Face to face #aupair #interview

A few good days have passed without a significant panic attack. I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Help is on the way. The future looks bright again. I can dream and plan. Having fun again and looking forward to new adventures. My loyal Wizard of Oz pops in regularly to greet me.

“Good morning. Buenos dias,” I smile at him sitting in the passenger’s seat of my chocolate brown Mercedes C-class. I have dropped my little darlings off for school and am on my way commuting to Brussels. The Wizard has made himself comfortable on his pink fluffy cloud in the seat next to me. His eyes seem to light up in the dark. Very intriguing. “I spoke to 2 au-pair candidates from South Africa yesterday. Both very sweet girls. I would really like to go ahead with an au-pair. The second girl seemed slightly more experienced. Has already looked after kids and has driving license since 2 years. The first girl was more sweet but is trying to get her license this month. Neither of them can ride a bike.”

“No too dangerous to ride a bike,” the Wizard nods at me. He is a man who has seen the world. He understands what makes a person’s heart beat, and how to motivate any living soul on this planet.

“I understood that,” I tell him thoughtfully. “Funny how we take our freedom and safety for granted. They can’t roller-skate either. But really sweet girls. Are they ready to take on my bunch though? And be independent? They seem to have grown up so protected. Would it be OK to take a decision on this? I would go for the second girl.”

“Yes you ask the agent for a guarantee,” the Wizard tells me with the same confidence as if he does this every year. “The second one has no driving experience. Is that safe? You will need to teach her and keep her distances short and in the village.”

“The first one doesn’t have her license yet but going for her test this month,” I point out again that the second candidate ranked slightly higher in terms of skills and experience. “I also prefer the second one with driving experience.”

“No driving to big cities until she has some experience on the highway,” the Wizard warns me. “Plus don’t forget to explain the rule of ‘the right has right of way’.”

“I will,” I tell him thinking how hard it will be to explain all the silly rules which apply only in this little frog kingdom of Belgium. “How exciting!”

“Ah ok,” the Wizard sounds content. “That’s better.”

“They both are very family oriented,” I go on chattering gaily to him. “It seems they want to do everything with me and the kids. Or will that pass?”

“Yes and she can go on adventures with you too,” the Wizard smiles at me as if he already knows that good things are about to happen.

“Yes she did ask about my travel plans,” I muse as it triggered a sense of disappointment in me. Disappointment in myself. For the first time in a very long period I have no plans, no travel itinerary or bucket list. I have been waiting for Godot.

“No they are supposed to go to language school and go where you go,” the Wizard sounds amused. “Not to work of course but in weekend excursions and trips to Paris and Amsterdam and stuff. Day trips or holidays or weekend trips. For the rest they take care of the kids.”

“They haven’t seen much of the world,” I am still in deep thoughts wondering where I want to take my brood next. “Wonderful.”

“They have seen nothing,” the Wizard confirms once more. “This is for them an opportunity to see something. Maybe find a husband and stay. Are they white or black?”

“She was also asking about cleaning and washing,” I tell him with certain pride. What a nice girl to ask about additional chores! “I told her it would be nice if she helped with washing and ironing, but that I have a cleaner.” Then I throw a quick grin sideways: “Both white. Such sweet girls.”

“Oh cool. That’s good,” the Wizard blinks once. “Everything to do with kids she does including cooking, ironing, washing and bath. Maybe homework and definitely play time.”

“Yes,” I cheer with the happy prospect that somebody will come and help me do this wonderful adventure with my littles.

“Company for you too,” the Wizard whispers softly.

“I know,” I continue smiling all the way to Brussels. “I thought of that. No more being lonely. What should I work on? You know I am strange…” I trail off. “What should I pay attention to?”

“Like what?” the Wizard pretends he doesn’t understand what I mean.

“Like smile more, talk gently,” I am unfortunately still questioning and doubting myself. “Ah ok yes.”

“Discipline and safety for your kids,” the Wizard attempts to set me straight. I should focus on the au-pair performing well with the most valuable thing in my life: my children. “Teach her Google Analytics,” the Wizard offers up another great idea.

“Oh exciting,” I just can’t stop smiling. My good mood this morning is palpable. And such a refreshing change with the preceding days. “I will see about the Google stuff, but would be good.”

“Use her but make it fun for her and allow free time,” the Wizard is spelling it all out for me. Which is just as good. Never a great idea to make assumptions that the other knows.

“I am really happy about this,” I confirm. “Of course.”

“Yes,” the Wizard beams my good vibes right back at me. “Best thing for you.”

“What should I encourage her to do in her free time?” I want to know. I am hoping my au-pair will be happy and thrive in our little family.

“Find a hobby,” the Wizard suggests. “Go out. Introduce her to the White Rabbit. She has lots of single men friends.”

“I will introduce her to the White Rabbit,” I nod as I think this is a splendid idea. “She is lovely too.”

