March 18, 2020. Damay nebe – I’m leaving.

Abdallah Salha - Senegal


April 15, 2020

March 18, 2020. Damay nebe – I’m leaving.

Written on my flight from Senegal to Tunisia stopping in Mali to pick up and drop off passengers.

 

Yesterday was such a rushed and a dramatic day and I came to leave the country that I am really being welcomed in. (Other than the Arab identity that I have which was a curse as most of the Arabs and especially Lebanese people are known for their blunt racism in West Africa), it has been an amazing experience to experience a new country and culture and connect with the Senegalese community on the large scale and especially my host family on the small. Sending love to “sama yaay ak sama papa” (my mother and my father) as we called our host parents as we lived with them. It was a pleasure to be a son of theirs. An experience that would never be forgotten.

 

I have arrived in Senegal on September 1st,2019, and I’d like to take the time to reflect and be proud of myself and GCY friends for making it through this experience with a good knowledge of Wolof as we struggled to learn and speak it. It was a pleasure to connect on that level with my host family that my yaay and my papa and other fellows’ were emotional about their “ei doom” (children) leaving. As my team leader, Abde, mentioned it as we were on the bus traveling: “I have never seen a Senegalese man that emotional.” I have always hated militaries and whatever was related to them – I think as per my experience growing up in occupied Palestine and still subjected to military racism, but being a son of Boubacar Konaté, a Senegalese military veteran, made my perspective about military absolutely different. The gentleness, love, and humanity that I haven’t seen in any military man before in my life, and I realize now how limited my experience is.

 

Leaving yesterday has been the weirdest leaving of all the times I left the different places I lived in or stayed at. It was the second time I said goodbye after the first time I said Goodbye on Thursday after we were notified at 9:30 that we’d be leaving our host families at 15:00 the same day and we have to pack. I finished packing at 14:40, and that didn’t feel good by any means to any of us, the Konaté-Diafouné family. I had to just leave my room to the living room for some Ceebu jinn (the national dish of Senegal) before Abde, my team leader, would’ve come to pick me up as per what was agreed on then. Fatou cried and as yaay said “Fatou day joy,” Wolof for “Oh, Fatou is crying..” Sama papa covered his face with his left hand as started to have a teary eye and couldn’t help it. He didn’t have lunch that day even and left to his bedroom to come back to the living room a while after as my team leader messaged at 15:40 saying: “It seems unlikely that we’re leaving today, but it’s still possible.”

 

Today, Sunday morning, it was the same rushed scenario. The difference was just that it is in the morning. It was very overwhelming that everything happened at the same time and as I was sleep-deprived because of the worry I am burdened with. Some other fellows seem to be happy about their unexpected, early reunion with their loved ones at the COVID-19 Corona Virus uncertain times while I am burdened to worry about Jordan allowing me to enter only 4 hours before their complete lock-down, being quarantined in a hotel for 2 weeks and follow with 2 weeks of self-isolation in another hotel – All by myself. As I was leaving at around 9 am today, Fatou cried, papa shook hands with me without eye contact which seemed to be the same as what happened on Friday, but also yaay stood aside and cried at the entrance of the corridor that leads to my room. I couldn’t help it and I hugged her. She took her time and then kissed my hand. That felt like a mom and I would be thankful forever for her affection and care. “Beggna laa, sama yaay!” (Love you, mom).

 

It didn’t feel like it was real, neither I wanted it to be. But it is what it is, I guess.

After picking Kali, my neighbor, up, Abde came with the group of Kali, Aldo, Angela, Angelique and Erin (other fellows). And after picking me up, we went to pick up Drew and then Wonu and then finally head to Saly for our closing seminar. I didn’t know I’d fly out of Senegal that day, but I was open to all options knowing that Jordan is stopping all flights on Tuesday morning. We arrived at the hotel in Saly at noon and gathered our luggage by the entrance of the hotel knowing that a group would leave at 14:00 heading to the airport for their flight at 18:00. I had my flight with Emirates scheduled for April 5th, not Today, March 15th. The program head told me that he couldn’t reschedule my flight online, so I have to pack with them and go to the airport and ask the emirates ticketing desk to do that for me. After all that hustle, the airport didn’t have an Emirates ticketing office.

I didn’t say bye to most of those who I was supposed to take the same flight with to Dubai and I told them to go before me in the hope that I will catch up with them – that didn’t happen. I left the airport with the program manager while still in contact with the office in California and we were trying to figure out what option was best for me to go to Jordan. We ended up booking a flight through Tunis Air and Royal Jordanian.

April 15, 2020:

Tunisian custom officers gave me a hard time as well as Jordanians, but almost a month after, all is well, and I’m trying to think of this as a long-awaited, well-deserved break that I always longed for. Shout out and love to my friends and loved ones who keep me a virtual company through video calls and messages. I can’t imagine how it would be without you!

 

Abdallah Salha