Wolof proverb: Adunna, dafa graw.
Meaning: Life, it is difficult. “Like the ocean, on some nights, the tides come in soft and slowly, and life is without problems, and all is fine, and a few nights later, huge, dangerous tides roar, and your life has many problems, and all you can do is wonder where they came from, and how to fix them and hope and pray for the calm seas to come once again.”- My Senegalese friend explaining the proverb
With Training Seminar 1 around the corner, I find myself in utter astonishment at how fast the days have passed: 50 days to be exact. And over 3 months since I left my home on August 21. I find myself reflecting on these days with wonder, disbelief, and joy.
During In-Country Training, we were dropped off at our sites for a week as a chance to dip our feet into the cold and salty water only two weeks before we were to be pushed in. With only two weeks of language classes to help keep us afloat, many of us suffered. Needless to say, it was a week full of smiles, hand gestures, and awkwardly phrased sentences. During my week visit in Mboro, I sank to the metaphorical bottom of the ocean. Doubts and fears of whether or not this program was right for me, whether this city was right for me, clouded my mind, suffocated my excitement, and even negatively influenced my desire to learn the language. I had hit rock bottom, and I couldn’t even explain why. All I could do was desperately cling to the hope that I would soon float my way back to shore, and everything would be okay. My obsession with the future, with being back in Dakar with familiar faces, foods, and routine, played out in my head daily, and nothing I did helped the time pass any faster.
When I first found out I was accepted into Global Citizen Year on June 5th, an unconcious shock set in; a shock that didn’t fully allow me to mentally prepare for the voyage I would soon embark on. Everyday since then, I told all of my family and friends where I would be going, what I hoped to be doing, and how great of a program this was. “I’ll be heading to Senegal, for 8 months of an immersion experience. I’ll be staying with a local family and working at an apprenticeship, hopefully in education.” The words flowed out on autopilot. I understood what I would be doing, but I hadn’t accepted it as my reality. This shock is the reason I didn’t shed one tear while saying goodbye to my family. I remember standing by the elevator at Madison County Airport, heading towards my gate, looking at my mom and my little siblings with a smile on my face. I hugged them goodbye and on I went, as sad as if I was simply heading to Chicago for a few weeks of fun.
This unconcious shock didn’t unveil until I was sitting on a plane, ready to leave JFK to land in Dakar, Senegal. I looked around my seat at other fellows, mixed into a crowd of other Senegalese and realized what was happening. “Holy crap. I’m leaving. I’m actually doing this. I won’t see my family for 7 months. Oh my God,” was all I could think, over and over. And then all of the unshed tears fell. Shakhi, a beautiful stranger I had just met a few days ago at Redwoods who is now one of my closest friends, held me in her arms and assured me that everything would be okay. Emily Gray asked me to calm down, because she would start crying if I didn’t stop. Sam offered me to play candy crush on his iPhone. All of these fellows offered sympathetic words and actions, expressing their care for someone they had only just met, which was incredibly comforting.
However, the full weight of the future didn’t unfold until my week-visit, which is why I experienced my lowest low, thus far. I dreaded coming back to Mboro, with fear that it would be exactly like the week I had visited it. I feared that nothing would change, that I would spend 6 months living miserably here, drowning in rock bottom once again, and I spent my last two weeks in Dakar trying to soak up every possible moment, trying to not think about the inevitable.
Before we left, Oumou (my team leader) asked all of us what the first thing we would do when we got to our new homes would be. Me, Allie, and Rachel all said the same thing: “Cry.” Yet when the van departed, and I stood in my doorway with all of my luggage, looking into the eyes of my loving family, I didn’t feel sadness, or misery. I felt content. All of the sadness and fear and doubt had vanished. All of the worrying was over with. Somehow, in my bitter fear of returning, during the hours spent crying in Dakar before leaving, I had come to terms with my committment. And from there, day by day, everything got better. And being in Senegal had stopped being so foreign to me, it became my home, and all of this, became my life.
Today, I am a teacher at a preschool called Case des Tout-Petits. I teach the Moyenne Section (middle class, ages 4-5) and I absolutely love all of the children I work with. The Moyenne class has 22 children, most with names I have never heard of before, and I was at first sure I’d never be able to memorize like: Safilatou, Massamba, and Ibou Ndoye. I teach them in English, French, but mostly in Wolof. I’ve taken over the morning sessions that focus on gross motor activities like sports, games to memorization of education, music in Wolof songs I’ve had to memorize to teaching them how to use scissors properly and draw straight lines. I remember the first day the supervisor handed me a djembe (traditional drum), pushed me in front of the whole class of children gazing curiously at the toubaab with almost no Wolof skills, waiting for me to begin singing the morning songs. I didn’t know the beat or the lyrics. I shot a desperate glance at the supervisor and then at the children, who began laughing and then began singing the song. I tapped the drum lightly, hoping it sounded even slightly normal (and it didn’t, but they didn’t mind). They help me out everyday whether I can’t pronounce or remember a Wolof phrase, or if classmates are misbehaving, and sometimes I wonder if I learn more from them than they do from me. Everyday, I learn something new and I know it sounds silly, but some of my students are my closest friends. All in all, a regular day at Case is full of laughing, dancing, playing, and sure, a lot of learning as well. 🙂
Honestly, for the past two nights, I’ve had nightmares about returning to the US, mostly because I don’t know what I’ll be returning to. (My family is in the process of moving to Puerto Rico, so my roundtrip ticket back to Madison might end up useless.) I remember when I had my Skype interview with an alum named Abigail during the admissions process for GCY, she asked me whether I’d be okay with being away from home for so long, if I’d be able to stay in-country for such an extended period of time. I laughed it off and said, “My problem is going to be wanting to leave, it’s going to be not wanting to come back!” Now, I miss my family like crazy, and not a day goes by where I don’t miss them, but it’s a certain atmosphere I question my feelings on and fear returning to. An atmosphere where time is money, where all hours must be productive. A life where my days all consist of the same routine, with little time for myself. A lifestyle where you don’t greet every person you pass, but one where you pass by life guarded, oblivious to those around you.
In Sénégal, life is simple and full of values such as teranga (hospitality) and friendships. I go to work Monday-Friday, from about 9-1 pm and return home where the rest of my day is a combination of cyber cafe visits, walking around Mboro and visiting friends, to spending time with my family. It doesn’t matter what I do in my free time, it would never be viewed as “unproductive.” Time is simply a 4 letter word here, as opposed to an aspect of our lives we should wrap our heads and schedules around like in the USA.
I’m learning things about life, about love, and about myself that I would have never discovered had I chosen to be a freshman in college right now. Despite the days being long, the months really do fly by and I’m excited to see what the rest of my golden time in Sénégal holds.
[By the way, I’m wrapped up in my winter fleece and a blanket right now. Stereotype debunked: you can be freezing in Africa!]