“They can take her out on weekends when you are with Wim,” the Wizard can see it all happening quite nicely.

“Oh yes,” I have been smiling for the past half hour now and must resemble some kind of idiot by now.

“Don’t tell the Queen of Hearts,” the Wizard suddenly pipes up in an urgent tone.

“Ah?” the sound comes straight from my gut. “I don’t talk to the Queen of Hearts anymore.”

“Good,” the Wizard sighs.

“But why not?” I enquire. It hadn’t crossed my mind to mention anything to the Queen of Hearts until the Wizard brought it up.

“Because she is in a dark place at the moment and will use you to feel important by making you scared,” the Wizard points out. “I have to run. See you later.”

“Oh no more of that,” I agree that the Wizard might be right on that count. The Queen of Hearts does have a tendency to run with my paranoia. “Thank you. Have a wonderful day.”

“You too,” he waves after me as he drifts slowly out of the car window.


* Disclaimer : Any resemblance between the fictional characters in this story and any persons, living or dead, is a miracle by chance more than by choice.



Feeling like cowboys in Senegal #travelwithkids

We woke up on our fifth morning under the African sun of Senegal, feeling totally relaxed and ready for another day of adventures. It was going to be a lazy day today and we were really looking forward to that. We also still had the spider in the toilet problem, so we hurried to get ready and headed for the restaurant toilets to place a number two. There is only a limit to what you can help yourself with by using the shower instead of the toilet.


After breakfast and a leisurely swim in the pool, we headed off to the local town for some shopping. Now brace yourselves, ladies. The shopping street is nothing to what we are used to. There are fresh fruits and vegetable stores. Also stands selling clothes donated by people from Europe. Yes, selling those clothes which you put in the dumpster. Anyway… It is also possible to be checking out a store but having nobody there tending to the store. Just come back later. We trust you won’t steal anything.


Anyway, all good fun because the main aim of today’s shopping was to find material and fabric to have dresses made. Each purchase is also a skill of tried and tested negotiation. Luckily our travel guides could drive a hard deal and get us the best price.

Having your clothes tailor made in Africa is really a fresh take on holiday dressing. If you’d rather not spend another holiday season turning to the same obvious pieces buried deep in your closet, then carefully choosing your fabric and describing exactly what you want definitely beats the trusted, overdone little black dress. I was surprised how this small tailor business managed to deliver a suitable party-ready alternative outfit for me and my children, plus the other children of our party by the very next day. Outfits that feel fresh yet aren’t completely over the top!


After shopping, we headed to a little café down by the river where we got some refreshments and enjoyed an aperitif before having lunch. Our guide took the baby off to wash his feet in the water, allowing me a few minutes of down time to relax with my gin & tonic and exchange some adult talk with my fellow travellers.


We had lunch with a local family which is a brilliant way to jump-start any kid’s imagination. This family also lived down by the river, in a community of several families together, reigned by the big old mama of the clan. Us women were required to go into the kitchen, which was nothing but a square room in a cement concrete building, no glass in the windows. Yet there was electricity wiring across the wall connecting to a very modern looking refrigerator. We later learned that this clan was family of the wife of the owner of our charm hotel, the Souimanga Lodge. Makes sense.


We wore a sarong wrap and dished up rice, then covered this with sauce and watched how big, old mama wisely distributed the chicken meat evenly between the seven large silver platters. Then we carried out the platters balanced on our heads, whilst the men were relaxing down by the river and the children were playing. The baby had immediately been adopted in the black community. I had my duties to see to and the baby was being fully entertained with all the other tiny littles.


We ate with our hands. Our right hand, to be exact. Before sitting down to eat, two buckets were brought out. One with soapy water and one with just clear water. After each washing our hands, we sat down and ate. You were supposed to squish the food together into a ball and then pop it into your mouth. After dinner, hands were washed again in the same buckets of water as before dinner.


Then there was the after dinner party dancing. If you’re wondering why you can’t see my eldest son in these pictures, it’s probably because he was hiding behind a tree. He really didn’t want to participate in the dancing. We all joined in of course, but with our typical European reserve. Never would we dream of letting ourselves go and dance like true African queens. But such fun to see how free those people express themselves. I’m slightly jealous not to have the same enthusiasm and not give a flying fudge what people might think.

After lunch, we headed back to our Lodge for some down time by the pool. By now I was sick and tired of having a gigantic spider in my toilet, so I complained again to our travel guides and shoved a picture of the big beast under their nose. So two of them came to get the animal. I repeat, it took two men to come and get the damn thing. They were also intrigued to know where we went to toilet if we were refusing to enter the toilet in our room. My eldest son Winston told them with certain reserve: “We go somewhere else.” That was that, our honour was saved.


