Written October 5th, 2015
The rain was coming down. When I say it was coming down, I mean it. I had never experienced rain that teemed down with such ferocity as this. I had spent the day in the back of a truck, with six other fellows who, one by one, were dropped off at their permanent homestay in various villages in the southern region of Kedougou. Still in the back of this truck, it was down to two of us. No longer were we surrounded by familiar faces- rather, a number of Senegalese men and boys speaking rapid Pulaar to one another hung off the tailgate as we made our way over a rocky, irregular road. In mere minutes I looked as if I could’ve been nearly drowned, and found myself laughing out of pure awe of the situation I had landed myself in. The truck came to a stop under a mango tree, and our hands were grabbed by two young boys. Jackson, the other fellow I was with, and I regarded each other with confusion.
“Come on. Let’s go home.”
The command came from the boy who was now leading me off into a cornfield. We showed slight resistance but the children simply ushered us forward. Laughter erupted from both of us as we trudged through mud and deep puddles, the rain never ceasing its fervent downpour. I was confused and utterly ecstatic. Never in my life had rain had such an impact on my state of mind. We reached a compound, void of familiarity. Goats huddled in the shelter of a hut, an elderly woman showered in the storm…where on earth was I? Having found shelter from the rain, I almost wished to engulf myself in it once more. There is something special about Senegalese storms. I looked to Jackson, unable to find words to express sentiment for our situation, but he did it for me.
“There is nowhere else in the world I would rather be.”
We were led down to the dock of our hotel, facing a wide delta of the Gambia River and an expanse of mangrove trees. The sun having just set, night was rapidly approaching, and my cohort and I sat in hushed confusion. Out of the dark, Hassana and Aminatta, two members of the Senegalese staff team, seemed to materialize. Wearing traditional Senegalese dress, they moved silently through us and to the end of the dock. One by one, encouraged to rise by a song we had been instructed to choose that meant something to us, we were to approach the two figures. I observed, enraptured by the ceremony taking place. In the traditional manner of Senegal, we were being baptized. As each baptism was complete, our names, given to us by our host families, were declared into the night.
As I watched each member of my cohort, people I had come to regard as a sort of family over the past month, receive their distinctive names in such a memorable setting, I began to well up with emotion. Seeing this ceremony, the realization truly dawned on me. We're here. We're a part of this place. Before tears could slide down my cheeks, however, a few fat drops of rain began to fall…and I have come to learn that, in Senegal, this can only mean one thing. Within seconds, the downpour had commenced and the cohort began to tear back to the shelter of the hotel. I walked slowly with a few other fellows, relishing in the intensity of this place and the rain that continued to cleanse me of any apprehension toward the insanity I had willingly walked into a mere month ago. Again, I dissolved into laughter, a grin plastered across my face as the rain engulfed me.
“This is excellent. The rain is good luck,” Hasanna told us as a roof was once more over our heads.
The ceremony commenced once again. I stood proudly, albeit nervously, as I was introduced as Hawa Diallo of Thianghe. There is something special about Senegalese storms.