Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Sometimes, tough choices do not need to be made, as I learned during this past holiday season in Senegal.  Should I have a party for my family again, or go see a rap super group?  Should I serve cookies or brownies?  Should I cook on Christmas, or be served by a lovely Vietnamese woman endorsed by the ambassadors of numerous countries?  Should I sit, or should I dance?  Should I watch a movie about meth, or a comedy?  The answer is yes, to everything.  Christmas 2012: A case study in having your cake and eating it too.

I decided to hold my second annual holiday party for my host family, though to be honest, they seemed pretty ambivalent.  Even Bigue, who delighted in last year’s festivities, proved that Christmas at five years old is different than four.  Last year she was all about hot chocolate and snowflakes.  This year, she just kept yelling, “PERE NOEL BETTER BRING ME SOMETHING GOOD!”  For the record, he did: she ended up with a geo-safari-esque computer learning game.  And for the record, I was not Pere Noel. 

The snowflakes are still hung on random trees around our compound, YES.

Luckily for my family, their lack of enthusiasm did not deter me.  I made sugar cookies in weird shapes traced with cardboard, whipped up colored frosting, sewed a tree made of scrap fabric, made new stockings for the new family members, popped two bags of popcorn, set up supplies for snowflake making, and invited all the girls from my health club to the party.  My underlying message was YOU WILL TAKE THIS HOLIDAY AND YOU WILL LOVE IT.  The party seemed moderately successful, buoyed by the fact that host mom happened to be out of town, which made it an unsupervised party.  I mean, Joyce and I were there, and I guess we’re adults.  But not real adults.  Not sassy, angry Senegalese adults.  So the kids all really cut loose and I think they had a good time.  Christmas Step 1: NICE.

Festive treats!


Later that night, I headed out to a Daara J concert.  Daara J is Senegal’s rap super group, and I had VIP tickets!  But first, someone had to try to mug me again.  Yes.  I appear vulnerable and easily defeated.  As Joyce and I rode our bikes down the street at 7:30pm, someone jumped out of the bushes and tried to rip my bag off my bike.  It was terrifying.  I imagine it’s very similar to hitting a deer with your car, only the deer jumps in your car tries to rip off your head.  Luckily, I just kept peddling, and the $1 purse I bought at the market refused to break.  A Christmas miracle!  I went to the concert and all was well.  Christmas Step 2: SUCCESS.

The next day, I headed up to St. Louis, one of my favorite cities, to spend Christmas with some of my favorite people.  I rented a house with a few other volunteers, and we decorated with tinsel, stockings, tiny trees, and presents wrapped in plastic bags.  One of my housemates was a Christmas Eve baby, so we all went out to celebrate her birthday in addition to that of our Lord and Savior.  At one point, we ended up at the fateful dance club which has thrown me to the curb one too many times for always dancing and never buying anything.  I just wanna dance!  This time, I came in and danced, and they let me, and they let all of us!  Christmas Step 3: Dancing.  Check.

A Sorority House Christmas

On Christmas Eve, a local restaurant was kind enough to host our big Peace Corps group and home-cooked dinner.  My house didn’t have a kitchen, but we did our best to cook mashed potatoes, mulled wine, and mix up a salad with one pot and one gas tank while jamming out to Christmas music. 
We also had no spoons, which meant we had to stir and taste-test our food with daggers.

As a whole group, we managed to deliver an amazing meal of meat, pasta, seafood, bean dips, charcuterie, cheese, tapas, and desserts along with our house’s contributions.  It was a thoroughly delicious Christmas meal, and definitely the best Christmas dinner that could be made in Senegal.  On Christmas Day itself, I watched Winter’s Bone (my friends thought the title made it sound holiday-esque... no, unless holidays are a time to appreciate not being addicted to meth) and Moonrise Kingdom.  We also went to a rooftop, ocean-view liquor tasting and then ate at one of my favorite restaurants in country, Restaurant Saigon.  Coconut Chicken Curry and Pho: the Christmas dinner of champions!  We also finally exchanged white elephant gifts, and I ended up with a sassy pair of culotte pants and a book about a girl raised by hippies in an Indian ashram.   Step 4: everything else, done.

And New Year’s?  My friend Nicky’s family was visiting, and a few of us joined them in a lovely beach house.  We cooked a lot of pasta, braved freezing water, danced on a makeshift sand stage, and ducked behind wooden boats as a nearby hotel accidentally shot fireworks at us while blasting an Ultimate ABBA disco remix.  I also got into a fight with a small child over a party hat.  At 11:50pm, we went on a photo binge to document every last drop out of 2012.  

Hats provided by Nicky's family.

It was my second holiday season away from home, and while it was hard, I feel like I figured out how to do things a lot better this time around.  Lots of phone calls, lots of baked goods, and making sure a few well-worn traditions happened – my keys to a good holiday.  But ultimately, I look forward to next year, when I’ll hopefully be back doing the usual – holiday parties, a ridiculously decorated and electrifying tree, driving to light festivals, Christkindlmarkt, Christmas Eve with the family, morning with mom and my sister, Christmas Day movie with the sisters, Maggie’s birthday, and watching strangers fall into trash cans as we all sing “The World’s Greatest” at a house party in Chicago.  2013 is going to be bomb.


  1. Hi Lisa! I posted a comment to your blog awhile back.... anywho, as the time draws closer for me to make my way to Senegal, was wondering if we might correspond my email in terms of any questions I may have, words of advice, etc...? Thanks! BTW, that fabric tree is awesome! May have to steal that idea!:)

  2. Definitely! Feel free to email me: lisa.floran@gmail.com, look forward to hearing from you!