So two of our travel guides entered the toilet. One armed with two cans of insect killing spray and one armed with a broom. It took them ten minutes to chase and kill the damn spider. But they finally got it and brushed him carefully outside. I did notice how they didn’t want to pick it up. So I thought smugly to myself I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like spiders. I thanked our guides for their heroic work in saving a single mom and her three littles from such a horrid monster. At which one of the guides looked at me, smiled and said : “Now you can stop using the shower.” We had been outsmarted.


That evening we headed out to yet another remote little village by horse and cart. You have to see the picture of what “horse ‘n cart” actually means in Senegal. It is literally a piece of wood with wheels attached being pulled by a meagre horse.


We arrived in a village where people live in huts, and small houses. Sand roads and basic necessities. We watched how a local show-off climbed up high in a coconut tree and chopped down a bunch of coconuts with his machette. The kids were unhappy because in chopping down those coconuts, a birds nest got thrown out of the coconut tree and little birds were killed in the fall.


By now, I had fallen in love with the warmth, with the friendliness of the people, with the simplicity of life, with no stress and beauty all around. There was no way I wanted to come back to cold gray Europe where deadlines and obligations await each hour of the day. I found this trip to be my golden ticket to opening myself to new horizons and new ways of feeling and thinking. And at the same time I was hoping this experience would entertain and encourage my kids’ future paths.


Loving the opportunities of the easy life #Senegal #Africa

It’s our fourth proper day in Senegal, and I’ll admit we slept badly. Not because of the beautiful lodge, or the comfy beds, nor was there any night noise. No, we slept badly because of my arachnophobia…

You see, I felt a need to go to the toilet at around midnight after I had been playing around on my iPhone. The late hours seemed to be the only time when the wifi worked sort of correctly. Although I had sworn not to work one minute during this vacation, I still wanted to know what was going on. And I was dying to share our beautiful adventures in pictures across my multiple social media channels.

Anyways, I go to the loo and then when I went to flush I noticed this huge thing right next to my hand on the wall. It was a gigantic spider. I mean really big. And it was green and red like. Or that’s what it seemed like at that time. I scooted out of the bathroom and turned to the only man available: my eldest son. Now Winston is 11 and he’s a big boy, bad-ass hockey player. He was going to get this spider for me.

So I woke my poor boy who came into the bathroom and toilet to look at the huge monster mommy had found. And he saw it and thought it was gigantic too. There was no way he was going to come anywhere near it. Let alone kill it. So it was up to me again.

Next tactic was to go into the toilet again, this time armed with a chemical spray which we had in our room to kill all massive insects. I approached the huge massive spider and sprayed it. At which the monster scuttled behind the toilet lid. Now we were in a fine mess.

I closed the toilet door and sprayed the entire frame with insect repellent so that the spider could not get out. Then I barred the bottom of the door with a rolled-up towel. Safe for now. I need to think quickly and act!

I looked around our room to find a telephone to call the front desk so they could send someone to kill the damn thing. It is now that I discover that there is no phone. And I suddenly recollect that this lodge is a charm hotel and that in fact, I didn’t really remember seeing a front desk or receptionist.

I remember our tour guide telling us that there were guards on the grounds to keep us safe and we had passed a man sitting on a chair in the bushes with a baseball bat when we came back to our suite the previous evening after dinner. Now if I set out to find that guard and to get him to come back to our room to remove the indesirable guest. Sounds like a great plan, right?

Off I go into the thick pitch black of the night, armed with a torch. It is the only time I used my flash light during this vacation. I had bought 3 flashlights (one for each of us) and also 3 head lights. Feeling pretty happy with myself that finally my purchase was proving to be worth while…. And then of course I started thinking. Oh woe me! It was pitch black and I could only see what my flash light was lighting up. What if a snake fell out of a tree and onto my head. What if a huge spider jumped out and bit me. What if there were other big fierce animals that come out in the night. And here I am walking about as sitting duck in hunting season. Or what if there were thugs and villains roaming around, waiting for a little blonde tourist to snatch up? There was no sign of a guard anywhere and panic had overtaken me. I made a resolute demi-tour and marched straight back to my room. Bad idea!

So no phone, no guard, and outside seemed to be yet more dangerous than inside with huge gigantic spider, which might be poisonous. So I did what any European would do in my case. I googled the lodge, found the telephone number and called that on my mobile. Somebody just had to help me! To my surprise, it was the owner himself who answered and by the sounds of it, he was asleep in bed already. Briefly explained my predicament at which the owner snapped back at me that there was nobody there to help me till morning and that there are no poisonous spiders or animals in Senegal. I was perfectly safe and would I please go back to bed?

We slept with three in a bed, me Winston and Lilly, the baby in his own crib. The next morning we all refused to go to toilet in the loo, and I will with great shame admit that the shower proved to be an excellent alternative. And that’s how it would be until somebody would come to rescue us from this animal stuck in the toilet!

Anyways, we had a lovely day despite sleep deprivation. We went down to a palm tree forest, where we enjoyed the morning splashing around in a local swimming pool by the river. There was a bar with deliciously fresh drinks. The kids went kayaking. It was peaceful and freedom and beautiful. We ate delicious food, shrimps and chicken and french fries in the shade of the trees.

