At 7:30 I awaken to the sounds of my host family bustling about the compound. My mother shouts in Wolof as my younger siblings prepare for school. The maid’s broom sweeping the sand for leaves and trash. The gate closing behind my older sister as she leaves for the market to buy ingredients for lunch. I make no sound whilst lying in bed, mentally coaching myself for another day in Ngaye Mekhe, Senegal.
Come 8:40, I am dressed in a taibas and in the living room watching the only American channel we get; MTV. I eat the standard daily breakfast of Cafe Touba with Chocopain spread in french bread.
Around 10:00 I am out the back gate. My head is down and guard is up. As custom I greet the old men on benches, and saleswomen at their daily posts. Some days the children are sweet and shake your hand. Some days the adults cheer on your language skills as you greet them. But this day does not start as so.
By 10:08 in the few minutes it takes me to walk from home to work I have already had countless children mock me. They shout “Maayma cado” with hands out stretched for things I can not give. I have had men demand for marriage because I can “give them the lifestyle of Lil Wayne and bring them to America.” I have had women try to sell me goods at triple the price and then blatantly tell me to “leave the market” when I explain I am not there to purchase anything. All this weighs on me as I greet my boss and take a seat at my sewing table.
At 10:20 I am sewing together a diakhasse (mix) of my own design from collected scraps when a man enters seeking a tailor to fix his son’s clothing. A conversation begins after he declares to “know all women and their deceitful ways.” In most cases a few months back I wouldn’t care to or even be able to join the conversation due to cultural difference and language barriers. But now I do care and I am able. When he leaves I continue to sew and converse with a woman about the open mindedness, religion, and my work as an apprentice tailor . Each new topic strengthens my confidence in language skill and cultural understanding.
When the clock strikes 12, I am still sewing and talking to people who come through for tailoring. I am able to be amongst others and still work on my latest project. I am so wrapped up in my work that I no longer look at the time. I am simply there in that moment, sitting on a wooden stool, behind an old sewing machine, surrounded by fabrics and outfits. I am in tune with the speed of the needle at my table rather than the needle on my clock. I remember that I am there for me. I am content creating things in an environment I never could have imagined as comfortable with the limited resources at hand. I am doing something I love to do with an ability I used to hold back. I can finish the final details on a bubu and contribute to an outfit while learning and picking up aspects for my own designs. I sit at a sewing table in a crowded market on a sweltering day and am content.
On my way home for lunch I greet more people with my head up. I tell the men I already have five husbands and that they are too late to come to America and they laugh with me. I mock the children who mock me in Wolof, much to their surprise, and get high fives and friendly waves as approval that I have entered their game and won for the day. I remember the names of the daily faces who never forget mine. I am content here because I remember to be content with myself. I am at peace with my ability and even my inability. Even if I face harassment or prejudice in my environment I am still content because I make it worth it with the work that I do. I am content anywhere I can use my skills acquired in Senegal. Of those skills, there are many aside from sewing, but to keep it simple that is the one that keeps me staying strong and reminds me of the others.