food in Sénégal

What’s cooking in Senegal?

Indeeki (read in-deeh-ki – meaning breakfast): the locals eat “fonde” (fon-deh) which is millet porridge with sour milk. But I usually eat baguette bread spread with imported margarine and local (unfiltered) honey. There is an excellent local peanut butter producers’ coop in Wack N’gouna, but since peanut and I don’t agree well together (regarding diet compatibility), I keep my bread peanut-free.

An (an-nyuh – lunch): we usually have large portions of rice (seasoned with lots of oil and spices) and fish (mackerel, sea bass, small freshwater fish, etc. – they come fresh, dried, or smoked). The dish comes with some vegetable (a piece of bitter tomato, red pepper, eggplant, cassava, carrot, onion, okra, radish) – all thrown into a big plate-bowl.
This dish is the quintessential “Tiep bou diene” (Jjiep-bu-jen – rice with fish) and we eat it almost every lunch. I eat at my host family, and since I don’t eat meat, fish became my primary source of protein these days. However, unfortunately, I can’t have too much fish either (again with my diet system), which make my daily protein intake quite low.

Reer (reh-err – supper): A smaller portion of rice or pasta with sauce (different kinds of sauce with mango, sorrel, peanut, tomato, or onion), a piece of meat or fish, and some lettuce salad if available. I asked my host mother and sister to cook beans for me, and sometimes I get a plate full of beans for supper.

Personally, I have no problem adjusting to local food – except meat and some ingredients that I try not to overeat (like those that don’t agree with my digestion system). What I find plenty in my diet: loads of sugar (in tea and local juice), carbohydrate (rice, bread and pasta), and oil. What I find lacking in my diet: fresh dairy product, fruits and veggies, and decent dessert. Better find a happy medium.


Pic. 1. Tiep bu yappa (rice with meat)
Lunch 4
Pic. 2. Rice with tomato & peanut sauce
Lunch 1
Lunch 3
Pic. 3. & Pic. 4. Bon appétit, c’est domoda.

Garab yi (Trees) – Pt. 1 & 2

Part I – Considering myself a tree hugger, I thought I knew a thing or two about the importance of trees.

However, as I am learning more about the local context, their importance has never been so dear and real.

The word Garab (tree in Wolof) is synonymous with medicine in the local language. The shade provides protection against the scorching sun (a true oasis during the day). The leaves and branches are the most important sources of natural fertiliser and building materials. People, soil, animals, plants, insects, microbes, fungi, air, water, minerals – everything in nature is connected and related to trees.

big tree

Pic. 1. Big Hug in Keur Ndiaga Peuhl (project village)

Part II – Silk cotton tree
Silk cotton tree is one of the landmark trees in the area.

They grow large and mature – expanding their trunks in width and girth. At the touch, the bark looks and feels smooth like elephant skin (what ? you haven’t touched one yet?! well, use your imagination ;-). However, my local language (Wolof) teacher, Baboucarr tells me that monkeys dare not climb this tree – except if its life is in grave threat. Why? I wondered. The tree is smooth but looks easy enough to climb for monkeys. Finding a younger silk cotton tree, I realise why. It’s full of thorns!!! The younger tree is full of thorns and untouchable, but as it ages, it loses its spines and develops smooth (like silk cotton) bark. What an amazing transformation.


silk cotton tree_1
Pic. 2. A mature silk cotton tree
silk cotton tree_3
Pic. 3. A silk cotton tree mask?
silk cotton tree_4
Pic. 4. A younger silk cotton tree (spiny trunk and branches)

Ibrahima Haliloulay Dia

Ibrahima Haliloulay Dia – this is my local name.

Ibrahima or Ibou (pronounced ee-boo) for short is the first name. Ibrahima is same as Abraham the Patriarch of the People and the Prophets.

Haliloulay is middle name (or full version of Ibrahima), and it means “ami de Dieu” ou “une plume de Dieu“. A friend of God, God’s pen (like in It is Written). I love it.

Dia is the last name and is pronounced Jah. Dia belongs to the ethnic group Peuhl who are known as nomads and livestock rearer. I was baptised by a local teacher and organic farmer named Moussa “professeur” Dia (hence my last name). He was visiting a friend who lived in my compound in Wack Ngouna the day I first arrived, and after our greeting, he decided that my original name would be too difficult for the locals and gave me the name Dia. As for my first name, I chose it myself – Ibou. My first night in Dakar, the hotel clerk who helped me was named Ibou, and I liked the sound of it.

