I came to Senegal with the name Erin Elizabeth Lang. In less than a month, I will be leaving with the name Kiné Mariama Ndoye. Ndoye is a last name of the Lebu background, meaning that in history, the Ndoye family were fishermen. Although my family in Sébikotane is not made up of fishermen, they take great pride in their last name and in its origin. I remember my first day in Sébikotane, Senegal. I remember the day I became one of them. I remember the drive here in an utter and vilifying silence. I remember the fear in the uncertain. I remember picking up who was soon to be my host brother from his work, and arriving at what soon to be my new home. And most importantly, I remember walking up my new steps to the door of my house, where once I had entered, my life changed forever.
I entered with my director and the other Fellows into a welcoming salon where my host mother waited for me. The minute she saw me, she looked at me and said Néné Tutti, meaning my little baby in Wolof, and then said to my director, I am naming her Kiné. Kiné Ndoye. The other Fellows and I walked around the house, and my brother showed me to my room. I was so overwhelmed I started to tear up, not knowing what to do in the situation. When the others left, I went to arrange my things and hang up my mosquito net. I then went and sat in my mother’s room, where I could not speak out of joy and anticipation. I was too busy absorbing what was going on all around me. I knew just by the first minutes in this family that I was going to be the happiest I had ever been in my life. Within an instant, I became one of them.
As the journey continued, through the bad and the good, I learned so much about life and about family in general. I get off of work every day and can’t wait to see my mother, Ana, who is the wisest and most amazing woman I have ever met. She has changed my life. Never has she done anything more than to help me on this journey, and it never stops there, for she goes out of her way for me anytime she can. Ana always reminds me of the fact that I am not just a student in her house, I am her daughter, and I therefore should treat her as my mother. She gives me strength in ways I didn’t know were possible.
My host dad, Omar, is amazing. Omar has been so good to me, always standing up for me and seeing that I get what I need. It’s really incredible how great of a person he is. He’s really funny too. He’ll come in and ask Ana where I am, and if I’m not there, he will wait until I get back before he leaves. When I get back he says Hey, you! Where were you? I was worried you forgot about us. Come, eat. Bon appétit. And then he smiles and goes off to work or to the mosque again. It’s always a highlight of my day.
My host sisters are hilarious, and so good to me. There are four of them: Awa, Ami, Adja, and Kiné, whom I was named after. I have a unique relationship with each of them, and I would never trade them for the world. Awa is the youngest and newest addition to the family. She is in high school still, and recently married my host brother. She is very sincere and very generous. Ami is married to my host brother, Amet, and has one child, Thiouna. She is extremely hard working, and very funny. Adja is hilarious and very sarcastic. She reminds me a lot of my friends in the States. She works very hard as well, and is currently training to open a salon. She is a year older than me. And finally there is Kiné, whom I find myself the closest to. Kiné has three kids, and is currently six months pregnant. She is the hardest worker in the family. Our personalities are exact opposites, but we fit each other very well. The funniest part is that Kiné does not speak French, yet I find myself being the closest to her, despite the language barrier. Overall, my host family is amazing. I have never laughed as hard as I do with them. I really feel lucky to be where I am.
As this last month goes by, one thing keeps passing through my mind. Every time I think about the fact that in less than a month, I will go back to life as I knew it, I remember something my family has engraved into my heart: My name is Kiné Mariama Ndoye, and no matter where in the world I am, I will always be a Lebu.