I’ll be back

Ami’s eyes glinted with warmth as she put her hand on my shoulder “Alice, are you going to come back?” she asked.

“Of course!” I said with certainty.

And then I stopped. Because we both know that’s not really true. I’m not sure that I’ll ever return.

As April 7th, the day I leave Sandiara closer, and I’m asked that question more and more by my community and family, I’ve realized that both my answer and the question itself point to a truth far deeper than buying a plane ticket.

The past eight months the lives and hearts of me and my community have tangled. We’ve grown, learned, misunderstood, and made ataya together. My family isn’t a home I rented out for six months, they’re family. My community isn’t a dot on a map south of Dakar, they’re my some of my closest friends. They can’t just drop out of my life. They just can’t. That’s just not possible.

But of course, it’s possible. But to imagine never seeing one another again is to deny our ties. Imagining a future where we are still tangled is a way of saying “I love you.”

Since Wolof lacks an equivalent for “I love you” we imagine what could be a lot.

“You’ll come back one day with two children- a boy and a girl. They can stay with us while you and your husband go traveling and we will spoil them rotten,” said Ami with a twinkle in her eyes.

“I’ll call every few months and check up on El Hadji’s school. I’ll send a special math book to help him pass his exam” I told my host mom.

“I’ll send you care packages of ataya and Senegalese spices” my host mom replied.

“Your pictures will be on the wall of my dorm room and I’ll think of you often.” I told my little siblings.

“We’ll draw you pictures and send letters. One day we will send you letters in English” my little siblings replied.

“I’ll come back and visit and celebrate your graduation from high school.” I told my sister Augistine.

“I’ll come visit you in the United States and open up a hair braiding salon from your house. We will make bank. You can make peanut butter and I’ll make cebujen” Augistine said.

John Green writes in Paper Towns “It’s saying these things that keeps us from falling apart. And maybe by imagining these futures we can make them real, and maybe not, but either way we must imagine them.”

That means that the certainty in our promises isn’t a denial of the ocean that will soon separate us or a youthful naÌøvety that the world will always be at my feet, but a heart wrenched acknowledgement of the love we share and an insistence that the future must be imagined in order to become real.

So, Sandiara, my dear family, Diante Bou Bess, I’ll be back. I’ll call. And I’ll always be a little bit Serrer.