigate safety and security issues. He found that in Senegal, petty crime such as pickpocketing provided reason to be cautious, but violent crime was not a serious problem there.
I felt comfortable with the idea of going to Senegal. I expected it to be a wonderful adventure. (And it was!) Still, it was somewhat disconcerting when a terror threat warning was issued while I was there.
The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens to be vigilant when visiting establishments and staying at hotels frequented by Westerners due to a credible threat related to potential terrorist activity in Dakar.
U.S. Embassy personnel are not permitted to stay at seaside hotels in Dakar until the first week of December. U.S. citizens should expect to encounter increased levels of security screening while traveling around Dakar.
Review your personal security plans, remain aware of your surroundings, including local events, and monitor local news stations for updates. Be vigilant and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security.
The warning was issued while our group was at dinner, and at the time we didn’t have any way of knowing about it. When we returned to our hotel, we noticed that the security measures for entering the hotel compound had been heightened, and we thought it odd, but we didn’t know why. Once we were inside with wi-fi access and checked email, those of us from the U.S. received the above email notification from the U.S. Department of State. Okay, now we understood why hotel security had tightened.
I was concerned, of course, but not frightened. The tone of the alert suggested people should exercise a practical level of caution, but didn’t sound alarming.
Receiving Additional Detail
The next day, we learned a little more. There were unconfirmed reports that security forces had thwarted an alleged extremist plot to target a seafront hotel in the city of Dakar. The reports alleged that three suspects linked to this plot with ties to Al-Qaeda had been arrested in an unnamed country near the Senegalese border, and were being held at an undisclosed location.
It was a bit concerning to learn that the thwarted terrorists had planned to target a seafront hotel, considering the fact that we were staying at a seafront hotel! We sent a note to IBM’s program manager for Corporate Service Corps to ask for an opinion about this, and waited for a response.
What We Did About It
The next day, IBM assembled us for a meeting. IBM Security told us that they had assessed the situation, and had determined that we were not in immediate danger. We would be allowed to stay in Senegal and continue working on our projects. However, we were required to move from our seafront hotel to a different place that was more inland and offered tighter security. We were given only an hour to pack.
IBM Security told us that we could not go to restaurants along the beach, nor could we go shopping at the Sea Plaza mall, which is seafront.
At the time, we were forbidden to tell anyone outside of our group that we were moving, not even the staff at our original hotel. For security reasons, we were also told not to disclose what the contents of our briefing were.
The Lost Weekend
A couple of outings we had planned for the weekend of October 21-22 were canceled for security reasons. I now think of this as The Lost Weekend.
This did affect our morale. We felt kind of imprisoned at our new hotel, since our weekend plans had been canceled. We still had each other, and we tried to make the best of it by hanging out together and working on our job assignments. We enjoyed each other’s company, but we would have preferred to enjoy it having adventures together! We started to explore the neighborhood near our new hotel, and found some restaurants with good food.
Some of us told our families about the terror threat, while others didn’t want to worry them. I did tell my husband. I felt it would be best that he hear about it from me, rather than stumbling across the articles in the international news media. It seemed best to let him know that I was aware, and that IBM Security was involved.
Our original hotel had been a beautiful seafront property with its own private beach. The new one was a dump. The hallways of the new one smelled bad, and the carpets were old. In my room, there was a stain on the floor about two feet long and one foot wide.
The new place’s conference rooms were already fully booked for another group’s meetings, so there were no conference rooms available for our use to work on our projects. We tried working in the hotel bar, which was very noisy and distracting. We tried working in the hotel’s “gold club” lounge, which was not air conditioned, and was noisy. All in all, this new hotel provided a poor environment for doing the work we were in Senegal to do.
And After That…
After a week, IBM Security decided to let us go on outings that met their safety criteria.
A nearby, nicer hotel became available after a large event finished and its attendees left. IBM Security approved moving us to this place, which also greatly improved our morale. I appreciated having a guest room that smelled clean and didn’t have a large stain on the floor. It was much easier to work on our project in the new place’s well-equipped, air-conditioned conference room after dealing with the second hotel’s problems. The third hotel’s security provisions were similar to the second place, but it was a much better environment, both to work and to live in for the remainder of our trip.
