A Love (& a Little Dislike) Letter to Senegal

Sénégal, wow. It has been quite a ride. You've taught me so much about what it means to me part of a community, to feel homesickness, to engage in tough love, to live with less, to live out of my comfort zone, to shower with a bucket, to sweat constantly, to eat rice everyday single day, but most importantly, you've taught me the danger of judgement.

When I first met you, you were overwhelming. Your people spoke languages that left me confused. Your food was the same every day. Your streets were loud and dirty and crowded and scary. Your villages were hot and rural and empty of activity. Your sun was overbearing. Your parents were distant and strict. But you didn't give up on me when I made my first judgements. You let me have my pity party, you let me learn to use my fan in the most optimal way possible to lessen the heat, you let me learn to love yassa and chebbujenn and maffé, you let me see how love comes in different forms, you allowed me time to see the complexity in the simplicity of everyday life, you gave me time to learn your tongues, and you even let me learn to enjoy the Thiés market- and that was a big accomplishment.

It hasn't been easy with you. Let's admit it, we still don't get along sometimes. Late nights in the bathroom can prove that. But overall I think we're doing pretty well! The honeymoon phase is over, for sure, but now you feel like home. You have given me a new group of people to love. From the 15 year old welders who try to act like they're too cool to say hi to me, to Dé Aunta who sells the best fattaya, to the car guy, Albert, who always pretends to not know my name to make me mad. You've given my family. Little/insane/adorable Cas, odd/happy Aunta, loud/funny/annoying Marie, intelligent/funny/down-to-earth Nogoy, shy/kind/caring Philippe, chill/caring Bo (dad), VERY caring/strict/playful Dé (mom). You made it so hard to leave them. But you let us bend the rules and cry, thank you for that. And on top of all of these people you gave me Madame Ndiaye the most wonderful teacher I could've worked with. And when I came to you, you gave me the friendships I have with Izzy, Isa, and Elise. People who make me feel so wanted and loved constantly. You gave me all the other fellows who's stories push me to learn about you even more. And you made me realize how much love I have for the people at home who can't experience all of this with me, but support me in any way that they can from afar. I dont know what I can you in return for all you've given me.

But you didn't stop with the people. You gave me experiences I couldn't have found anywhere else. You've given me donkey cart rides, crazy car rides, and the near-death-by-huge-tuba-bus incident. You gave me a trip to Gorée, and time in Joal. You gave me an awesome airbnb in Saint Louis that doubled as a dance studio, you gave me many nights in Dakar with some of my favorite people in the world. You've given me beach days at Noto, two days at a pink lake, and day trips to Thiés. You've given me amazing, colorful fabric and tailors who can make anything you can give them.

You have given me parts of myself I didn't know I had. You've given me confidence. You've given me bravery. You've given me perspective. You've made me realize my privilege. You've made me see the complexity of living in a country like you, one that's trying to develop. But you've also showed me the downside of living in one of the countries you're trying to be like, and also all the ways I am lucky to live in such a country. By showing me how your people can live with so much less and be so kind and happy, you've showed me the faults in my own country. You've showed me that I need to change my life in my country to become more humble. You've given me honesty. You've given me resilience.  

But as I said, most importantly, you've taught me the danger of judgment. To many people, you are a stereotype. You are a rural savannah full of huts and lions and thin people. You lack education, clothes, food, and modern technology. You are Africa as a whole, not an individual. You have taught me, from the moment I stepped off the plane in Dakar, that all of that is false. You are diverse and vibrant and wonderful and loving and difficult and intelligent and fun and humorous and sometimes you have too much food. I am sorry for judging you. Thank you for teaching me all you are. I'll never forget your lessons, your people, your heat, your traffic, your food, your colors, and your love.

Thank you Senegal, until next time, inshallah.