I keep having the same dream. The sun is in my eyes, but in its glare I can see people staring and pointing at me. Panic stricken, I look down and realize I am naked, exposed. Then I wake up.
But often, I’m not sure that I have actually wakened. When walking to school, I get stares, sometimes comments. I bite the inside of my cheek to make sure I’m awake. I can feel the pain.
On our fifth day in Senegal, we were dragged to the nitty-gritty, living, breathing downtown Dakar. In the confines of markets, paved streets and shoppers you cannot escape the constant plead and beg of vendors. Whirling around you are the intoxicating smell of gas emissions, the sights of brightly colored cloth and the sounds of people bargaining in foreign languages. It is complete sensory overload.
When getting onto the bus to go home, I was pushed and shoved up the stairs. Overwhelmed, I tried to successfully reach the bus, while keeping my balance and protecting my belongings. Right before reaching the bus doors I looked down to see that my purse had been unzipped and was now missing my wallet. I yelled out words no one could understand as I watched the thief snake through the bus and exit on the other side with my money and ID.
My voice cracking, I tried explaining that I couldn’t pay my bus fare because I had no money. I could feel the looks of pity, curiosity and sympathy. In a sea of dark skin and whispered words in Wolof and French, I was a blonde, blue-eyed, white girl, crying and cursing in English. I felt like a target. Bare, lost, unprotected.
Through my tears and swearing someone understood what had happened, and in a matter of minutes, the entire bus knew my story. After mustering up the courage, a Senegalese man came up to me and asked if I was okay. I shook my head. With a softness in his eyes, he explained to me that Senegal is not a bad place; it just has a few bad apples. He kept repeating, “Senegal is a good country.”
I believe him.
Last night we went dancing. Everyone packed together and utilized whatever piece of the dance floor they were given to express whatever they were feeling. The room was hot and the floor was slick with sweat. There was this moment when I just let go. I embraced that I was out of place and just danced. Suddenly, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I was breathing the present. Yes, people were looking at me, but they wanted me there. They welcomed me.
I don’t have to fit in to belong.
When I finally made it home at 5:30 in the morning, my head hit the pillow and I fell fast asleep. I don’t remember dreaming, but if I did, I’m certain I was either fully clothed, or simply dancing naked.