Beautiful People and Happenings

Ellie Van Gorden - Senegal


October 11, 2018

I slowly wake to the sound of Taps bellowing out of the ancient speakers
lining the walls of the military base about 100 yards out from my bedroom
window. The sun creeps in through my draping white curtain, and I hear the
rooster crow. I feel the footsteps approaching; the troops chant and sing
in unison as they run past in a blur. This is now my daily wake up call.

I make my way to the bathroom and start off with my daily
self-affirmations; then I do my morning stretching. These new habits I’ve
developed allow me to start every day off on a positive and peaceful note.
I struggle to open my new, unstained wood door without causing too much
commotion, but it squeaks anyways. I glide down the hallway in my pajamas
and Adidas slides, only to be greeted by my extremely well-dressed
Grand-mere. We greet each other, and she asks how I slept. I love how with
every phrase she speaks to me, more and more of her caring personality is
revealed.

I push past the big purple drape into the garage, where breakfast is
served. I see my Papan listening to the radio as my two little brothers
wrestle over a piece of bread. They notice me walk in, and offer up their
chairs. I politely decline and grab my own. I hear some yelling from the
other side of the house—it’s Maman. She enters with a purpose and smiles
kindly at me. As I put an already ungodly amount of chocolate on my
baguette, everyone questions why I don’t take sugar in my coffee. I laugh
and say that I just like it black, and they leave it be. It’s times like
these where I’m the odd one out, yet I still feel so welcome.

I had only had one bite before Augustin wanted to play. Bernard soon
followed, and before I knew it, I had twin boys showering me with entirely
too much attention at 8 o’clock in the morning. Papan shoos them away, but
a part of me wishes they would come back. Five year old boys kind of get a
bad rep. Yes, sometimes they run around the house naked throwing a fit
because they don’t want to take their shower, but other times they cuddle
up next to you and say, “You’re my Fatima”. We watch cartoons, wrestle,
play hide and seek, take walks to the boutique and they especially love to
get held upside down. I never imagined that I would love having little
siblings this much, but now, they’re what I look forward to during the day.

My Papan was a Philosophy teacher for 13 years, and now he’s the director
for the school district. My Maman teaches Geography and History. My
Grand-mere is the director of an international Catholic women’s group in
Senegal. Casually, of course.

My new family is incredible, curious and intellectual. My new neighborhood
is so luscious and green. There are many birds, lizards, chameleons and
giant cockroaches (these aren’t so fun). Our courtyard has this colorful
shattered tile, and in the middle there’s a little tree. Speaking of
trees…we have a lemon tree, my neighbors have an orange tree and there’s a
Dr. Seuss-esque tree just out our living room window. My rooftop has become
a place of reflection for me. I venture up there to watch the world go by
from time to time. You can see down to another fellow’s house, and if you
look close enough, you can even catch a glimpse of the great field that
lies just beyond the railroad tracks.

I’m so very grateful to be living here among beautiful people and
happenings. There’s already been a wedding and a block party in the big
patch of sandy-dirt just beyond our compound wall. I held my little brother
up over the wall to watch the festivities, and I fell asleep to the sound
of bad EDM mixed with traditional drumming.

This new life is turning out to be just what I needed. After starting my
year off negatively, ending up here has been so very relieving. It’s made
me truly start to trust the ways in which the world works. Sometimes the
good comes after the bad. Sometimes you have to push through hardships
before you can catch a break—and it is oh, so worth it.

Ellie Van Gorden