That afternoon, we enjoyed some feet-up time back at Souimanga Lodge. I made a big scene to get someone to kill the animal in the toilet. They sent me an enormous big man who looked not at ease at all to get said animal. Luckily for him, there was no animal in sight when he came. So he abundantly sprayed the bathroom and left looking very relieved to have escaped this close encounter. I didn’t trust it one bit. Not one bit.

In the evening, we went out again for a ride on a motor boat down the Saloum Delta river. We talked about the local industry and fishing activities. How people make a living, which type of fish they catch, the boats they hire or buy. It was absolutely beautiful.

We ended the day with a delicious meal in Souimanga Lodge and am happy to report that when we made it back to our room, our spider guest showed up again, this time at safe distance perched up on the ceiling. We gracefully closed the door, sprayed the door and stuffed the bottom of the door with towels. Hello shower!



What do you think? How would you deal with a massive spider when in Senegal? Let me know in the comments below.

Are you a tree or an animal person? #senegal #africa

I have to admit.  I am one of those people who loves both, trees ànd animals. And to top it off, I love all of that as long as it comes packaged in some luxury. Our third day in Senegal started to look much more like my kind of holiday as we moved from luxury hotel to charming boutique hotel. And the activities accompanied the same trend.

That morning we awoke in the Lamantin Beach hotel, the kids enjoyed an early swim in the pool, we took our time for a leisurely breakfast together. I quickly packed our cases as the kids dipped in the pool again. Little Willem played just outside our hut. The good little man had understood he was to stay in view of mommy if he wanted to continue enjoying a freedom roam outside.

The porters came to pick up our suitcases in our room and we were ready to board our airconditioned bus for the next adventure. The kids had waited until the absolute last possible moment to pull out of the swimming pool, so they boarded the bus in wet clothes, which dried in a matter of minutes. This day was to be filled with experiences that I really really wanted. I knew from the moment of booking this holiday for sure beyond the shadow of a doubt that Africa would be good for me and would open floodgates of grace.

First stop: Accro-baobab. We entered a big park, with huge, large baobab trees. These trees are so beautiful and mostly unknown to the rest of the world. These ancient trees are hundreds of years old. Their fruit, monkey breadfruit, is very powerful. Mainly used when dried, can last up to 2 years without preservatives, and is probably Africa’s best kept beauty secret for luscious hair and glowing skin. Now there’s a business idea.

The kids got themselves kitted out with climbing material and were briefed on safety precautions. Then split up into two groups: the small kids to one side of the park to follow a less high journey through the trees. And the adults and bigger kids to swing around in the very tops of the baobab trees. Needless to say they loved it, my little monkeys.

I had for a brief moment entertained the idea to climb the trees myself with little Willem in a carrier sling. However, standing humbly in the shadow of these giant trees, I decided to keep my feet on the ground and spent some quality time playing with my toddler in the shade of a sheltered area.

Our travel guides seemed worried I might be getting bored, whilst I was having a great time running after my littlest one, drinking tonic and having a few naughty smokes. I get mad when people try to entertain me endlessly. I like my alone-time. Deeply irritated if I don’t get some quality me-time. I don’t watch Game of Thrones. I eat gluten. You know…


We consumed a light lunch of savoury pancakes and french fries in the sheltered area. Then we made our way by bus to our next stop: an animal safari in the Nature Reserve of Bandia.

We split up into two groups for the safari jeeps. One jeep for all the littles and one for the boring grown ups. We toured the 3.500 hectares of natural habitat. It was wonderful. After viewing this, you never want to visit a zoo again in your entire life. Zoos are shameful prisons for beautiful creatures that have been put on this earth to roam and live in beautiful surroundings.

We saw giraffes, monkeys, snakes, ostriches, rhinoseros, crocodiles, zebras, beautiful birds, giant tortoises, … A truly magical experience. The kids were wildly exstatic to be witnessing so much wild life right in front of their eyes. The guides were knowledgeable of each species and very respectful in their approach.

After the safari, we stopped by the bar for some refreshments. Admired the monkeys jumping about the tables, and watched the crocodiles swim in the pool of water. So much beauty, heat and gorgeous nature all around us. Time had become elastic in Africa. Holiday and no internet. For me, just pure bliss to spend all of my undivided time and attention with my little darlings, my treasures, my three beautiful children.


And by now, we were all getting weary again and dreaming only of swimming in a refreshing swimming pool, including me. We made our way to our final hotel, the Souimanga Lodge.  This place was just pure grace and paradise. Spending time in such breathtaking scenery with your children is nothing far from a soul-changing, ass-grabbing, life-changing experience of extreme unprecedented motherhood. I found myself turned on, lit up, and set free. All true. The feeling that remains when reflecting back on our days in Senegal, on African soil, in gorgeous Souimanga Lodge evoke these feelings of freedom within me. Freedom, unbounded time, limitless opportunities with my treasures.


