Picked up from the pavement of Dakar, I was dropped off in the sun-soaked sand of my new village on November 2. Curling my toes to hold on to my sandals, I waded through the wind-blown earth until I reached my house, the home of the Ndiaye family, a last name I now claim as my own. I shook hands with my yayy and baay (mom and dad), repeating the few greetings I had memorized in Wolof. I followed my older brother as he gave me the grand tour. He showed me the three rooms that will really matter while I’m here: my bedroom, the bathroom and the shower.
My bedroom is a tin-walled cave that I share with three other people. On the walls, blue fabric hangs from the ceiling. There is one king-sized bed, two bed-side tables and a dresser. My bags were stuffed in a corner, blended in with all the other items in the room, as if they had been there all along.
The bathroom is an outhouse with a hole in the ground and a jug of water in the corner. Instead of toilet paper you are expected to use your left hand. The shower is a concrete room; the walls have three nails to hang your clothes and are frequented by roaches and crickets. Replacing a showerhead is a 5-gallon, plastic bucket that you fill with water at the spigot across the yard.
Completely overwhelmed, I walked back to the central spread of sand that functions as a living room—a beach, without an ocean. My family told me to sit, so I fell down in the sand and let the grains cling to my sweaty skin. “What am I doing here?” was all I could think. I felt like I had been tossed into an hourglass, suffocating from the heat, a mere particle in the world, buried in time. I scooped up sand and let it run through my fingers and thought about how there were 22 days until I got to see the other fellows again. This would be my home for the next 173 days. I had 180 days until I could see my family again. As I sifted through the sand, I could feel the minutes crawling. Each grain of sand represented a day away from home.
That night, I sat under the night sky sorting peanuts, surrounded by 25 of my new family members who were talking and laughing in a language I didn’t understand. I gazed up at the moon, the same astrological sphere that lit up the sky back home. The cool air surrounded me and I could feel heat pushing its way through from the little coal fed stove my family was using to make attaya, a type of tea. I watched the glowing coals, as warmth wiggled through them; the embers were a dance floor for the swaying flames.
I locked eyes with one of my sisters. She smiled in a language that I understood. Suddenly, there was no time. I realized that these six months were a blessing. When you are doing something you love and your whole heart is in it, time becomes unimportant. I am finally living my dreams. They are beating in my chest and flowing through my veins. I am here, living now.
Life is prolonged for those who live it.
When all was quiet, I locked myself in the shower room. I dipped a cup in my bucket and poured the murky water over my body, washing every last grain of sand from my skin.
That night in my new home, I slept like a baby. The next morning I stepped out of my room, curious as a 5-year-old, into my sandbox, eager to play.