These are the following brief descriptions of women that had made me see the world in a different way. Women with their love and passion had brought back to me the energies to fight towards a more feminist world. This list goes far from these 10 women because there are many others. Also, their descriptions are small to express their amazingness and kindness. In any way, this is for them: Senegalese women that are changing the world (my world).
* My mom Ndoya Mbodji
My host mom, as you can see in the picture, is not only a fashion role model for me. She is the sweetest and caring person I have met here in Senegal. Ndoya is an inspiration for her daughters, her sisters, her son, her husband, and her parents. Growing up as the oldest daughter in a polygamous household, she understood from a very young age the importance of women education in Senegal. She is the first and only woman in her family to go to university and get a French Degree. Now she is a teacher in one of the most recognized public high schools in my city. She wiggles her time between grading exams, cooking lunch and dinner, doing shopping, cleaning the house, help me with Wolof, teach me about the religion, going to her parents’ house, advising her sisters and getting astonishing dresses for herself and for her daughters. My host mom is one of the strongest women I have ever meet. She lived alone in the capital of Senegal with 4 children while my dad had to work in another city. Yet she managed to study and work at the same time. She is indeed my hero. And she kept me accountable when everything seems pointless. She taught me the importance of spiritual resistance in times of neocolonialism, and she taught me how fierce can someone be when the ones you loved are being hurt. She is the personification of intersectional feminism and women empowerment. She is a strong, beautiful, independent and wise, and every day I am so grateful to come across as her host daughter, and words are not enough to say thank you for open your house and your heart to me.
* My sister Anta
Anta is 16 years old, yet her soul is wiser. She was my first friend here in Senegal. Her kindness and eager for learning have made of her an intelligent and charismatic young woman that knows how to speak English, Spanish, French, and her mother tongue Wolof. As the oldest daughter in the family, Anta is my mom’s right hand. She’s a queen in the house. And she also has to manage her time between studying, doing domestic work, and taking care of her younger sisters when my parents are not around. Her quiet personality is a reflection of the growth she has at a spiritual level. She taught me a lot of Senegal culture and she answered all of my crazy questions (from menstruation health to rappers in Senegal). She was my peaceful and safe space as everything around me was new, a bit scary and unimaginable.
Her voice when she sings makes me so happy, not only because is our killing time favorite hobby, but also because through her music, she taught me her passion, her dreams and believes. She wants to be a doctor in the future and save lives, but she doesn’t know that she safe my head from blue times in the present.
* My sister Mame Diarra
My little sister Mame Diarra, my homonym here in Senegal is truly an angel in my experience. She is 9 years old. She is a troublemaker yet a suspicious solving-problem leader in the house. Her only fear is the monsters in Moana. Her beautiful big eyes are ready to discover the world and to ask me everything about my home country. She knows Arabic and likes to sign in English with words are yet to be discovered. Mame Diarra stoled a part of my heart from the first day when she was so shy to talk to me, and one week later she was jumping in my back and playing rock, papers, scissors at least 10 times a day. Our Saturday morning drawing sessions were therapeutic through the homesick times. She likes to come to my room and cover my eyes because once I told her everything here in Senegal was a surprise for me. Her sweetness is her best way to resist in times of inequality. Mame Diarra is a good listener, yet she is not scared to tell what she thinks. Even though sometimes my broken Wolof is hard to understand, she looks at me and she makes me feel that everything is gonna be fine. However, she is ready to correct my language mistakes and make me repeat 100 times the correct way to say it.
She takes my hand when we are going outside my house, and suddenly I feel the safest person in the world. She is the first one in her class and she wants to be a teacher, so kids can learn everything without being bored. I hope Mame Diarra don’t forget me because truly I will never do.
* My sister Fatima
Fatima was a quiet and calm soul in the house when I arrived. She didn’t use to look me in the eyes when we were taking and she always blushed when my dad asked her to speak English. However now, Fatima is the one who puts colors and adventure in my everyday. Her loud voice, makes me miss her when she is at school, and when she comes back home, I know I am not alone anymore. Her fear for cats has developed into creative ways to avoid going to our backyard because there is always a street cat. She loves to learn English, so almost every day she asked to help her with English lessons. And even though English is not my favorite subject, she has woken up back on me the love for learning. Fatima is eleven years old, but she jumps into conversations like she already knew the secret of life. I hope you never miss that sense of belonging. Also, I hope she keeps dancing and jumping when we hear “new light” by John Mayer. And if she reads one day, I just want to say thank you for all the dances sessions, English classes, and conversations that taught me about the simplicity of happiness.
When I forget the simplicity of happiness, she asked me to teach her how to dance.
* My auntie Mame Fatou
Mame Fatou moved to my house the second month since my arrival. She is 21 years old and my mom’s youngest sister. Currently, she is finishing high school. I cannot feel more empowered by someone who fights every day to learn more and have a quality education. Even though most of her sisters had left school, she decided to continue her studies. Every day she makes attaya, tea that cures my nostalgia about home and past memories. That hour making attaya next to Mame Fatou had taught me to laugh again while you are being patient. Fatou let me practice my attaya skills, even though she knows if I don’t make it perfect, she will receive a long speech from my dad. Mame Fatou is a free and wild spirit that happen to be existing in a country with pretty fixed gender roles. However, Mame Fatou tells me about her dream job as an economist, and we both joke about becoming presidents and meet in the future in a random country. Mame Fatou made me feel included in the culture when I felt like an outsider. To some extent, we both had to leave home to pursue our dreams. She moved to her parents’ house to leave with her sister, my mother. And every time she tells me she misses home I try to keep her accountable, and she does the same for me. I will never forget our dancing sessions, our makeup sessions, and our trying dresses together. Mame Fatou has truly shine my life here in Senegal.