Although this newer hotel was not seafront, it was close enough to the ocean to provide this beautiful view of the sunrise.
It was strange finding ourselves in the midst of a terror alert. I was concerned, which I think was a sensible response, but I was not fearful. I felt that if the threat was truly serious, IBM Security would have decided to send us home immediately. IBM Security conducts reviews of Corporate Service Corps locations before approving an assignment, and they tend to be very cautious about our safety while we’re deployed.
Of course, Dakar is a large city, and it’s always important to be mindful of personal safety when in a large, unfamiliar city. I took the same precautions there that I would take in San Francisco or Chicago. I felt safer in Dakar than I have in certain U.S. cities.
Would I consider going back to Senegal for a visit in the future? Absolutely. And yes, I would consider staying at a seafront hotel again. According to a November 2017 article in The Telegraph, Senegal still is considered to have a low level of risk compared to the United States and many European countries.
The Bandia Reserve is a wildlife park about 65 kilometers from Dakar, Senegal which features a variety of animals from throughout Africa. Although some of Bandia’s animals are native to Senegal, others were transported in from South Africa and elsewhere. The park isn’t big enough to accommodate the hunting needs of large predators such as lions; therefore, it features only herbivores such as giraffes, antelope, zebras, etc. The exception is that there is a hyena in a fenced area, and some crocodiles in a stream that’s some distance from where the rest of the animals live.
The Bandia Reserve offers trucks that can be rented, with drivers and guides. Our guide had been with Bandia ever since it opened 20 years ago, so he was able to share with us a large amount of information about the park’s origins and history. The backs of the trucks are open-air and outfitted with benches which can accommodate up to 9 passengers. It was the perfect size for our group.
A network of gravel roads runs throughout the park. The drivers and guides are quite familiar with all the routes. They use phones to stay in touch with other colleagues who are taking other trucks through the park, which is how they know where to find the various types of animals on any given day.
Throughout the park are a variety of trees that are native to West Africa. These acacia trees have vivid reddish bark, which contrasts beautifully with the surrounding vegetation. Senegal lies just south of the Sahara desert with a dry climate whose rainy season runs about 3 months. The acacia trees and other local vegetation are adapted to these dry conditions.
When Bandia Reserve was first started 20 years ago, the owners brought in 4 giraffes from South Africa to start their herd: two male, two female. Today, the herd contains about 50 giraffes. The guide told us they occasionally bring in males from the outside for breeding, to add some diversity to the gene pool. The giraffes are surprisingly comfortable with the truckloads of camera-toting tourists that pass through. Our truck was able to get rather close to them.
There were several mother giraffes in the park with their babies. I found myself wishing that my late college roommate, Tammy Dudley, could be alive to see those with me. She had always loved giraffes, and owned a collection of over 100 giraffe figurines.
Many of the giraffes stayed together in a herd as they moved through the trees, snacking on the leaves.
There are a variety of species of gazelles in Bandia Reserve. We didn’t get close enough for me to snap good photos of all of them, but here are the ones I was able to capture.
There are a few small monkeys living inside of Bandia. I only saw this one.
We saw a group of about 3 ostriches near the herd of giraffes.
It was surprising to see how close these zebras allowed our truck to get to them.
When Bandia Reserve first started 20 years ago, a pair of white rhinocerous (one male, one female) were brought in from elsewhere in Africa to populate it. However, they never produced any young, so today they remain the only two rhinos in the park. The guides and truck drivers use their mobile phones to keep each other informed of where in the park the rhinos are relaxing on any given day. It took some time for us to find the corner of the park where they were the day we visited.
Bandia Reserve contains many large baobab trees. These and the acacias are both very representative of the African landscape. Near the end of the tour we saw this massive baobab tree. It is estimated to be 1,000 years old.
