In Dependence

Elizabeth Schmidt - Senegal


December 11, 2014

The following is an excerpt from my college essay, finalized on October 30th:

“When I arrived, I could barely speak, and I still cannot cook or tie my wrap-skirt without help. Nothing has been harder than loneliness and helplessness as I struggle to communicate in French or Wolof or when my mom’s friends laugh after I spill the tea that must be toggled until the glasses are filled with bubbles.

Despite difficulty in demanding that people wait as I find my words or asking how to make tea as others laugh, when I ask for help, I receive it. In the US, I would want to appear able, but there is nothing more rewarding than the tenderness and pride of my family and friends when I say, “I don’t know. Show me,” and they do.

When I overcome difficulties, what stands out is not my capability, but my gratitude for others’ compassion. My most defining moments in Senegal have been from others showing me kindness: the first time a friend invited me for tea, when my neighbor taught me to dance and cook peanuts in sand, when the guys asked me to play soccer, or when I broke my family’s fancy glass and my mom said, “I forgive you. You’re my child.” I see that strength and success are products of human connections; if we are helpless in every other way, we have power in reaching out to each other.”

Elizabeth Schmidt