Letter to my niece

Sophie Schonbach - Senegal


February 12, 2018

Dear Magget,

 

The first time I looked into your eyes, you pushed your head as far as you could backwards and started searching around for something that never came. You were as tiny as one of the watermelons they sell in your country, and as stiff as one too. The only movement running through your body was the opening and closing of your mouth when you were hungry, the saliva dripping, then the screaming, then your lips aggressively enclosing the breast of your mom. I remember wondering if you could even see yet, so little was your ability to focus your sight.

You put me into many embarrassing situation as it took me at least a month to remember your name and every single time a person out on the streets would ask me how my aunty’s baby was doing and what its name was, I had to reply that you were fine but I don’t know what you were called. Now, not only do I know your name and its numerous sister nicknames, but you know mine too.

Every time I come home, search for you and find you either in my sister’s arms, my grandma’s lap or rapped in a blanket on your mom’s back, your face lights up as if you just saved the world. Your big round eyes become tiny as your even bigger and rounder cheeks flee towards your ears, exposing your soft and toothless gums. And then there is always this sudden contraction going through your chest, chasing this giggle noise out your mouth so that I can’t help myself but smile back.

One of your hardest times so far was when your mom started studying in the next bigger city. She would leave early in the morning and not come back before lunch. Until around ten o’clock you wouldn’t mind cause you would be sleeping, either in your bed, my mom’s bed, my bed or tied to my grandma’s hips, but then you would wake up and not stop crying for hours. Now you don’t mind that either. We can walk with you, play with you and feed you and all you ever do is smile, giggle or scream out of happiness.

I was also there in one of your most exciting times. When you left our small village for the first time to go the big market in the city at night with us, you were sleeping. But when we waited for our friend on the way home, you woke up. I had never seen your eyes getting that big. Your amazement amazed me. You were so excited that you ate everything we gave you. I remember my mom feeding you an orange and wondering if you could handle something as acidic as that only to receive confirmation seconds later as you threw it all up again. And even after you emptied yourself completely, you smiled.

I never expected to be able to care for the way I do, to worry about you and to feel the genuine will to protect you as if you were my actual sister, which you became. I will never forget the moment I realised.

I came home after a long day in the city and had just gone through another of the countless encounters with a Senegalese guy who thought he could treat me like his property only because I identify with the opposite side of the spectrum. Feeling dishonoured and dehumanised on an almost daily basis tears on you like the wind shoves a rock’s corrosion. And when I finally held you in my arms, a tiny sleeping creature, that’s what created the lump in my throat. I saw in you the innocence itself, a human being so fragile that it couldn’t even carry the heaviness of an evil thought. But I knew the place you’ve been born into and the injustice it breathes. That’s what pushed tears into my eyes.

I want you to know that you are strong. I want you to know that if you believe and fight for your dreams, whatever they might be, nothing can stop you. I want you to know that whatever the scum of humanity throws on you, you will not drown cause all you ever are is courageous and gorgeous from the inside out.  I am proud of you.

 

Love,

Dior Sene

Sophie Schonbach