Rokku Mi Rokka

Delaney McKinley - Senegal


March 16, 2017

Rokku Mi Rokka

This is the story of how toothless smiles, free bissap juice, and endless repetitions of catch helped me to find my purpose.

I’ve read multiple, nearly identical, testimonies of moving to a foreign land, being pushed to incomprehensible limits, and then discovering a newfound strength and confidence that was hidden deep within. This is what bridge years are for: finding the voice that was lost in the hustle and bustle of the monotonous day-to-day routine we all find ourselves slip into. I had witnessed friends become more at peace with themselves, and while it seemed as if each one was growing into more self-aware, culturally competent members of their villages, I found myself still wondering what on earth I was doing here. I felt purposeless. I figured out my ideal tea brewing time, my braiding skills improved immensely, and I finally formed the habit of cleaning my room daily, but nothing I learned thus far in the year contributed any sort of sustainable positivity to my family, my community, or myself. I realized that if I were to leave, there were few people, if any, in my town who would feel any sort of sadness. Nothing I was doing created any sort of connection, which is the exact thing in life that I thrive off. Human connection is what brings my heart contentment, yet nearly none of my time was spent actively building any sort of relationship, besides the one I had with my headphones and journal. I spent so long trying to internally force a positive change in myself, that I forgot to actually live. I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in the year I stopped doing so many of the things that made me happy. I stopped watching the sunset, I stopped greeting the lady who owns the candy store, I stopped making tea with my brother, and I stopped doing the things that made me me. I completely forgot who I was in the process of trying to force myself to be someone I’m not.

There were so many aspects about myself that I tried so desperately to change, when the reality is that no matter where I live, I’m still me. I’m still a girl who learns best through hands on learning, who hates silence, who absolutely loves people, who craves chocolate like air, whose sass has become part of her identity, and who is unapologetically optimistic about and in love with life. I consciously avoided these things because I thought that, possibly, if I worked on being more “peaceful” externally, it would transfer internally. Needless to say, it didn’t. When you spend every waking moment actively trying to be someone you’re not, it does nothing but create chaos within yourself. It was when I began to embrace the characteristics that make me who I am, that I began to feel more at peace. Once I found that peace, I was then better able to work on forming habits that would contribute more happiness to my life, (to be further explained in a later blog post).

Finding internal balance is something that I claim only partial credit for. Finding my peace came from being reminded of one of the things that brings me infinite amounts of bliss: kids. Not long ago, I started helping out at “Rokku Mi Rokka”, (Wolof for “I give to you, you give to me”), a center for mentally and physically handicapped kids. After spending just one day there, having used the majority of my time playing a game of toss with Ali, I returned to my typical dwelling spot, my bedroom, and I cried tears of joy. For the first time this year, I was so overflowing with happiness that I didn’t know how to process it. I just cried. I thought about Aidan and Andrew, and how much I miss them. I thought about how generous and kind-hearted the workers at Rokku are, and I was reminded of how in love I am with humanity. I thought about how I really can speak Wolof, regardless of how many times other people told me that I don’t, and how many times I told myself that I don’t. I thought about how I was once so passionate about dancing, and how I didn’t mind that Ali giggled when the music came on and I couldn’t stop myself for head-bobbing and singing along. I thought about how the grunts and squeaks that broke the occasional silence in our classroom quickly became music to my ears. I thought about how hard Modou tried to talk to me, and how excited he became upon discovering that I, too, love basketball. I thought about the bissap juice and breakfast cake and how (ridiculously) pleased I was to be eating something sweet for breakfast. I thought about how happy the kids I had the privilege of working with that day were, despite the disabilities they live with. I thought about how I’m naturally optimistic, as well, and how I should embrace that. I thought about how differently I looked at life, after spending just 120 short minutes with the kids. I thought about how much I already love Rokku because it reminded me of everything I love about myself, and more so, everything I love about life.

In toothless smiles, free bissap juice, and endless repetitions of catch, I had found my purpose.

My purpose is to show up and care- whether that means going to Rokku mi Rokka for a few hours to make sure Sokhna eats her snack, or answering the phone when Darwin calls me at 2 in the morning, or sitting with Moustapha while drinking my coffee and letting him tell me stories, or paying closer attention in language class even when I really don’t care how you say “coconut tree”, or swimming in the ocean with Annie even when it’s colder than preferable, or taking my headphones out when Ousmane asks me how my day is, or doing any of the other hundreds of things I can do to make life a bit better. I found my peace in rediscovering my love for people and for life. I found my purpose in embracing that love. And through peace and purpose, I found indescribable happiness in living this crazy, beautiful life.

Delaney McKinley