The insides of baobab trees are hollow, and this one has been used for many years as a graveyard for the griots (storytellers). The tree is known as the tombeau de griots. The griots were the elders of a tribe, the keepers of its oral history. When they died, their bones were carefully placed inside this large baobab tree.
This photo, taken from a bit of a distance, shows the large size of the baobab tree.
At the end of the tour is a restaurant and a gift shop. In the water next to the restaurant lives a family of Nile crocodiles. They were shy the day we visited, but we did manage to catch a glimpse of one.
We visited Senegal in October, which is typically a very hot time of year. The day we visited Bandia Reserve, temperatures hovered around 93 F (34 C). By the end of the trip, we all wanted to take a siesta. Our friend Mario Villalobos decided to go ahead and do so while others shopped or picked up snacks at the restaurant!
All in all, I was very enthusiastic about our visit to Bandia Reserve. I’ve been told by people who went on photo safaris in South Africa and Kenya that Bandia is smaller and less impressive. However, I have never been to these other countries, and Bandia impressed me a great deal! I’m very glad I went. For me, it was well worth the time, money, and effort!
Traveling offers many opportunities to see beautiful sunrises and sunsets. In this blog post, I’d like to share my photos taken in Morocco and Senegal. These are all my original photos, and my property. Please do not steal them.
Sunset in Essaouira, Morocco
Essaouira is a seaside community in Morocco, facing onto the Atlantic Ocean. It offers beautiful views of the ocean, and also of sunsets. I was there for Funoon Dance Camp, which was organized by my friend Nawarra.
Sunrises in Dakar, Senegal
These two photos were both taken at sunrise (approximately 7:30 a.m.) in November, 2017, from the Pullman Hotel in Dakar, Senegal.
I’ve taken so many photos of sunrises and sunsets in Egypt, that I’ve given Egypt its own page. However, I wanted to include at least one photo of Egypt on this page since, after all, Egypt is in Africa! Here’s one I took in 2016, and if you’d like to see more, follow this link to my Egypt page!
A fascinating site to visit in Senegal is Lac Rose, which is French for “Pink Lake”. Its actual name is Lake Retba, but because of its pink color, it picked up the nickname.
Interestingly, this lake doesn’t always look pink. The color depends on variables such as weather conditions, time of year, and the state of the algae that give the lake its pink appearance. Two weeks before I went to Lac Rose with some of my IBM colleagues, a few other people from our group went. They were disappointed because it wasn’t pink the day they saw it. However, lucky for us, it was pink the day we went!
The conditions required to make the pink color include a combination of dry weather, high salt content in the lake (higher concentration than sea water), warm temperatures, and bright light. This is because the lake acquires its pink color from beta carotene manufactured by a type of microalgae called Dunaliella salina, and these weather conditions help the algae to thrive. One of our local friends also told us that the pink color is more apparent when there’s a bit of wind to cause ripples in the lake’s surface. Weather can vary, so that’s why some visitors see the pink color and others do not.
At times, the lake can look orange, again because of the beta carotene. It seemed as though the shallow water near the shore was more likely to look orange, whereas the deeper water out in the lake looked pink.
The day we went, temperatures had recently been in the 90’s (Fahrenheit) or low 30’s (Celsius). There had been several days in a row of bright sunlight, and dry weather. There was a breeze stirring the surface of the water a bit.
As part of IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, we try to arrange at least one “community service” activity. Our local facilitator, Tidiane Gueye, offered us a couple of options, and we decided to do BOTH. The first one that we did was a visit to L’Empire des Enfants.
About L’Empire des Enfants
L’Empire des Enfants is a rehabilitation and transition center in Dakar, Senegal for boys ages 6-14 who have been street children. The primary goal is to reunite these children with their parents, while providing them with a safe place to live until that can happen. There are various reasons these boys end up on the streets. The most common is that a devious adult visits a village and persuades the parents to send their child to the big city of Dakar with him. Sometimes the promise is that the child will be taken to a madrasa (Quranic school) to be educated, other times the promise is that the child will be taught a trade and become wealthy in the big city. Either way, these are lies. Once the child arrives in Dakar, he is sent out on the streets to beg for money. If he fails to bring in enough on a given day, he is beaten.