So I bring you tidings of good cheer: it is never too late to pack your bags and take your brood on adventures. Be an extraordinary woman and a ordinary mom for your children. Bust the locks on patriarchy and step out into the world, with your darlings clutching on tightly to your skirts. Feel you power and irrefutable immeasurable uncontainable value. Own it. Live it.

Senegal was my moment to say yes to life.
Yes to a side of me that knew I wanted and deserved more .
Yes to motherhood.
Yes to my darling little treasures.


Unknown treasures of Senegal await

We woke up for the second time on African soil, in a beautiful room of the Lamantin Beach hotel. Our room and facilities were very comfortable, but I hadn’t managed to get the airco to fully function. There was somewhat fresh air being blown in, yet we awoke sweaty and hot. A dip in the pool would soon calm that feeling.

Breakfast at the Lamantin Beach hotel was super. A huge buffet with everything you could desire, from cereals, to fruits, smoothies, cheeses, yoghurts, omelettes, sausages… and of course, a delicious cup of coffee. The only thing missing for me was chocolate paste, which I used to make the malaria tablets easier to swallow for the baby. I thought I would give some sweet homemade jam a try, but baby wasn’t having it. So I ended up crushing the tablet and mixing it with his soya milk. Then hoping for dear god that he drank up all the powder. On a side note, I believe he did take the pill as hoped for, since none of my kids were ill during or after our trip. But I wasn’t reassured at the time itself.

The baby had also come out in a rash of little red bumps all over his body. I consulted with one of the other moms in our travel party and we decided it could be numerous things : a heat rash, an allergic reaction to the mosquito repellent spray, a reaction to the chlorine in the swimming pool… In any case, the rash wasn’t something to be too worried about.

We made our way to the meeting point at around 9:30 where our bus and travel guides were ready to pick us up. We were all excited about our visit to the Pouponnière, an orphanage in Mbour. I had researched this facility before heading out. It’s a non-profit organisation with French origins to shelter and raise orphans from the region. They rely solely on gifts and donations from abroad, and on volunteers to help out with the children.

The orphanage was a complex of various buildings within an enwalled setting. It is mainly run by women, counting approximatively 150 orphans of which 80 boys and 70 girls. Upon arrival we were required to disinfect our hands with Dettol and I was advised the baby shouldn’t have any contact with the children, in case he would infect them with some strange European disease. I found that rather weird, but didn’t think to complain about it. I was more worried about the baby catching some strange African disease from the orphans. Especially since those little sweethearts all drummed around the baby’s buggy to look at my little one having his feeding bottle. Their little hands touched him and their beautiful eyes were looking vividly at this little blonde angel. Then one of the children leaned into the pushchair and kissed the baby. Oh my horror! The child in question had a runny nose, so I quickly whipped out the Dettol and cleaned the baby’s face.

We had a guided tour of the entire orphanage. Children were grouped by age, from the very tiny babies in cribs, to the toddlers, and then pre-school children in a separate building. The bigger children weren’t there as they were attending school. Each family in our travel party had bought some items from a local supermarket (run by a French couple, I must add). The items on the wishlist were: bleach to clean and disinfect, gallons of water, pampers and nappies for the babies, and baby milk. It seemed such a small contribution, but happy to give to those less fortunate.


After the orphanage we stopped for a meal in Joal, in the shade and by a river. The food was delicious and we enjoyed being sheltered from the scorching hot sun. In this weather, we drank so much water, but also gin and tonic, and even beer. Kids still enjoyed the more sugary drinks.

After dinner we crossed the bridge over the river to Shell Island. A small island completely covered in shells. The legend goes that people used to eat the seafood which they had gathered and then just threw the shells on the floor. Over time, so many shells had accumulated, it covered the entire island.


There was another smaller island next to Shell Island, again connected by a small bridge and covered in shells. This is where the dead were buried. Catholics and Muslims side by side. In our society, something of the sort would seem unthinkable. Yet there in Senegal, people respect each others religions.

We had a guide who took us around the islands and who told us all about the local folklore. He also asked me where was my “gazou”? I told him I don’t have a “gazou”. At which he eyed me attentively up and down, and then asked me to give me my email address so we could exchange some letters. I told him I have no time for writing emails and that I wasn’t looking for a “gazou”. He gave me a puzzled look.

We made our way back to the mainland in fishermen boats. Needless to say I was not happy about this ride. I had my eyes on all three of my kids and was worried about crocodiles and pirhanna’s and whirlpools. All of which were not present in these waters.

