At five in the morning on September 19th Abby and I hustled through the dark streets of Dakar. We crossed the familiar highway, now void of the car rapides, taxis, horses, and buses that usually zip by as we make the trek to school and the office.
Abby and I reach the office early and sit on the stoop under the dim yellow light of a single lamp. A slim cat walks over the doorway arch across the road. Every evening when we left the office, a pile of kids tumbled out of the now dark doorway shaking our hands; the chorus of “Salam malekum” “Malekum Salam” echoing as each fellow passed the line of kids.
As other fellows trickle in, the energy of early morning travel begins to fill my body. I squeeze into the van that will take us to Kedougou and I’m floating in the grey dawn. A change is occurring, something new is happening; yet I am driving through the empty city, the sun has not yet touched the horizon. I am in a wonderful state of limbo, between light and dark, night and day, and between this place and the next.
After three popped tires, waves of singing, piles of snacks, at least thirty baboons, one lioness, some very creative sleeping positions and serious bonding time, we arrived to our Kedougou hotel near eleven and stumbled through the dark to our quasi-hut hotel rooms. I rose to find that my window looked out right over the Gambia River; after darkness and exhaustion I woke up refreshed in a beautiful place.
The ride to our site placements begins with a risen sun and a solid night of sleep, but conceptually my destination is no less real than it was the night before. I am heading to Ibel, the village I will be living in for six months, the place where I will hopefully be able to call home. I sit on the back of the pick-up watching the red earth road zoom by under of us, the lush green grasses of the rainy season surrounding us on both sides.
Suddenly the truck stops. A man on a motorcycle pulls up. This is my Baaba, my host father. The road is flooded to the compound. I hop out. My luggage is loaded on to this man’s motorcycle. I follow the muddy path. I’ve forgotten to say goodbye to my friends. I look back. They’re too far away.
I turn my head forward. I’m winding up a hill between tall corn stalks, the brown thatched roofs of huts poke through the green waves, in the distance there are blue-green mountains. I curve around a great Baobab tree and there’s my compound. I’m shown my personal hut; its tan walls, round space, and chair by the little window are very comforting.
My dad invites me to sit under the shade of the tree and tells my two year-old sister Mariama and five year-old brother Moussa to shake my hand. As I look at the shy yet excited smiles of my siblings, I think, Okay, I can do this. As I look to the layers of color in the landscape I think, I’m where I am supposed to be.
I write this post a little over a week after my arrival in Ibel. I spent a trial week in Ibel and now I’m in a hotel for the final training of In-Country Orientation. I look forward to returning to Ibel, seeing my family, beginning my work in education, and breathing in fresh air. Yet, when I think of six months waiting to be designed, shaped, created, and lived, my stomach clenches up a little, a little fear grips my heart.
I stand on the edge of a chasm. On the other side I see myself in the future: happy, healthy, and wise, speaking Pularr, holding a purpose for myself and within my community, and changed for the better. I have faith that this vision of myself will become true. But I must cross the chasm by walking on a bridge at the same time I build the bridge. Looking to the future, I can easily forget the faith I had in my present self the first day in Ibel. I sat down under a tree, accepted those around me as family, and thought I am where I am supposed to be and I can do this. I am facing an amazing and challenging six months but if I close my eyes I see my parents waving goodbye at the airport security, I see the redwoods, I see the Stanford Campus at two in the morning, I see Dakar’s grey dawn, I see the bumpy red dirt road, I see the my hut growing larger as I approach and encompassing me as I enter. I take a deep breath. I am where I’m supposed to be.