L’Empire des Enfants accepts children who come to their door 24×7. If the child is a boy in the age groups that L’Empire is equipped to work with, they’ll take him in. If it’s a girl, or if it’s a boy outside their age ranges, they do what they can to find help for the child elsewhere.
At first when children arrive at L’Empire des Enfants, they are suspicious of the adults because of the bad treatment they have already received from adults in their young lives. For that reason, the boys who already live at L’Empire take charge of teaching the newcomers how things work there and how to fit in. By mentoring newcomers, the boys learn how to take on leadership roles, and how to guide other people.
When a child arrives at L’Empire, he receives food, clothing, and shelter. There are certain rules, such as “you must attend the classes”. The boys learn these rules from their peers, and their peers are the ones who urge them to comply.
The boys are taught to read and write (if they don’t already know how). They also attend classes in life skills such as Tae Kwon Do. The aim is to teach them to take care of themselves, so that when they return to their families they can help make a living and help take care of the rest of the family.
Often, boys who come to L’Empire are unwilling at first to provide information about who their parents are, or where they come from. The adults who manage the facility realize that it can take time to build trust, and they exercise the necessary patience. Eventually, when a child is willing to open up, they’ll work with him to learn who his family is. They try to discern through the interviews whether returning to the family would be a safe thing for the boy to do. They won’t knowingly send him back to a situation where he’d be abused.
About 90% of the boys are eventually reunited with their families. Very few of those return to the streets or to L’Empire des Enfants. If they do return, L’Empire recognizes that it may have missed something important about their home situation in the interview process, and will allow them to stay.
L’Empire can accommodate up to 60 boys. The day we visited, there were about 30. It changes from day to day. They hope to build a new, larger facility in the not-so-distant future that will allow them to help more children, including girls.
About Our Visit
The primary purpose of our visit was to provide the boys with exposure to foreigners. There were 14 of us representing 7 different countries – Brazil, Mexico, India, Japan, China, the U.S., and Canada. My colleague Gopal from India brought his guitar, and my colleague Marcel from Brazil brought his soccer ball.
Tidiane timed our visit to have us arrive in the afternoon at the time the children were praying, so we could see them do that. Afterward, it was time to eat, and we were served supper after the children received theirs. We ate the same thing as the children, and it was a nutritious meal. We provided the funding for the meal – not only for what we ourselves ate, but also for the children’s food. While the children ate, the director gave us a talk about the facility and the work they do there.
After that, it was time for us to interact with the children. Our Brazilian and Mexican team members, Mauricio, Mario, and Marcel, organized a football (soccer) game.
After that, Gopal played some Bollywood songs that involved yodeling – I had no idea that there was an Indian artist who yodeled! While he played, some members of our group encouraged the children to start dancing. There was much laughter and smiles all around. We had an opportunity to tour the place and see the classrooms.
After a couple of hours, it was time for us to head out. Those who wished to donate additional funds to the operation beyond what we had given for the meal gave them to Tidiane, who consolidated all the donations and give the lump sum to L’Empire’s director.
I was glad to see the work that L’Empire was doing to offer boys hope for a better life, and I hope they’ll achieve their dream of building a new, bigger place that can help more children.
One of the more spectacular landmarks in Dakar, Senegal is the African Renaissance Monument, known in French as Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine. It shows a man, woman, and child emerging from a volcano. It sits high on a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. At 160 feet (45 meters) tall, it’s the tallest statue in Africa, making it taller than the Statue of Liberty.
At the time this status was unveiled in 2010, marking 50 years of independence from France, Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade said, “It brings to life our common destiny. Africa has arrived in the 21st century standing tall and more ready than ever to take its destiny into its hands”. The event featured hundreds of drummers and dancers. I would have loved to have seen that!
