So there we all were looking down at the small crowd of host family members that had come to collect us for our first home stays in Dakar. One by one we were introduced and walked out the hotel to start our “Senegalese” lives. I remember my heart pounding like crazy as my eyes scanned the faces trying to see if my soon to be host mom was among them. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed when three young men came for me instead. Though that quickly turned into gratitude once they all helped me carry my luggage through the sand and to a taxi. Relief was added on to my gratitude when I learned one of these young men was actually my host brother and he could speak English! My fears of language barriers and struggling to communicate diminished.
When we arrived at my new home in Dakar I found my host parents sitting in the living room with guests. My mom was a polite old lady who appreciated my broken French and believed in my ability to learn. My dad was a sweet old man with a genuine smile. He shook my hand and welcomed me earnestly.
Then, just before being presented to my room I met my uncle who the family called Papa Sheikh. I was pleasantly surprised that he too spoke English. But what surprised me more were the questions he asked.
“Are you a volunteer? Why did you come to Senegal?” he asked with a cheeky grin.
“I’m a student sort of. I’m here for me..I like to travel. Want to figure out what exactly I want to study before jumping into college.” I replied unsure if that was even the right response.
“So you’re here to figure things out for yourself?”
“Yes…to figure out myself”.
“So you came to Senegal to find yourself?” he laughed as though this was the typical and ridiculous answer he often heard.
He laughed on saying that I shouldn’t have lost myself in the first place and made a few more puns before letting me part and wishing me good luck in finding myself.
So once I was in my room and once I did settle I asked myself again “Why did I come to Senegal?”
I will tell you honestly my objective in applying was to avoid college because I did not feel in the slightest ready to go. When all was said and done though I accepted my acceptance because I figured I would get to try an apprenticeship and travel in a productive manner instead of bumming it before entering college. As in the words of Global Citizen Year “take a bridge year”. Perhaps in shadowing a person in the health field or any other field that would find me I could figure out for sure what I wanted to study in college. I never not once when applying or accepting had the foolish and ignorant thought “Ooo now I get to go save Africa!”. I am no one of the age or power to even think that anything I do would impact people on a large scale. Certainly I held an idea of poverty and health problems that existed in Senegal but these are problems one can only fix from the inside on a much higher level. Charity work adds up to only so little in the grand scheme of things.
So why I came? No I had not come to volunteer my help in the typical way. I came to volunteer my time as an apprentice and learn for the sake of certainty. I wanted to better myself and my knowledge of what it is I wanted for my future. Perhaps I could do that anywhere else… so why Senegal?
Because Brazil was full. With the choice between my own family’s country and one in a completely different continent the decision was clear. I had been to Ecuador and already knew Spanish going there for me would be a vacation. So I chose Senegal because I wanted to push myself out of comfort and if I was going to learn anything then I wanted to learn something new. So I write this entry to let you know.
I am here for myself. To help myself decide what kind of future I want, in the health field or elsewhere, and have a little experience and a few skills for that future. I am here to learn French and some Wolof as well. I am here to experience another world so I never forget that New York City is not the whole world or its center. I am here so that once I leave I will be ready for college… and hopefully a lot more.