Salaamaleekum, Ibou Dia laa tudda” (Peace be with you, my name is Ibou Dia)!

mosque_nioro du rip 1
Pic. 1. Mosque at Nioro du Rip
mosque_nioro du rip 2
Pic. 2. Actually didn’t go in…
friday attire_1
Pic. 3. Friday prayer day attire – now going to the mosque!

Attaya Culture

Attaya is the local tea that everyone drinks throughout the day and night.

It is similar to “Moroccan tea” – green tea, mint and sugar (lots more than our daily recommendation). The making of attaya is fun to watch. The tea is poured in and out from one glass to another, making thick layers of foam and bubbles. It is laborious, and it takes time to make, but one glass of attaya may contain more punch than your double espresso: a full cup of sugar and chok-full of tea leaves in a small kettle makes this brew so strong and sweet that you won’t ask for a second. But, often we are offered up to three rounds of attaya. Too sweet for my blood.

Here, a variation of attaya made with milk concentrate is shown. In the picture, the tea maker is Solou – the facility guardian at AVISU, our Gambian partner NGO – in action. Tea time!

Pic. 1. Attaya kettle
Pic. 2. Ingredients – milk concentrate, China green tea, sugar and vanilla sugar
Pic. 3. Heating with charcoal (fan fan fan)
Pic. 4. Fresh (or dried) mint is added if available
Pic. 6. Pouring begins…
Pic. 7. Wash the cups
Pic. 8. Et voilà, Attaya is served!
Pic. 9. & 10. Other kinds of Attaya – regular and with bissap (Hibiscus flower)

I am in Wack Ngouna, Senegal.

Wack Ngouna (pronounced wak-in-goona) is over 300 km southeast of Dakar, the capital city of Senegal.

A medium size town with over 300 households (each household may have over ten people living on average), it is home to CLCOP (Cadre Local de Concertation des Organisations de Producteurs), our local partner community organisation. It is in the central, Saloum region, also known as the Peanut Basin – sandwiched between the Sudano-Sahelian and Guinean Rainforest climate (fancy way to say that we have a dry and a rainy season).

We are currently in dry season, and everything is burning hot under the scorching sun and the Harmattan wind. The animals are out free ranging – scavenging anything they can to survive. The streets are uncared for and littered with dungs and plastics all over the place.

The most (in)visible sign of landscape is the lack of trees. Deforestation is a concern in the region since firewood is still extensively used for cooking. One of our work mandates is to help reduce fuelwood consumption and improve household energy security in the region. We have introduced two energy-efficient cookstoves (a metal cookstove and a clay-brick stove) combined with community agro-forestry strategies as part of the ongoing efforts to slow down (and hopefully reverse) deforestation. We try, Inshallah!

wack ngouna
Pic. 1. Bienvenu à Wack Ngouna
Wack ngouna_village 1
Pic. 2. Wack Ngouna (household compounds)
Cows and baobab
Pic. 3. Cow herd and baobab trees
Pic. 4. Sunset (at 7:12 pm)
Full moon and baobab
Pic. 5. My first full moon in Senegal and the baobab tree

Agro-ecological development in Sénégal and the Gambia

After an eventful summer of cheese making in the B.C., I came back to Montréal. Not knowing where to put my busy mind and hands and feet next, I browsed through job searching websites and stumbled upon an exciting job title “agro-ecological development internship in West Africa”. The terms used in this title seemed to contradict at first, (in my mind) “agro-ecological development sounds like a mighty (difficult) job, and it’s up to an intern to do this?” Well, if it’s impossible, at least a stubbornly-optimistic-fella like me may be a good fit for this task. So I applied.

Resource Efficient Agricultural Production Canada (REAP-Canada) is an independent, non-profit organization that has been working since 1986 with farmers, scientists, and the private sector to improve the sustainability of farming systems and develop ecological ways of producing food, fibre and fuel from farms both in Canada and abroad. Currently, REAP Canada is running a four-year Agro-Ecological Village (AEV) project in Sénégal and the Gambia.

Specifically, I will be working with Le Cadre Local de Concertation des Organisations Producteurs (CLCLOP) – a regional group of farmers’ coop and associations – in Wack N’gouna, Senegal. CLCOP serves over 300 economic interest groups – or in French, le groupement des intérêts économiques (GIE) – in the region and among which, five beneficiary villages are selected to participate in the AEV project. They are: 1) Keur Ndiaga Peuhl, 2) Keur Seydou Hann, 3) Wack Mbathio, 4) Mbayenne, and 5) Nguyenne Djim. All five villages combined, the project will cover over 290 households.