Many people in Senegal were not supportive of the statue, criticizing it for various reasons. For example:
Local Senegalese artists criticized the fact that the contract to design it was awarded to a Romanian architect and the contract to build it was awarded to a North Korean company. Why not use local talent?
Some have pointed out that the facial features don’t look particularly African.
It cost $27 million dollars, which was a big concern in a country where many live below the poverty line.
The skimpy clothing of the family does not represent the more modest preferences of the country’s Muslim majority. (95% of Senegalese people are Muslim.)
We had a chance to see this statue up close during our city tour on October 7, 2017, which is when I took this photo. At night, lighting effects give it a beautiful glow.
It’s possible to pay an entrance fee and go inside it. I did not do this during my visit. There are stairs you can take to the top, and look out of windows in the man’s crown.
Many people have asked me questions about my trip to Senegal – why I went, what I did there, etc. Here are my answers to those frequently-asked questions!
I work for IBM, which sponsors a program called the Corporate Service Corps (CSC). It’s a corporate responsibility initiative, in which IBM sends teams of its employees on 4-week assignments to perform pro bono (no-charge) consulting engagements. Every spring, IBM invites its employees to submit applications to be part of such a team. Those chosen take a 4-week hiatus from their “real” jobs to do one of these assignments. Upon completion of the assignment, we return to our normal jobs.
Q: How many people are chosen to participate in CSC?
A: Each year, about 5,000 people apply, and about 1,500 are selected. Each year IBM deploys a total of about 100 teams, each consisting of 12-15 people. I applied in May 2016, and received my acceptance notice in July 2016. However, I did not actually get assigned to a team until October 2017. So there can be a lag between acceptance and deployment.
Q: How does IBM decide whom to accept?
A: There are several criteria. Our managers need to write a recommendation saying they support our candidacy and are willing to let us be away from our jobs for 4 weeks. We need to show a history of favorable performance evaluations. We need to have been employed by IBM at least 2 years. The application process requires us to respond to several essay questions. Our volunteerism in our local communities is also considered. IBM welcomes applications from all over the world, but all participants must be fluent enough with English to use it in performing the assignment.
Q: Did your husband go with you?
A: No, this is not a vacation. It is a business trip. We are expected to leave our families at home, to avoid being distracted by their presence.
Of course, if we use vacation time at the end of our engagement to do some touring, the families could come for that. But during the 4-week assignment, IBM expects us to stay focused on completing our assigned projects.
Q: How many people did IBM send to Senegal?
A: I was part of a team of 14 IBM employees, from 7 different countries. Our group included people from Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Japan, China, India, and the U.S. We were the 4th team to be assigned to an engagement in Senegal; others had been there in previous years.
Q: Where is Senegal?
A: Senegal lies at the westernmost tip of Africa. See the map at the top of this page. I went to its capital city of Dakar.
Q: What did you do there?
A: We were divided into 4 smaller sub-teams. Two of those consisted of three people each, and the other two consisted of 4 people each. Each of us was assigned our own project. In addition, we were encouraged to assist each other with advice/input as needed. Our groups’ assignments included:
A non-governmental organization called African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) that was looking for technology solutions to use in training midwives.
A non-governmental organization called Plan International which was seeking assistance in using technology to help youth groups throughout the country share ideas, best practices, and schedules with one another.
Centre de Suivi Ecologique (CSE), which was needing assistance with collecting environmental data from many diverse sources and gathering it all into a format that could be used for analysis.
A team that worked with a Senegal government agency to help with a project to build a technology park. This is the team I was assigned to.
Q: How did you know what to do when you got there?
A: For each country where CSC is doing a project, IBM works with a non-governmental organization to identify appropriate clients for our team to work with, and to coordinate all the logistics. The one that our team worked with in Senegal was PYXERA Global. I found the PYXERA team to be very professional, a real pleasure to work with.
