“How is Africa?”
Over the last month/5 weeks/36 days… this question has flooded my texts, phone calls, and DMs. At first, I somehow found the words to answer, but they never felt like they fully expressed an answer to that question. I answered, but it didn’t feel like the honest or true answer. Sitting in my room, searching for a way to tell my stories, speak my truth, and give others a glimpse into my life, I realized something that has heavily altered the way I share my experiences.
My answer is not the problem, it’s the question. Those three words— seemingly simple— string together and create an impossible question. So I ask you to listen (and possibly learn to ask a different question). Here’s why:
- I am not experiencing Africa, I am experiencing Senegal. Therefore, I cannot speak to a question on Africa, I can only speak to a question on Senegal. Africa is a continent made up of 54 beautifully diverse countries, full of different cultures, values, and people. And I am experiencing just 1: Senegal. Minimizing all of these countries down to one grossly draws the individuality out of every unique country. I am not experiencing Africa, I am experiencing Senegal.
- To even replace “Africa” with “Senegal” may not be enough. If one asks, “How is Senegal?”, I will still be at a loss for words. At this moment, I am experiencing every emotion you could name: Joy, love, excitement, passion, gratitude… fear, anxiety, confusion, frustration… grief, sadness. When i’m asked, “How is Senegal?”, which of these emotions do you suggest I start with? How many would you like to hear about? And in which aspects of Senegal would you like to hear how they are affecting me (ie. host family, culture, work, language learning)? Suddenly, all of this feels too overwhelming. So, do you know what i say instead? “Senegal is great!”. For my sake… specificity may be helpful 🙂
- Still, even now, after a change-in-terms and more specific questions, the inquiry still feel daunting (but a bit less impossible). I have been here one month/5 weeks/36 days… but for everyone around me, Senegal is home. It’s been home to them for the last 15, 30, 45 years and it will be home for many years to come (inshallah). I know nothing about Senegal. Well, I know what i learned during training, I know what my family has explained to me, I know what’s in 30 minutes walking distance of me, but in hindsight, I do not know Senegal. How could I- the toubab who has lived here for just a month- speak about Senegal? I have so much left to learn, so much left to see. Yes, I can explain to you how Senegal has made me feel and tell you the values, culture, and stories that i’ve observed, but those things are about me, not about Senegal.
Senegal— There is so much of you to explore and I myself have an endless list of questions to ask you. So to those reading, I will let you know the answers when I find them.