A Baby’s Arrival Changes Everything

Cittely Fuentes - Senegal


March 19, 2015

Although I live in a site that is (without a doubt) considered urban, the internet access is a luxury. Within my apprenticeship at the elementary school, my language classes and other extracurricular activities, I rarely have the time to sit in front of a computer to see any updates from home on the internet. For the first two months, it did not bother me at all. In fact, I have to admit that getting away from the Internet and social media(s) helped me break out of my bubble andadapt myself better.This is something our team leader, whohas a lot of experience with intercultural exchange programs, firmly told us about.Often, it happens that students don’t obtain the whole exchange experience due to the fact that they might be physically in another country but they spent most of the time inside their rooms reading or on the internet just as if they were at home.

As my experience continued, I have discover the beauty of living life without tweeting everything you think, or taking a picture of everything that happens to you and share, but toinstead just live it. As my language fluency increased, I started to have conversations with any person I would see on my way to the little shop on the corner of my house, at the market, or simply visit my neighbors. Each time, I looked them in the eye, to appreciate facial expressions and to laugh together instead of sending each other lmao or an unrealistic haha. I started to make each moment important, to celebrate the smallest accomplishments, to control my emotions and ask myself why I reacted the way I did. Of course, I madesure to call my mom at least one time per week, our conversations would consist of me reassuring her of the fact that I was still alive, while she reminded me how much she misses me. It was a fact that every timeKhady Gnagnawould talk to herreal mother, she wouldn’t come out of her room after an hour. I would feel this immense guiltiness for making my mom suffer by being here. However, I did not have an option but to tell myself to take advantages of all opportunities during my time here. Thoughts like,“Okay, Cittely you’re sacrificing time with your family so go outside and do something,” would come to my mind at times when I wanted to just rest.

Throughout all these challenges I was surprised by the optimism and courage that I never knew I had, until life gave me the final test.And of course,it had to be in December, the hardest month for most of us. But for me, it was notbecause of the holidays, butbecause aspecial event that was going to take place home, an event that I was aware I was not going to be present for before I cameto Senegal. I remember it was one of the first mornings where the temperature started to decrease a little bit, just like every Saturday, I ate breakfast mburu ak ton (bread with tuna which is my favorite by the way) and I went to the middle school where an English club takes place. I remember telling myself after it was over to stay extra time to connect to the internet since the middle school is the closest place to my housewith connection. I have to admit that according to my priorities, I always check social media instead of my email. As soon as the page showed upthanksto a pretty decent Internet, my pupils dilated and I almost jumped out of my seat. The first thing on my News Feed was the picture of my newborn nephew. I can perfectly describe it as if it was yesterday… With the arrival of each of all my other nephew/nieces, I was present for all of them. But the first time I sawbebeEsekiel was in a teachers room in a middle school in West Africa.

If one day I am proud of myself for how easy I have been adapting myself to my new home, in that moment I felt that I was loosing myself in my immersion. I could not believe how much I had been missing from home all this timeand I found outabout an important event in my lifeout of coincidence.All of that stufflike locking yourself in your room to does not go with me anymore, and luckyit happened that around an important holidayin Senegal, Magal.

Magal’spurpose is to commemorateSerigne Amadou Bambaand more than half of the population travels to the holy city Touba to celebrate there. Our team leader asked us if we were interested to attend but I was not interested until what had happened. But God, it would take me one whole blog to describe my experience and the history behind Touba! It ended up beingone of the best decisions I have ever made since I have been here in Senegal and of course, it does not compare to my newborn nephew but let me tell you that the way I see it is that life paid me backin having the opportunity to visit a magical placelike that.

Cultural Fact: Here in Senegal, women are verydiscrete about their pregnancy and from what I’ve learned, itis because of various superstitions regarding the baby’s health. In fact, they don’t usually find out about the baby’s gender untilgiving birth.Consequently, I did not know that two of my older sisters were pregnantuntil their stomachswere about to explode. For weeks, taking a walk after dinner became a routine with my sister Mame Sokhna, she said it wouldhelp whilegiving birth.One afternoon I remember I was wearing a black sweater because at that point the weather was considered cold based on Senegalese peoples’standards. I will always remember that sweater because it is the same sweater my sister Mame Sokhna was pulling with all her force through all our way to the hospital in a taxi. To be honest, I was half as scared as her but I tried to be nothing but helpful and supportive. I spent the night atthe hospital and the next morning, I had the pleasure and honor to meet Yay Yoor, small (but most importantly) healthy baby!

Unfortunately,not everyone in the family was as lucky as me. You see, something that is very common among many menhere in Senegal is to immigrate to European countries such as Italy, with the hope to find better paying jobs in order to support their families. Days after the arrival of Yay Yoor, my sister calls me into her room, she told me she bought Internet credit for her smart phone and she asked me to help her send a picture of the baby to her husband! I was shocked by the calm tone in which she asked me that small favor, I did it quietly and seconds after sending the picture, the sent notification appeared. In a matter of a seconds, a parent was able to see his baby daughter for the first time thousand miles away. That night, I went to sleep thinking about how much I overreacted when bebe Esekiel was born; I even felt some sort of ungratefulness from my part.

I don’t know why I clearly remember a catchy phrase from a diapers commercial from early 00’s that said a baby’s arrival changes everything along with a melody. And let me tell you that the arrival of Esekiel and Yay Yoor that happened both around the same time period has made me think about how the internet has changed our lives. Whether it could be our interest, like taking a bridge year in a different continent to explore a new culture, or our dutieslike moving to a new country to be able to support your family, we sometimes find ourselves far away from the people we love. Today we have tools in which we can all connect in a matter of seconds, but we often abuse that power and take for granted the people that are here with us right now. The truth is right now, I am excited that I will soon finally be able to have my baby nephew Esekiel in my arms butat the same time italso means that I will say good bye to a baby that I have been living with since the moment she came into this world. Andthis time, I will not be able to comfort myself by going to a holy city toexperience new cool traditions, Ihave no other option but to deal with the reality. To all the folks that are reading this right now, no matter where you are in the world be present, stop spending your life away looking at a screen and appreciate your loved ones.

Cittely Fuentes