A Thought and a Poem

Sophia Youngdahl - Senegal


September 12, 2018

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    It is my fifth day in Senegal. This week has been filled with wonderful memories, late nights, new knowledge, and countless greetings of “salamaliekum” when passing by someone on the street. It seems like a dream; I am staying in a hotel with some of my closest friends, exploring Dakar, learning so many new things, and just taking in the amazing place around me. I always said that my going to Senegal would hit me when I was on the plane ride there. That was the first of many assumptions that I’m sure will be proven wrong over the course of this year. It still hasn’t hit me I don’t think, even as i stand on the roof of our hotel at sunrise, have a broken conversation in my hastily acquired Wolof, and watch Dakar come to life. 

I meet my host family and separate from my cohort in two days. Maybe it will hit me then, that I am here, when I won’t have the familiar cushion of English or Spanish or Wifi to roll back onto as the day rolls on. I am more nervous than I’ve ever been. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                     (4 DAYS LATER)

    I wrote the above statement four days ago, when I began to write the blog I thought I would post before leaving for my host family. Wifi was too spotty and time with my cohort was too valuable to do so. The comparison between then and now is surprising to me. 
    It is now my fourth day in my host family,
    Things seem to have changed drastically now that I am here, now that I am home. It is no longer a dream. It is a reality, blinding and harsh at some vulnerable moments, eye-opening in others. It has hit me that I am actually here. It happened on the day of drop-offs, when we all loaded up on a stuffy bus filled with nerves and excitement and were dropped off at our host families, one by one. There were times I found myself wishing for the bus to speed up so I could reach my family faster, and times I wished it would just break down completely and us fellows could steal a few more precious hours together. And yet, time passes.

And now I am here, at my house in Senegal, a moment I have been waiting for for over a year. I am Adja Fall, daughter of an eclectic trader, sister to 8, niece of 3, granddaughter of 1. I eat around a communal bowl with my hands and dance with my sisters and get proposed to on the street and I am sometimes happy and sometimes sad and am usually somewhere in between. I am not on top of the world, but that is not what this experience is about. I have to seek out the beauty here, give an effort of my own to match the effort of those doing everything they can to make me at home here. The culture is beautiful and my family is filled with laughter and the night sky is breathtaking and toilet paper really isn’t that necessary. 

So, if you want to know how I’m doing, which some of you might, I will say this: Mangi Fi. I am here. The most common response to Na nga def, the Wolof equivalent of How are you doing?.
    I am here. It is not a bad thing, though it may sound like it is to some English speakers. It just means i am present, which, I have learned, is the most important thing you can be in almost any situation. Mangi fi. I am here. 

    I wrote and read this poem at Global Launch, a blurred period of laughter and surreal expectations that seems simultaneously like yesterday and forever ago. I was inspired by my global cohort, by the intelligent and bright-eyed people around me always willing to laugh or cry or simply just talk all night. Some of us might be thriving and others may be struggling, and some are directly in between those two. But we are all connected, no matter how far apart we are. There are 146 people going through this exact same thing. When I forget that or begin to feel lonely, I read this again. A poem I wrote surrounded by wonderful people who are now like family, bursting with the tangible buzzing energy of expectation and adventure to come. I will leave this as my final thought.

                                                                                      
                                                          We are wanderers. 
                                We are clouds frosted white by the breath of the sky,

Swept away on the coattails of the meandering wind to some previously unknown location,

Where we pulse and shapeshift and bring forth the rain, the storms, the snow,

Or perhaps where we simply just float,

A mere shadow in the presence of the blinking sun. 

We are creators,

Sculpting with the worn hands of some aching passion as it sculpts us,

Inhaling the golden gift of knowledge and exhaling ideas and mistakes and newfound love or heartbreak,

The sculptor becoming the sculpted.

We are failures, 

Maple trees in the springtime singing of exuberant life and adventure, 

Of youth and evident immortality,

Only to have our leaves crinkle and spiral to the ground,

Leaving us bare and exposed to the world around us.

Yet spring always comes again.

We are the future,

Our generation Atlas carrying the weight of the world on its shoulders, 

Each one of us following our own path to help tip the scale one way or the other.

We are the past, 

Our experiences and stories creating for us our truths,

Which in turn gift us the lens through which we see the world,

Building us up and breaking us down until, suddenly, we are whole again.

Blinking at the stars we stand, 

Children in our innocence, 

Hands intertwined, 

Eyes aglow with the eclectic unknown,

Hearts soaring on the wings of a flighted bird,

Feathers catching the murmuring wind,

Cutting into the sky that bleeds the gold of the fading sun. 

We are adventurers.

We are question-askers. 

We are individuals, and yet we are one.

We are mildly insane.

We are stepping into a whole new world.

We are definitely insane. 

But, above all this, 

above all the metaphors and intricate words,

We dive into the unknown striving to connect, living to feel, scared to become complacent.

                                          We laugh, we love, we breathe, we discover,
                                                       And, in short, we are human. 

                                                        Thank you and much love,

<3 Soph/ Adja Fall

Sophia Youngdahl