My eyes focused on my feet, concentrating on each step to ensure a safe landing onto the road below me. There was dry sand in some places and thick mud in others. Cracks, puddles, stones and broken cinderblocks presented themselves as obstacles to my first outing on my first day in Dakar. Every so often I would look up and catch glimpses of tables lined with clusters of onions, shop windows full of pots and pans, and eyes— lots of staring eyes. When my own eyes fell back down to looking out for my feet, my nose and ears took over. The un-ignorable voices of mothers calling to their children in Wolof and the “bah” of nearby goats demanded my attention, and as thoughts of doubt and dread about the upcoming year began to fill my mind, an unmistakable smell wafted by. I lifted my head, and there, in all its glory, was the ocean.
I continued to walk down the road, now with my eyes focused on the sand ahead. The beach went on for what seemed like forever, until the sky and land blurred into one hazy horizon. My feet kicked off my shoes and my arms dropped my backpack. Water flowed over my toes and dug my heels further into the sand with each passing wave. I walked forward, pulled closer and closer by the familiarity of the ocean. This was the ocean I had sat in front of countless times, huddled together with friends while listening to music and trying to identify stars. This was the ocean I had jumped into, my breath catching each time, from boats, docks, and my beloved family Stiltsville house. This was the ocean that turned my hair knotty and wind-blown, my eyes red and stingy, and my skin dark and salty. I knew this ocean. This was my ocean.
As the days pass by in Dakar, this continues to happen: a push and pull between Senegal and Miami, new and old, east and west. Just as I feel like I’m being pulled away from my home of 18 years, something pushes me back and reminds me of my past and the person I was, the person I will be, in Miami.
Senegal is not my home yet. I have not forgotten about my friends, family, and life in Miami. I haven’t forgotten that my pup Ruby only eats the dental chew bones if they’re broken in half. I haven’t forgotten that my mom uses the mirror in my room because the one in hers is suspiciously flattering. I haven’t forgotten that the Suburban doesn’t always start on the first try and that if it shrieks horrifically to take out the key and try again. I haven’t forgotten about you— yeah, you reading this— and the role you played in getting me here. I don’t plan on forgetting, but I do plan on learning. I am learning. More on that soon.