Last week I met a 21 year old Senegalese guy named Aziz. Aziz is studying English at the University of Dakar and wanted to practice with a native English speaker, so my Aunt Bebe introduced us. I was immediately impressed with his fluency; Aziz kept up with my pace, and hardly ever asked me to repeat myself. I was enjoying our repartee immensely. We discussed music, pop culture (we both agreed Beyoncé is the only celebrity worth knowing), and our aspirations: he wants to be a flight attendant, I, a teacher. The conversation turned to America and I asked Aziz if I was the first American he’d ever met. He answered no, that a few months prior he met a group of Christian Americans. They were your typical youth on a mission trip to “save” the souls of Africans. Aziz had only nice words to say about the group; he was grateful for the mini information session on Christianity. He learned all about Jesus who died for our sins and how we can all go to heaven if we accept God as our one and only. “I didn’t know that,” he said. I asked him if after this encounter he had converted to Christianity. He chuckled and replied, “I said they were informative, not convincing.” He continued to say that while he was happy to have met such wonderful people, he did not understand why they were trying to push people into another religion, “we already have one,” he said. That line, “we already have one,” stuck with me. Mission trips are just an example of the various “do-gooders” that go to developing countries with intentions to “fix” or “change” things, without taking the time to understand the culture and people. That is the exact opposite of what I am doing here in Senegal. I spend my days laughing with my sisters, learning the language, playing with preschoolers, and observing my surroundings. I haven’t cured malaria, I am not ending world hunger, I am simply being. What impact does this have on Senegal, you might ask? On the surface, none. In fact, I could even be seen as a burden. But if you peek below the surface you’ll see that in immersing myself in this culture I have built long lasting relationships, learned more about the world than most people will in their entire lives, grown up and become responsible for my own experience, and have given nothing but love throughout the whole process. I can’t claim that I came to Africa and saved it, but I can tell you every name, age, and favorite color (apparently an odd question here) of the boys in my profile picture (shown above). I can cook you a decent Ceebu Jen (fish and rice), but nowhere near as good as Kia’s (my Mom) or Bebe’s. I can say you don’t know difficult until you try to walk through hot sand laden with xaxam (thorns). You also don’t know funny until you see my Maam (Grandma) try to shoo a herd of sheep away from the kitchen with a broom. And finally I can tell you that love is when Papa, my favorite preschooler, falls asleep in my arms, nuzzling my neck. These moments are all I have to show of my presence here in Senegal, and they are enough for me.