Au revoir. Ba beneen.
Mornings spent struggling with vowels on Rosetta Stone have equipped me with basic French. My small, yellow Wolof phrasebook, sure to remain my trusty sidekick throughout the year, helps me bid adieu in a Senegalese language totally foreign to me. Yet the translation in English is the hardest to say.
When people ask if I’m ready, I tell them I’m mostly packed. My immunizations are completed, band-aid by band-aid, with only a couple bruises and a certificate of vaccination to show for it. A water filter and solar charger and emergency granola bars are shoved into the colorful mess that is my ever-evolving suitcase. It’s even under 50 pounds.
“I’m golden,” I say. Je suis bien. Ma ngi fi rekk.
But there are some things that can’t fit in my suitcase or check through customs. Sunday night dinners with my grandparents, stargazing dates, mother-daughter talks about life; family Christmas celebrations; late night drives with friends with the music turned on high. This is what I’m saying goodbye to as best I can.
What I realize, though, while trying to put my goodbyes into words, is that these are parts of me that cannot be left behind. People are not a commodity that can be lost. Like stamps on a passport, people leave small imprints on the characters of others, acting as mirrors through which we examine our values. The people I love taught me courage. Independence. Gratitude. Stubbornness. Their imprints have a certain permanence to them, found in everything from the way I drink my coffee sans cream to the level of respect with which I treat those around me. A fear of leaving them behind is irrational, I tell myself.
My synapses, beautiful, interconnected webs of axons and receptors, can never be rewired to forget the people to which I’m saying goodbye. I'll think of my dad when I try thieboudienne, yassa, and salatu niebe, remembering the day he let go of my bike and forced me to pedal on my own. I’ll think of my mom when I inevitably mess up, remembering the countless times she told me to “make a mistake today; it’s good for you.” And I’ll think of each and every one of the people I’m leaving behind when I watch the sun’s rays hit the earth and brush colors of violet and magenta onto the sky at night, remembering how much I have to be grateful for in this life.
Eight months from now, as I board a plane to take me away from the hot, strange, colorful country that will become a home, I hope to leave behind not only bug nets and desert sand, but more loved ones. Human connection is what I truly want to gain out of my Global Citizen Year; and from others, gain a greater understanding of myself; a deeper realization of the choices I respect, the life paths which I am drawn to emulate, and the people with whom I laugh the hardest.
Ask me next time you see me. “Are you ready?”
Yes, I am.
I’m ready, even though I’ll miss you.
Because my suitcase is packed.
Because no matter how far I travel, there is no such thing as leaving someone behind.