That first initial contact with Senegalese air was intense. It was humid, the sun was hot and the feeling of being overwhelmed started to bubble in the pit of my stomach. What in the world have I gotten myself into? These are waters that I never thought I would ever tread, and almost instantly, it felt like I was drowning. I paused, having to remind myself that I was here with reason… I am here for a reason. With a deep breath, I follow the group to the beginning of what would lead to the adventure of a lifetime.
Laughter echoes in halls of the training center we’re staying at in Théis and the first couple of days, I longed to feel like myself and to join in with that laughter, especially when the sun went down. That’s when I find myself feeling the most overwhelmed, when I’m not moving and left alone with my thoughts but on the second night… the sound said laughter was magnetic and absentmindedly found myself walking towards it as if my body knew exactly what I needed. There, I find Sarah, one of my fellow Senegal fellows, in the kitchen with women that work in the center we’re doing our in country-training. Sarah’s laugh is mixed into theirs as if through their joy, they were having a communication. Breaking through the shell I’m not used to being in, I begin trying to converse with them in my broken Wolof and within seconds of introducing myself, I’m given a new, Senegalese name; Aidambai. After spending a good amount of time with the women, we dance, laugh and share the space of trying to translate between English and Wolof. My heart is at ease.
Within that time, any feeling of discomfort faded into the background–– joy and laughter are universal. There is no language barrier in that, there are no mistakes, no confusion in the sounds of happiness. In the next seven months, I’m excited to hear the laughter that naturally rumbles in our human chests. Laughter, I find, is present in any space that the 2018 Senegal Cohort is in. Whether it’s two of us or all twenty-four. Our laughs synch up into this perfect harmony as if it’s been rehearsed our entire lives. When in reality, it’s only been four days that we’ve truly spent with each other. Can you imagine that? Imagine what it’ll sound like at the end of these upcoming seven months. But I’m taking this journey one step at a time, the days are long but the year is short (is what I keep being told by a multitude of alumni). Soon, we’ll all be off with our respective host families for our first week of full immersion and I hope that I find a way to mesh my sense of joy and laughter with theirs.
I’ve got so much time to cry, I’ve got so much time to be frustrated and confused so for now, I think I’ll laugh because it just feels so much better.