You had me at Dakar

Boabab at dawn (Shahidul)
About a month ago, the week before I was set to return to work, my boss called to tell me about a workshop taking place in Senegal at the beginning of may. She was all, "There is this budget tracking workshop in Dakar, it would be so great if you could go, but no... its too early. Forget that I mentioned it, its no big deal.  Sigh.  It would just would be so great if you could go". The truth is that she had me at Dakar. From that point on, it was really more of a question of how to make the trip work with Benoît than whether or not I would go.  Travelling is sometimes the bane of my work existence - it can be really disruptive to my personal life - but it is also one of the parts of my job that I cherish the most, seeing new countries and meeting new people, it also helps me to better understand the contexts in which my colleagues work.  In some respects, my greatest professional asset has been my willingness to travel.  Ever since I got pregnant I have been wondering just how I would balance work with family, so I was eager to figure out how to get to Senegal with a four month old, 100% breastfeeding baby.

I was pleasantly surprised by just how many people were supportive of me travelling. Former colleagues and professional acquaintances were quick to share their stories of traveling with their babies, breastfeeding mid-conference, and to put me in touch with child care options. It was as though every mother that I had worked with wanted to show me that it was not only possible, but rewarding to have a travel-intensive job and have a baby.

Stilt Houses at Niassam (Flickriver)
The only caveat that these travelling mothers had shared was that they had each brought along a travel companion, usually a mother, sister or spouse, to help with the baby while they were away. I resisted this option initially, mainly because of the cost. It seemed crazy to me to have to spend so much money to be able to work, especially if I could do it on my own, so I did the research on going solo: I found flights form New York to Senegal, found a hotel, looked up malaria prevention for babies, found childcare. I started out proud of myself and excited about the adventure, but as more and more logistical details became apparent (would the flight have a bassinet? would the cars accomodate Benoît's car seat? would he tolerate the malaria prophylaxis?) I began feeling like I was just planning on taking the trip alone because I wanted to prove that it could be done, when in reality I was starting to dread dealing with these challenges on my own.

In the end I convinced Dave to come with me. Neither of us have been to Senegal so we're going to make a vacation out of it. You only live once, right?  I am, however, very aware of what a privilege it is to have the ability to bring my husband along with me on a trip like this. I can't help but feel a bit uncomfortable with the knowledge that -let's be honest here- rarely do the salaries from my line of work allow for the spouses, mothers or sisters to come along. One needs an independent source of wealth to make bringing someone along doable. There is still another part of me that knows that doing this trip alone could have been done, but have to admit that it would not have been easy. No matter how much help I would have gotten from my colleagues it would just not be as easy for me to travel with a baby as it is for childless men and women.
Lake Retba (Geekologie)
In the meantime, Dave and I are starting to get super excited: after the workshop we are going to stay at Les Collines Niassam in a house built on stilts over a lagoon. We're looking forward to some fresh Senegalese seafood, to boabab trees (like the one above), a trip to Ile de Goree, and if time permits, a visit to Lake Retba (the pink lake above).  We'll let you know how it goes!

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