Every muscle in my body was taut with terror. My legs trembled and the pole on which I was perched shook along with them. Sucking air deep within my chest, I closed my eyes to the ground 20 feet below. I was frozen for an unbearable and indeterminable amount of time until that recurrent thought struck me again, You did Senegal. You can do anything. And I jumped.
Returning to the U.S. has been difficult in so many ways, one of which has been the bombardment of questions. Often, I am quizzed along the lines of “What’s the craziest thing you did?” or “I bet you saw some pretty interesting stuff, huh?”. I struggle to accurately respond because life became so normal. Finding 30 zealous women beating pots and dancing after a walk through the desert sunset was routine. The call to prayer didn’t surprise me as I woke each morning or as groups of people suddenly came to their knees. The craziest, most interesting, wildest thing I ever did was simply jump.
In a blog I wrote the day before departing for Senegal, I said “I, too, am standing on the precipice of the greatest dive of my life. All that’s left to do is jump into the unknown.” As I look back, that was the most testing part of my entire year: making the leap and getting on the plane. After that, everything transpired naturally. Struggling with heat, bugs, and ostracizing social stigmas was unbelievably tough, but I had no other option but to deal with it. While each challenge pushed me to discover inner skills, nothing gave me as much strength as that fact that I was simply there.
I’ve come full circle. The me almost one year ago, someone nearly unrecognizable to me now, made the jump, and now post-Senegal me is landing on her feet. As I climbed that pole, I could feel every moment of my experience, everything that almost broke me, everything I thought I could never do, everything that made me me. In the milliseconds following my jump, suspended in air, falling, I felt cradled by each person that helped me to be Ami Gaye. Khoudia. Maty. Daba. Fatou. Sokhna. And as I touched ground, breathless, laughing, and struggling to hold back tears, I could feel me. I changed in Senegal, in ways I don’t even know; I became Ami Gaye, I became stronger, I became fearless, I became myself.
Along with the barrage of questions since leaving Senegal, I struggle to deal with the fact that I’m merely no longer there. Journaling has ceased, as the days seem to hold less weight, and the aching silence of my empty room makes me doubt the moments I swore I would never miss the constant wail of infants, squealing donkeys, or my family’s incessant pleas to dance. Yet, when I landed, amidst my surge of emotion, I also felt something I haven’t experienced in the two months since returning: the excitement of a new challenge. Despite the official end to my Global Citizen Year and the growing distance from Senegal, I realized there are so many more jumps ahead of me: new jobs, workout goals, and starting in July, spending the next year as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Chicago. Senegal gave me the confidence to jump, but also a new benchmark for what I’m capable of: anything.
In conclusion, my capstone video: