Gone to Carolina in my Mind: Reflections on Homesickness

Alice Brower - Senegal


October 13, 2014

If I close my eyes, I can see my home in Chapel Hill and my round dining room table with afternoon light bouncing off the light wood. I can hear my mom’s boots bounding up the steps. I can feel the last turn in the car on the drive to my best friend’s house. I can taste tangy barbecue and sweet tea.

Because in my mind, I’m gone to Carolina.

As I laid in bed with a fever that was only going up, I wanted my Mama to hover and rub my back, my Dad to be analytical and make a fever chart, my friends to be a sympathetic snapchat away, and English. I wanted to hear English.

Because in my mind, I was gone to Carolina.

On April 19th, I’ll return home. I can imagine the pink flowers falling from the trees in front of my house as they do each spring, the maturity and new skills of my little friend Noah who will be almost three years old, the exhilaration and relief of finally being able to touch my best friend Matt not just see him through a screen, and the awe of seeing how each of my high school friends have matured.

Because in my mind, I’m going to Carolina.

When I walk out of my house in Senegal at 6:50am for my morning run, the cool air is a relief. I eat an apple as I wander through the tall grass and say to the guard dinaa daw (I’m going to run) as I enthusiastically smile and make hand gestures, because I have to make my few Wolof words count. In the afternoon, I see my Senegalese family huddled around one bowl, eating food I helped to prepare through hours of laughing and learning. I hear the constant chirping of birds who have made circular nests in all the trees.

Because right now I’m in Sandiara, Senegal.

When my fever got really high, I laid outside on a mat and stared at the stars with tears I was trying to hide from my family in the corners of my eyes. I sang Oceans as I insisted that God was in the mystery and my faith would stand, my older sister covered me in ice, and my little siblings stared wide eyed while giving me a wide berth. In the car to the hospital, my yaay finally pulled my pounding head close, stroked my hair, and hummed hymns as I struggled to catch a breath in all the heat.

Because I was in Sandiara, Senegal.

On April 19th and all the days after that, when I close my eyes, I know I’ll be able to see the faraway mist in the baobabs. I’ll see three year old Etchenne’s serious face and furrowed brow as he makes sure my skirt doesn’t drag on the ground. I’ll be able to smell the incense from the Catholic Church which fills my room to keep the mosquitos away and taste the overwhelming sweetness of ataya and thus tradition.

Because I’ll be gone to Sandiara in my mind.

And that’s okay, because this sort of homesickness isn’t a preoccupation with leaving or ultimately coming back; it is a reminder that when I live deep within my heart, allow people to touch my soul, when I love with abandon and quickly try again after I fail, people places and things will vividly stick with me forever.

 

**Disclaimer for my worried parents: Global Citizen Year’s response to my sickness was immediate and effective. Soon after my fever started escalating, my host mother and I were on our way to the nearest hospital with Hassana (my team leader) on his way to meet us there. I was well cared for by skilled doctors and Hassana hovered (like you would have, Mama) and made me giggle. Now I’m back to my utmost strength. And Daddy, fear not, I still made the fever chart and thought of you.

Alice Brower