I did not anticipate falling in love when I signed up for a gap year.
In fact, I have never anticipated love in any way.
Yet here I am, caring for a person and a cat more than I have ever cared for anyone or anything in my life.
My mouss (pronounced: moose) – Barki, a garbage, dirt cat that I stole from the trenches of Khombole’s market. Motherhood was new to me, but raising this baby kitten to the slinky teenager he is right now has taught me so much about selflessness and empathy than a sack of flour or fake baby ever could. Taking care of a living being is the real deal and it isn’t easy, even if it’s just a cat.
My Meissa (pronounced: Mice-Ah) – the four year old boy that lives in my house, the nephew of my mother that was born out of wedlock and taken in by my host family.
Ask anyone and they will tell you I hate children. This hasn’t changed except if you were to ask me now I would have an exception: this one boy.
I’ve loved friends, I’ve loved places, things, and moments in time, but I have never loved someone like this. Never so much that my heart aches when I think of leaving. Like actual physical pain in my chest knowing that I will be away from him. The first time I felt this way was when he fell asleep in my arms and I still held him and I didn’t mind him, in fact, I wanted to hold him.
Jacqueline voluntarily touching a child? Never.
Every time I come home from work, or a trip away, even to a friend’s house for the day, as soon as he can see me he starts to run with his arms spread wide and yells my name until he crashes into my legs and I pick him up and take him home.
He’s the little brother I never had but always wanted. He is crazy, wild, and feisty like me. And he’s the biggest goof of us all.
He’s been my greatest teacher here, letting me make mistakes and taking time to correct them. In return I’ve taught him the alphabet, a pirouette, and how to say “I love chicken”.
I dream of a time and place where we would never be separated. I think perhaps the greatest gift of all is “to love and be loved”, as my dad always says.
Leaving my cat, Meissa, my family, Senegal.. May feel like the end but I can only see it as a catalyst for me to work hard so that one day I can come back here and provide for Meissa in a way that I can’t right now. I have to thank some kind of God for allowing me to feel this way—the joy, the pain, all of it— and for crossing our paths along the twisted roads of our lives.
From the moment I met him; barefoot and singing in a Santa Claus onesie, to the moment my road comes to an end; I will remember my first true love as the 4 year old, Senegalese boy that changed my life. And I get to carry that with me, forever.