I Wish You Knew

Thea Holcomb - Senegal


April 4, 2017

There is so much that I never found the words to say but that I wish you knew-

  • I adore the family chickens. I’ve tried to tell you this, but adoring chickens isn’t much of a concept here. Nevertheless, I closely follow their drama- I could tell you which pullets like to hop into trees, which hens grab the best dustbathing spots, and which cockerels will grow up to be the most annoying. The noises that they make are a cozy reminder of my United States home. The fact that every chick who lives long enough to sprout feathers has done so against incredible odds, oft gives me reason to pause and ponder the randomness and the sanctity that is imbued in every life. They are also pretty tasty.
  • Bearing witness to your frequent and desperate arguments over money was painful to me. I, both white and American, might as well be an ambassador to rich people- and you have every right to see me as such. But I too, live with similar fears. I have spent many nights here lying awake, despising the power money wields upon my life, and I admit, with a squirm of guilt, resenting my peers who aren’t shackled thusly. I anguish over the fact that it will take me years to recover from the personal financial destabilization I willingly took on in order to become a part of your family. There are few things that make me as nervous as monetary instability, but Barky-Allah [I promise in the name of God] that you’ve made my choice worth that sacrifice.
  • I realized rather recently that the largest motivating factor in my drive to study Laalaa with such ferocity was fear- somewhere, deep in the unseen crevices of my brain, I fear I can only be loved when my ability to communicate is perfect. As much as I’m not one to be self-congratulatory, I’d say my Laalaa is good- although infinitely far from perfect. Nevertheless, you grew to love me. I’m starting to think that keeping up an appearance of eloquence and intelligence perhaps are not prerequisites to being loved. Maybe love has its own weird way of transcending the known limits of communication.
  • At meals, you yell “Ñama!” [Eat!] at me as an expression of Teranga, [unconditional hospitality.] At the beginning, the pressure I felt to eat loads of your (delicious) cooking caused me such anxiety that I could barely eat anything at all- to the extent that my brain usually felt like it was romping around at the bottom of a pond, and a thicket of fuzzy hairs emerged on my abdomen- an early sign of deprivation. Slowly, I learned to shield my mind against the onslaught of your “Ñama!”s, by imagining that you don’t care if I ñam a lot or not. I must give you credit where it’s due- like you’ve said, my American family will surely be proud of how you’ve fattened me up quite nicely. Nevertheless, every day, that godforsaken word, “ñama!” more efficiently than anything else, makes me lonely. It  reminds me that no matter how I try to prove I’m part of the family, in your minds there’s an inexorable force that forever defines me as “Sagatch” [“Guest”]. Your cries of “Ñama!” put me in a position in which I have no choice but to fail to meet expectations. Confronting my deep fear of not meeting expectations, day after day for six months has been a bit exhausting. On the upside, it probably taught me something! I dunno what, but I trust that I’ll find out someday.
  • Every time you call me “kumonkimoomigo” [“My little sibling”] or “ku kigo” [“My child”] your affirmation of my belonging here makes my heart soar so high that it hurts. Using the these possessive nouns is a gesture suffused with generosity that will leave an imprint upon my soul, unfading, no matter how many years we spend apart.

It has been an honor to call myself Rëky Thiaw. Inshallah, may we meet again.

Thea Holcomb