We finished our tour of that day by visiting the fishermen’s port of Mbour. This is one of the largest artisanal fishermen’s ports in the country. We saw the fishermen returning from sea with their catch of the day. All of them aboard multicoloured “pirogues”. This was a very extraordinary experience, to say the least. All these people so busy all over the place. The stench of the fish lying on the sand rotting in the scorching sun. As we walked over the sand between all the people a horse started urinating, just meters away from the fish. We saw shark fins lying out in the sun to dry. The Asians are crazy about shark fins, we were told. They pay good money for it.

We were also reassured that the fish from this port never makes it’s way to the local restaurants or hotels. According to our guide, the fish for the fancy restaurants and hotels never sets foot on the beach, but is shipped immediately elsewhere. I am dubious about this statement, as we also saw lorries filled with ice to preserve the fish. And what about those shark fins which the Asians where so particular about?

I had a deep sense of poverty and the extreme conditions in which people work and live in Senegal. The people were tired and working hard. Their looks were not friendly. One lady growled something after me, at which our guide said something to her and then he told me the lady had wished my baby a long and prosperous life. Another woman looked at me in passing and said “give me the baby”. Now this is something I have been told numerous times during my holiday in Senegal, but this was the first time I heard it. It struck me as odd and I didn’t like it. No I was not going to give my baby. I wondered if a little blonde baby would sell very expensive in a country like Senegal…

After that it was back to luxury in the Lamantin Beach hotel. A leisurely dip in the pool. A refreshing shower. Our best clothes for dinner and cocktails. The children danced. The food and music was Moroccan that evening. Bliss, pure bliss.

I fell in love with Senegal. This was a real adventure. Something new and very different. The kind of experience I had been longing to have with my children for such a long time. I was scared before heading out to Africa. I had no idea what to expect. So I had researched the conditions and all of my questions. I knew in fact that there were no dangerous crocodiles in Senegal, nor dangerous spiders or anything of that sort. I was prepared with disinfectant, Dettol and every possible cream or pill for any eventual ailment. I was prepared and reassured. Looking back, this was the best holiday and the biggest adventure I have had yet.

You see, when you’re prepared, you are free to experience the adventure with an open mind and a healthy dose of curiosity.


First experience of Senegal

I remember waking up in our hotel room at the Djoloff Hotel, for which was to be our first day in Senegal. We had slept with the airco on and the room was a refreshing temperature. I had covered myself and kiddos religiously in mosquito repellent and had been extremely careful to brush our teeth with bottled water only. The adventure was about to start. I was something like 80% excited and 20% scared of the unknown.

Before any kids would wake I got up quickly and stepped out onto the balcony to get some morning air. I looked down out onto the streets to get a taste of life in Africa. There were people walking down below me in the street, men and women and children. In fact they looked just like anybody would during summer time in Europe. Only more colourful and with a slightly more relaxed attitude.

Managed to get three kids and myself dressed and covered in sun cream factor 50. After which we made our way to the rooftop terrace where breakfast was being served. The view over Dakar was spectacular and the heat hit us head on. This was only morning and temperatures would continue rising throughout the day. How on earth was I going to survive with my viking genes? What happened to my vacation idea to visit the Nordic Fjords?

Breakfast was continental and very satisfying. We all took our Malarone tablets in prevention of Malaria. How to get a baby to take his Malarone tablet: enrobe it in chocolate paste and then drown it down with water. In any case, it looked like the baby had swallowed it.

I settled our bill for the drinks we had had the previous evening upon our arrival. The bill amounted to peanuts of course. Loaded our suitcases on top of our mini-bus. Met the other families who would be traveling with us on this adventure. And by 9:30 we were off on the road towards our first stop: Slave Island.

We were getting an idea what Africa is all about as our guide explained and commented on buildings and people we passed on the street. We shortly arrived at “embarcadère de Dakar” where we would be taking a ferry to the Island of Gorea. When travelling in Senegal, I carried our passports with me at all times in my backpack. This was partly a safety precaution, but it also proved to be necessary as travel documents were regularly requested. At the embarkment port for Slave Island, we were required to produce valid identification documents. However the military guard saw me struggle with my backpack as the baby clung to me, and he just waved me through. No ID required for the blonde little lady with three blonde children hanging on to her skirts. Smiles.

We waited in a terminal hall which was cooled by rotating fans only. The security check was a joke. We all had to show the contents of our bags, but again, the blonde little lady with the baby in her arms was just waved through. I mean come on, I could have been a kamikaze terrorist after all.

We crossed over to Slave Island on a ferry ride which lasted no more than twenty minutes. By the time we had arrived, the temperature outside was more than I was comfortable with. My kids had made friends with the other kids travelling in our party. The baby started to weigh in my arms with his full 10 and a half kilos. But he would not for the life of him be carried by anyone else and he refused to walk. Mommy’s arms were his best refuge. How could I refuse?