* My language teacher Ndeye Fatou Niass
Ndeye Fatou Niass is one of the more strong, intelligent and empowered women I have met here in Senegal. She is a well educated English teacher, that has to deal with single parental care and domestic burden. Yet Ndeye Fatou has found her way to be successful professionally while she takes care of her son Baba. Ndeye Fatou is not scared of defining herself as a feminist. I can talk with her literally about whatever. She is on contract my Wolof teacher, however, beyond the papers, Ndeye Fatou is a teacher of life. She has taught me how to resist to sexism in a country strongly influenced by patriarchy. She also has taught me that your love to God makes miracles, and she kept me strong when I felt trapped between my thoughts. Her smile not only reminds me of the kindness of humanity, but also reminds me that Teranga is not only a word entitle in the culture, but is a way of living among Senegalese people. Ndeye Fatou dreams to travel around the world and keep learning new ways of teaching. I truly believe that Ndeye Fatou’s heart with change the world, just the way she changed my perspective on taboo topics. She is for me a strongly opinionated Wolof teacher and friend that I will never forget.
* My team leader Claire Ba
(From right to left: Claire, James and me)
Claire is very different from any other Senegalese woman I have known. Feminist and a role model for other women in Senegal, Claire has a strong, solving-problem mind that had kept me sane during hard times here in Senegal. The word mentor is small to define the importance that Claire had had in my experience here in Senegal. Her short hair had brought stereotype-breaking debates among my female family members. Her critical thinking had made me debate the whys of my gap year, building a strong sense of belonging in my community, and focusing on the big panorama. Her honest kindness had given me peace during times of internal war and had cool down my flammable emotions. I think everyone needs a Claire in their lives. Someone to talk to and just take out of our mind all the burden and the non-sense, receiving a piece of sincere advice at the same time. Even though Claire doesn’t talk much about herself, when she does talk about her passions and her believes you can see a sparkle in her eyes that show you how much passion Claire has for living. Claire is not only a smart, strong, and independent woman; she is also a caring and friendly soul. Thanks Claire for your time and company during my gap year <3
* Margrette Faye
Margrette Faye is Alex’s host mom. She has host foreigners in her house for more than 11 years. She remembers everyone on them and can connect with a story to tell. An orphan from a very own age, she found in her religion the strength to continue fighting for a better future. As a minority religion in Senegal, Margrette knows that going to the church is a revolutionary act. She is not scared to say what she thinks, and every conversation with her has opened my eyes to questions I never saw before in this context. Mother of two beautiful girls, Margrette is in charge of the household while his husband works in Dakar and comes during the weekends. Margrette has brought on me a sparkle of resilience and has brought my voice back against injustice. She was really sad when Alex had to leave, but she knew the fight was only starting. Even though I have only talked to her a couple of time, those 4 hours of conversations felt like a life knowing each other. Margrette has a warming and fighter heart, all enclosed of her maternal figure. Margrette is my new meaning of fighter and resilience.
* My community project sponsor Ndeye Fatou Ndiaye
Knowing just a little bit about Ndeye Fatou, she had already inspired me to redefine my definition of feminism. A key leader in her community, Ndeye Fatou created the American Institute in Thiés. A space to learn quality English with affordable classes. She has made of her institute one of the most well-known organizations of the country, currently working in collaboration with the National Airport. Ndeye Fatou spent almost 40 years of her life leaving in the USA and working for governmental departments, then she realized that she wanted to go home and be a change maker in her community. Her strong voice is not scared to teach you life lessons. She is not scared to bring the upside downs of white feminism, and she wants to make sure any project she is involved in will truly make a positive impact. Even though I didn’t get to know her very well, Ndeye Fatou has made think critically about the things I thought I already know. She inspired me to be proud of my background and to feel brave when I am fighting for something I know is fair. I hope Ndeye Fatou keeps inspired me with her resilience to neo-colonialism and capitalism, as she already does.
* My mom’s friend Ndeye Binta (I call her aunt)
(Ndeye Binta and Mohamed)
Ndeye Binta was one of the first women I know in Senegal. Our communication was smiles and “I don’t understand”. When I went to visit her in Foudiougne I met her strong and sweet personality. Mother of three children, Mohamed, Moussa and Amy, Ndeye Binta sells water in the port in order to pay the medical treatments for his son. Ndeye Binta has the warmest and welcoming heart that I have ever known. She is my new definition of Teranga, and I will always be grateful to her and her family because they opened their heart and history during my short visit. Ndeye Binta is not the kind of person that talks about the sorrows of life, but she knows that once in while is good to heal your heart. I will never forget those long lives talking about the things that make us cry while we drink attaya to heal our brushes. Two days ago Ndeye Binta traveled for 10 hours to say goodbye to me here in Thiés. These two days next to her made me realized that sometimes I need a Ndeye Binta to heal my sorrows.