Becoming who we are. Everyone told us this experience would change us, shape us. Sure, I said. I was in it for the adventure, not the personal development.
These past four and a half months have seen plenty of adventures. My words were the first words several Senegalese babies ever heard. I’ve spoken on the radio—entirely in Wolof. I’ve received free djembe lessons and tea from some friendly Baay Falls on the side of a busy road in Dakar. My fingers have been stained red from picking my family’s bissap, a tangy hibiscus plant. The list goes on. I got the adventures I wanted.
And yet…I’ve gotten more than I expected.
Late one night, my host mother, Awa, and I were walking home from visiting her relatives in another village. We were almost home, I knew the way, but she grabbed my hand in the darkness. “Yow suma doom nga,” she said. You are my child. “Yow suma yaye nga,” I said. You are my mother. She didn’t let go of my hand until we walked inside.
Friend and fellow Fellow Kaya Hartley opened my eyes to the possibility of truly being free to live my life without holding onto the past anger and hurt. Freedom requires sacrifice of all self-serving pity that no longer serves the self. It’s hard, and it’s worth it.
Another friend and Fellow felt intensely at one moment the frustration, loneliness, and, yes, culture shock that we all feel sometimes. My friend started crying. I held my friend in my arms. Not just for a second. I held on past the moment where a hug becomes slightly awkward. I held on until we both felt better. That’s all.
Three more months of opportunity gifted to me. I’ll be sure to live them.