Our first stop was the Slave House where former slaves had been assembled before being shipped out to the Americas. The architecture and the atmosphere of this building were impressive. The memory of how much the African people had suffered was tangible. We saw the rooms where the male slaves were first weighed and assessed, then the cells where they were to sleep. The women were kept seperately in yet another cell. And finally, there were tiny cells the size of a small corridor, where the children slept naked and alone on the floor. The smallest child to have passed through this slave house had been only two years old. Something like my own little Willem. It bought tears to my eyes to imagine the atrocities humans are capable of inflicting on others.

After Slave House we walked all over the island. This was a huge ordeal for me. It was hot. The baby was heavy. The island was slanted upwards. I was not used to this heat. My backpack was heavy. The group was moving too fast. I was desperately trying to keep in the shade for fear of my melanoma cancer. I wasn’t enjoying this one bit. Then our guide took over my backpack and as the weight lifted off my shoulders, my mood lightened too and I marvelled at the beauty of the island.


Being European and thus obviously a foreigner, you have to put up with being sold to at a continuous pace. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you’ll always find somebody shoving something under your nose and trying to get you to buy. No thank you and look the other way. Not an easy thing to do at first.

After our tour of the island by an expertly well French speaking guide, we were dropped off by the beach on an improvised terrace under some umbrellas. We ordered drinks. I wanted beer. I don’t usually drink beer. I actually hate the taste of beer. But there out in this tropical weather my entire body was just screaming for a refreshing taste of lovely divine beer. I wanted it and drank it with as much enjoyment as my conviction that I actually wanted this beverage. Strange, I thought.


The kids put on their swimming outfits in what I later on discovered to be the most disgusting public toilets I had ever seen. Thank god I was traveling with Dettol in my bag. Hands and kids needed constant disinfection. The baby was having the time of his life crawling around in the sand. Then he started eating sand. My travel company looked at me in horror. This child was bound to get very ill this holiday. I just smiled. Willem has been eating sand ever since I first took him to the beach and so far he’s been fine. Of course, this was African sand, full of malaria and other horrible bacteria which we don’t have in our civilized contries. Oh horror, just then I saw a man crawl by on hands and knees. He had very clearly suffered from polio and was paralyzed in one leg. So the sand contained polio too. We had been vaccinated once again for polio before coming to Senegal. I was hoping that the second vaccination would work. And the Malarone pills. And the Dettol.

We ate sandwiches which were sealed in little individual bags. That reassured the health conscious Europeans which we obviously were. Around 14h we made our way back to the mainland on the ferry, boarded our airconditioned bus again and were escorted to our next location: Lamantin Beach hotel. Wow, paradise, I thought. So much better than the Djoloff Hotel. With a swimming pool. A big swimming pool. This was my idea of vacation. It was one of those commercial resorts where I like spending my holidays with the kids. Commercially clean and exotic looking. Not quite the real thing, but oh so comfortable.


That evening we enjoyed gin tonic by the bar. The kids danced to the music. We ate wonderful food. And I must have been very tired, because I took my three littles off to bed and slept soundly. We had all had an amazing day, discovering this gorgeous continent. Nobody had been burned thanks to an overly protective mama who kept rubbing in more cream on protesting kids. We had drunk loads and loads of water which just poored back out of us in the form of sweat. We had mosquito repellent bracelets and spray. We were Africa-enabled. Yeah! We slept soundly, as you might imagine.


The Malarone pills give weird dreams and funny perceptions. Yet I must say that we had an exclusive taste of Senegal throughout our entire stay. We explored so many different corners of Senegal, which we wouldn’t have done by ourselves without the aide of local guides. Each day we felt more and more inspired by what we had seen and learned. We took part in so many activities… What can I say? The Prince of Hola Pola is awesome in organizing adventurous trips for families with kids!


How to prepare for a trip to Senegal with kids

I have just returned from the most amazing vacation in Senegal with my three wonderful children. The package I booked was with the Prince of Hola Pola, a travel organisation specialised in tours designed to please both parents and children alike. After all, if the kids are having fun, the parents are having fun too.

If you’re going to read the entire story of our adventures in Senegal, you might find that I will repetitively say how amazing the vacation was, and how riveted I am about the travel organisation. But bare with me, when you experience something this extraordinary, you really do want to share the word.

Organising the adventure tour with kids

I had to do absolutely nothing. I just booked the holiday, and Bob’s your uncle. Everything was taken care of by our local travel guide. We just had to turn up on time. Originally I had contacted Hola Pola for a trip to Peru. As you all know, my soul has a secret calling to visit the land of the Inca’s. However, the team at Hola Pola told me immediately that the baby being only 16 months was too young to be taken to such heights. Instead they offered me to try the trip to Senegal. Never regretted saying “yes” to this opportunity.


Pre-trip checklist 

  • International passport for me and kiddos. I requested these 8 weeks in advance, as sometimes passports can take some time to deliver. Ours were ready in 2 weeks.
  • No visa required for Senegal.
  • Vaccinations by the doctors at the Tropical Institute against yellow fever, hepatitis, polio, tetanus and all other nasties you don’t want to contract.
  • Preventive medication against malaria, to be taken from one day before departure and up till seven days after arriving back home.