Each of our four sub-groups was given a draft statement of work a week or so before we left our home countries. Then, once we arrived in Senegal, we worked with our local sponsoring organizations to interview stakeholders, refine our understanding of the needs, and revise the document to create a final version that both parties agreed on. We then spent the balance of our engagements doing the work. We often worked evenings and weekends. With only 4 weeks to complete a project, it was important to stay focused.
Q: Where Can I Learn More About IBM’s Corporate Service Corps?
A: Here are some interesting links with more information:
The Mosque of Divinity is a beautiful structure located in Dakar, Senegal. Its members personally built it, entirely on a volunteer work. No money was paid to anybody involved in constructing it. All work was done by hand, without the help of cranes or other construction equipment. The project took 5 1/2 years to complete, from Spring of 1992 to October of 1997.
We visited it because Tidiane Gueye, our local contact for our stay in Senegal, was a member of the mosque and wanted to share this part of his life with us. It was a landmark near our hotel, which we drove past every day, and it was great to learn something of the history, as well as feel the personal connection to it.
The day I visited this mosque, October 7, the congregation was gearing up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of completing construction. The women had set up a fire with a cooking kettle to cook the meal they intended to serve for the celebration.
Behind the Mosque of Divinity is a beach that lies on the Atlantic Ocean. There are fishing boats parked along this beach, that people take out on the water to fish.
This beach is also a place where young people enjoy playing football (soccer).
I felt so inspired, visiting the Mosque of Divinity, because it clearly was a place created from the love that the members of the community feel for not only their faith, but also their relationship with each other.
On my way home from Morocco, the airline itinerary required me to spend an overnight layover in Lisbon, Portugal. At first, I was frustrated at having to pay for a hotel and have the journey home take so much longer. But then I started thinking about it, and started to view it as a fun opportunity to explore a city I had never been to before.
The day I departed Marrakech for Lisbon got off to a rather painful start, with 2 hours of standing in lines at the Marrakech airport. The line to check in for the flight, the line to go through passport control, and the line to go through security all added up to that. My back was really hurting from all that standing. It was a relief to collapse into my seat once I boarded the plane.
Upon arrival at the Lisbon airport, there was another hour of standing in line, thanks to passport control and the taxi stand.
When I reached my prepaid hotel, the reception agent told me that plumbing issues had flooded several rooms at the hotel, and therefore they were not able to assign me a room. They had re-booked me into another hotel, at no cost to me, and they provided me with transportation to the new hotel.
There were check-in delays at the replacement hotel while the front desk staff tried to tell me to go back to the original one. Eventually, the manager appeared, acknowledged that they had agreed to host me, and all was solved. However, in the process, I endured another 30 minutes of standing around hotel check-in desks.
By the time all this was resolved, I was exhausted. My back was really hurting, and I was tired. It was only 2:00 in the afternoon, but the only thing I wanted to do was sleep. A voice in my head said I “should” go out and explore Lisbon, because who knows, I might never again have such an opportunity. A different voice in my head responded that sightseeing is supposed to be fun, and in this case I was in too much physical pain to enjoy it.
I knew I had a 23-hour trek home the next day, crossing an ocean and half a continent, with more grueling hours standing in line at airports, so why not take advantage of a nice hotel room to get some much-needed rest? And that’s what I did. I closed the curtains, and crawled into bed. When I woke up 2 hours later feeling better, I knew I’d made the right decision.
I walked across the street to have dinner at a nearby restaurant. I ordered a sea bass entree, which sounded very appealing. I was a bit dismayed when it showed up with the head still on it. But it smelled delicious, so I tried not to think too much about the head and proceeded to eat the fish, leaving the head behind. It was a simple meal, which is what I needed at the time, and tasty.
After dinner, I returned to my room, did some reading, and reorganized my packing for the next day’s flight home. I made it to bed early, and slept well. Very well.
So, I have been “in” Lisbon, but all I saw was the inside of the airport, two hotels, a restaurant, and the view out of a car window going between these places. But… I started my 23-hour trip the next day feeling reasonably well rested and pain-free. For me, it was worth the tradeoff.
Sometimes, when traveling, self-care is more important than sightseeing.