I’ve been back home in Virginia for about 2 months, and due to quarantine, I’ve had more time to myself than I expected to reflect on my experience as a Global Citizen Year fellow. I’ve looked through all my pictures on my phone repeatedly, chatted with fellow fellows about how re-entry is going, accidentally almost used Wolof words in conversation more times than I can count, and just generally compared daily life here to life in Senegal in my head. And while I have all of these memories to think about internally, I also noticed that I have so few physical mementos here in the US that actually remind me of the breadth of experience I was able to have while on my gap year.
As unexpected as it might sound, the item that came to mind that related to almost all aspects of life in Senegal, both in my host family and at my apprenticeship, is a stool. A small wooden stool made from scrap wood. I used one of these in my families’ courtyard to sit almost every day for meals and to chat with neighbors, and all my host siblings would bring them to my room when they wanted to hang out. Anytime a stranger or a neighbor entered my family’s home, someone would grab a stool and invite the person to stay awhile, as Senegalese practice of teranga (hospitality) goes. At my carpentry apprenticeship, I always considered learning how to make a stool to be proof of my achievements and newfound understanding over the course of the year. Building a stool combines all the fundamentals of carpentry that I observed and assisted with since my carpentry boss made stools for all the families in the town.
So I built one. In my garage, here in Virginia, using a mix of skills learned from YouTube tutorials and my carpentry boss back in Senegal. As I was working, I thought about myself a year ago, when I never ever would have considered myself capable of taking on a project like that alone. I thought about myself in the first week of my carpentry apprenticeship, when I thought someone had made a terrible miscalculation of my potential by assigning me that job. I was reminded of my host community’s generosity towards me most of all- in every part of my time there, they saw my potential and invited me to learn and grow from them in ways I never thought I could. They pulled up a stool for me, and I built one for them, to say thanks.
On the top of the stool, I carved the Wolof words “jamm rekk,” meaning “peace only.” In extensive Wolof greetings in Senegal, this phrase is said constantly, and at the beginning of my time in Senegal, I felt like a bit of a liar when I said it because I was so uncomfortable in my new environment. However, I certainly grew to feel it and it’s how I feel whenever I think about my time living in Senegal.
I’m excited to carry this stool forward with me in life as a physical representation of 1) how to treat people, especially those who are different from you, 2) the tangible skills and abilities I gained that defied the odds I set for myself, and 3) the people in Senegal that I will love and miss always.