What I packed in my suitcase

I am usually quite laid back about packing for a holiday. Yet this time packing for Africa I started getting my suitcases ready one week beforehand. I managed to fill four cases, by the way.

  • Medication: pills against diarrhea (used twice), against dehydration (never used), against stomach ache (used three times), sterilising tablets for the baby’s bottles (used daily), and of course the malaria pills (taken daily religiously at approximatively the same time).
  • Sun cream factor 50, after sun cream, sun hats, sun glasses.
  • Mosquito repellant spray, roll-on and bracelets.
  • Detol to disinfect hands before eating, and disinfecting wet-wipes.
  • Bottles of water. Why oh why did I pack that? The travel organisation had a stack of water available on our tour bus. We just had to ask whenever we were thirsty.
  • Soya milk for the baby.
  • Nappies: I provided for 7 nappies per day and had way too many, thank goodness.
  • Baby carrier: this proved to be totally useless. It was too hot and too uncomfortable to use. Baby is now almost 11 kilos. I left the baby carrier in Senegal.
  • Mountainbuggy: this little pushchair is a life saver. Light and easy to fold, easy for jumping on and off a bus.
  • Jumpers: totally and utterly useless. They never came out of the suitcase.
  • Long sleeved blouses and long trousers: also useless, though my son liked to dress up at night with a nice shirt.
  • Socks: yes, especially if you’re going to be doing some adventurous stuff.
  • Skirts, shorts, t-shirts, nice dresses for the evening. Senegal might be a muslim country, I found that the people there live in complete harmony with their christian neighbours. No need to cover up. There was no sexual harrassment or religious shaming in Senegal. Thumbs up, Europe has a thing or two to learn.
  • Flashlights and headlights: totally useless, only used once for an unexpected nightly escapade (more about that later).
  • Bathing costumes and swimming trunks. Floating swimsuit and life jacket for the baby. You still can’t leave the baby unattended, but it helps when the little one falls over in the water.
  • Money can be extracted from ATM machines, but most shops accept Euros. You won’t need much either. I spent a total of 250,- EUR in one week, and we bought a lot of stuff and didn’t look at our consumption at all.


The journey from Brussels to Dakar

We had a very smooth journey. I had booked our car into a car hotel the day before. A shuttle bus took us from the car park to the airport on a ten minute drive. We arrived 3 hours in advance at Brussels airport. Was a little worried about hanging around the airport for hours with 3 littles, but my worry proved ungrounded. By the time we had queued for check-in, gone through security and customs, and then made our way all the way to the other side of the airport, we were just half an hour early. Just enough time for the kids to play around a bit before boarding the plane.

I had reserved 3 seats in the same row, more to the front of the plane. The baby traveled on my lap. It was a 6 hour flight from Brussels to Dakar. The time went quite well between meals, snacks and a few films on our monitor. The baby played around a bit on my lap with the little table, the couple of toys I had packed for him. For the rest of the time, he slept on me very comfortably.


Once we arrived in Dakar, the heat was tremendous. It was gone 16h local time and the moment we got of the plane, I realized that jeans and long sleeves were too much. Getting through customs in Dakar was no laughing matter. Long queues in a sweltering hot airport. I was dead worried about the kids touching stuff. Malaria seemed to be lurking around every corner. I loosened up about that pretty quickly.

At customs in Dakar airport, passports were thoroughly checked, an eye-scan photo was taken and my finger prints. We were also asked for an address where we would be staying. Luckily I had my travel itinerary at hand in my purse, so I informed the guard at which hotel we would be staying. The unlucky mother of two at the booth besides me didn’t have a clue where she was heading, just that she was going to be picked up by her tour operator. This was not a valid answer and the unfortunate mother and her children were required to stand aside and search for an answer. So be prepared: know where you’re going.

Leaving the airport, our luggage had to scanned by security. Some local men from the airport offered to help with my luggage. At first I said “no” as I was feeling overwhelmed with the heat, the dirt and the malaria threat, but after have gotten some local CFA currency from the machine, I decided to give in and accept help. The man got all of our stuff through security. I just had to stand by with my kids and let him do the work. He then trolleyed our luggage out of the airport, where we were welcomed by Justin, one of our travel guides. He was very welcoming and had a reassuring voice. He put our luggage in the tour bus, and offered us champagne which was a joke for water. Smiles all around.


We were swiftly shuttled to our hotel, the Djoloff where we met with the other families joining in on our adventures. A shower was my first priority. We then made our way up to the terrace where we enjoyed drinks and great food. Hunger is the best sauce. I drank schweppes and gin ‘n tonic for the entire holiday, and lots of water of course. The kinine in tonic is supposed to do wonders against malaria. As I was sure this bug was lurking all around, I drank loads of it and kept urging my kids to do the same.

They call me stress mom. Not fair!