Mangi Fi

Olivia Orosco - Senegal


November 14, 2014

Momma,

I am still here waiting for something profound to happen. To be enlightened, hit with an epiphany, struck by my life’s purpose. So far, the only things I’ve been struck by are rogue soccer balls and disoriented grasshoppers. But I don’t think this “something profound” I await will happen like that. Maybe, probably, I think, it will be more subtle, in the small happenings that pass unnoticed. The moments that you don’t realize mean anything until you look around and see that you are not where you started. When you pause and realize that you are no longer who you were. It will happen, my something profound, slowly, subtly, unnoticed, it’s already begun. An overwhelming subtleness, like stars rising in the African night sky.

I have never seen so many stars before. The Milky Way so clearly painted across the night sky. I wish you could see it. I wish everyone could, maybe then we would have less hate in the world, maybe then there would be less pain. I stood in the middle of a baobab field and realized the connection I had to everyone in the world. In that we are so small, that I am just one, but that we all look up and see the same sky. That in that insignificance we are all the same and connected. I stood there mesmerized. Breathtaking.

I lay in bed sometimes and struggle for breath. It feels as if the wind has been knocked out of me, as if all the air in my body has been forced away and I gasp for it back. Homesickness hits like a crude blow to the gut. I am flooded with memories. My senses overloaded. Images flutter across my eyelids, sounds fill my ears, smells waft, feelings strike. The strangest of things, it is funny what you remember. Sidewalks, witty banter around the dinner table, candles, and the comfort of familiar arms surrounding me in a hug… Sometimes the home I picture is one that no longer exists. Ah to taste once more expresso chocolate cheesecake.

I am becoming somewhat acclimated to the food. Don’t get too excited, I haven’t decided I like all vegetables or am eating meat again, BUT I am learning to try, to taste, to appreciate. As in all of life, there are things I do not like and those I do. Senegalese “couscous” or millet, is low on my list. So is the corn. I crave juicy corn dripping in melted butter. Oh man, but not much I have tasted rivals ceebu gen. It is my favorite: fish and beautiful varied local vegetables over an orangish rice. It is often served with a bit of darker crunchy rice rich with flavor, cooked bissap leaves, and citron. Sitting on small wooden stools my family (plus anyone else at the house) eats meals, using spoons, bread or hands. Meals are something I look forward to here; around the bowl I feel connected to my family, and Senegal, as we all come together.

The drinking of attaya, the tea here, is traditional for the men and me, the toubab (foreigner) of course. The tea serves as an accurate metaphor for my Senegalese life as well. Only after you finish the first slightly bitter tea will you be served the second heavenly balanced sweet encore. It works as a metaphor both in the sense that, to know good you must first experience bad, and that often times, at first, things are not perfect. Bugs fly into your hair, getting trapped, wings fluttering against your scalp, buzzing in your ears. The heat lays over you at night, a blanket you can never remove; sleep is fleeting, sweat pools. But after, once you move past the first observations, suffer through the initial hardships, you get to the sweetness. You discover, in a desperate attempt to escape the afternoon heat, the breezy roof. You stand and watch as the sky changes, as birds fly overhead calling out, summoning the moon that is soon to replace the sinking sun. You realize that “most” bugs are harmless and laugh at the misfortune of those caught in your tangled greasy mess of hair, making sure you don’t injure those that eat mosquitos. You see that life is hard, but there are positive moments every day. And only because you know the bitter do you appreciate the sweetness.

I have had a very difficult time deciding what I wish to share about my time in Senegal and what I keep tucked among the silent pages of my journal. I worry that I have painted too perfect a picture of a time that has been anything but. It is hard to find a balance. I don’t want people to believe that I am taking a year off to travel the world, experiencing all the best life has to offer, hotels, traditional food, outfits, the best new people, the time of my life. The pictures do that. They tell a single story. They show only the moments I wanted to capture, not the ones I need to remember. My time in Senegal has not been a vacation. It has had vacation like moments, but they end. My time here has been hard. I have had my lowest moments here. I have felt my worst. But see, those moments are not for you or anyone back home. You won’t learn anything from knowing about all the hardships I’ve faced, you won’t grow from my lows, you will just worry. The tough times, when I feel confused and lost, when I can’t even manage to cry, those moments are for me. They are my chance to realize what I am made of, to muster all the courage I hold within in me, to bring up my chin and to walk on. So just trust me. Enjoy my relatively purposefully composed blogs, enjoy my pictures, and experience the Senegalese life that I share with you. Maybe one day my journal will be leaked and everyone will know the real story, but until then that story’s mine alone. Meanwhile, mangi fi (I am here), experiencing all that Senegalese life really is, uncensored and uncut.

With more love than stars in the Senegalese night sky,

Your favorite eldest daughter,

Olivia

Olivia Orosco