My job is to help and support local partner’s activities – from improved seed procurement and distribution scheme to compost making, to fruit and nut tree nursery preparation and vegetable gardening, to training local staff in computer literacy and conducting a socio-economic survey. In short, I didn’t have any specific work plan to begin with, but things I had to do started to resemble my vaguely all-encompassing work title: agro-ecological development!

development perspective

Pic. 1. A question of development perspective – what do you see in this picture?

A) An unruly traffic violation

B) An insurance nightmare

C) A case of profit maximisation

D) Room for one more jerry can

A year after

Wawawa, it’s been over a year since I last posted an update.

Lots have happened since then. Soon after coming back from Rwanda, I prepared a conference proceeding and presentation for the 4th International Scientific Research Conference at the National University of Rwanda. I also presented my findings in front of my colleagues and researchers at IDRC which was very exciting. Finally, I completed a peer-review-ready manuscript and submitted just after I finished my work term at IDRC in January 2012. What a year of research immersion that was. It was intense and overly demanding at times, but I survived and more so, found myself enjoying this work.

Compare to 2011 my 2012 post-IDRC was quite unconventional. I worked as a sushi kitchen helper, and then went on to live in a rural town learning traditional cheesemaking and dairy farm work. After an intense summer of cheesemaking, I travelled the Great North of B.C. and passed through a bit of Yukon and Alaska. Between all these disparate dots of experiences, I moved five times excluding my trips  (from Ottawa to Montreal to Vancouver to Agassiz (x2) and back to Montreal). Naturally, I had to reduce the number of my possessions (travellers’ golden rule #1: travel light) significantly and to make the most of what I have. By practice and belief of ‘simplicité volontaire‘, I have become materially simple. Not knowing exactly where my next home will be, I will let the wind take me there – like a kite in the wind.

kite in the field

kite – mount Cheam – corn field

Goodbye Kibungo…for now!

August 31, 2011 – It’s been almost a month since I left Kibungo. But I still feel ‘homesick’ sometimes – from sweet sugar-loaded African tea to star-filled night strolls (gutembere), I find myself drifting in thoughts of good memories.

Well, coming back to reality, I realise how amazing it is to learn and work in another part of the world. Knowing the local challenges and issues, I understand that we all live for one similar purpose: to live fully and abundantly.

Will I go back again? YES, indeed I will. In fact, I am hoping to go back at the end of this year to present my findings in Rwanda. It will be so rewarding to go back and share the results with the local people who were involved in our research (veterinarians, agriculture agents, the District Vice-mayor, local farmers, and government officials). Now is my turn to give back.

Picture: Here is one of my many departure gifts that I got from my teammates. The wooden frame reads – Dream Team – and it’s got a beautifully painted heifer! I proudly hung this on my kitchen wall where I relive my dream team that came true.

O~Mon Dieu! – Pt.2

August 3, 2011 – This morning, I took an early-bird bus (at 6 AM) to Kigali. It was my presentation meeting at the Ministry of Agriculture. I was to give a presentation of my research findings to the director of Girinka programme and her consultants (the colleagues at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research in Rwanda & International Growth Centre).

In the bus, many thoughts and early memories (especially of my first couple of weeks of fieldwork) flooded my half-asleep mind. I encountered many ups and downs (literally a thousand research hills). Personally, the most significant reward of all is to be able to share the findings with the key people involved in this programme. You may think: duh, wasn’t that the “point” of the research?! Yes, true. The purpose of the study was to investigate, analyse the collected data and share (disseminate) the learned lessons. But often, research findings may not reach the targeted audience. So, having the opportunity to give back the preliminary results to the key stakeholders and hear their feedback is ideal. To that, I exclaim one more time, O~Mon Dieu!

With this presentation, I can safely say that my mission in Rwanda is complete. Of course, this doesn’t mean “the end”, but it’s more like “Hasta la vista baby”: I will be working on the full data analysis, report writing, and will have to prepare other conference presentations once I get back to Canada. Until then, I listen to one of my favourite songs and celebrate in motion – Look who’s dancing by Ziggy Marley.



Research in motion

If I can illustrate my typical fieldwork day, this is how it would look like!