Alhamdulilah

Natalie Davidson - Senegal


February 9, 2012

About a month ago I was with my mom and my sister heading home from the market in Rufisque, a town 25 minutes from my village of Sebikotane. It was a balmy evening, around 8pm – the sky was clear and the stars were bright. We were returning after a successful afternoon of shopping with bags of fruit, cloth, fresh cow’s milk and soap in tow.

We were on a “car rapide” – a Senegalese mode of public transportation. Wildly decorated with colorful streamers and lots of painted Wolof words, these tin-can four-wheeled buses fly down the highway blasting music and packing in as many passengers as physically possible, even sometimes on the roof. I was contentedly sandwiched between my mom and an open window, holding a plastic bag of bananas and gazing out at the blur of Senegal streaking by. We passed the ocean, and even though it was too dark to really see it I could still smell it. I remember being comforted by the realization that a sea breeze is a sea breeze, no matter where you are in the world.

Suddenly my mom gasped as our driver wrenched the wheel around to avoid something in the road. I craned my neck to see what was happening, just as the car rapide began to tip in my direction ever so slightly. I saw the small child that had darted into the road just as our headlights flew past him. I remember feeling incredibly relieved that we’d managed to not hit the little boy. I looked up at my mom, her eyes wide with one hand covering her mouth in terror and the other tossed in front of my sister’s body to protect her. The image of my own mom doing the exact same thing when I was little – throwing her arm in front of me whenever she had to slam on the brakes – filled my mind. I looked back out the window and my relief disappeared into the cold realization that the bus was still tipping over.

I closed my eyes and thought about how fast we were travelling and what a good idea speed limits and seat belts really are. I thought about how when I go sailing back home the boat tips like this all the time and all we really need to do is use our weight to prevent the bus from “capsizing”… and I thought about how I’ve never been in a car accident before. These thoughts felt like they spanned over several minutes, but it was really just a few seconds before I felt and heard the thud of the bus crash back down onto all four wheels. I opened my eyes and looked around at the rest of the passengers as we continued zooming along in silence – some had tears running down their faces and others were muttering “Alhamdulilah” (thanks to God) over and over again. My mom still had her hand over her mouth and was shaking her head when the driver glanced back at us with a stricken expression. I thought about how the exact same thing could have happened to me back home, and how grateful I am that I’ve had the opportunity to move to Senegal and discover more of the world and experience a new culture. I looked back out at the night blurring past and I thought about how rapidly life can change – how swiftly it might pass you by – and how living without regrets is definitely something to strive for.

Natalie Davidson