To the Wathie Family, With Love, Maam Faatu Toubab

Mia Reyes - Senegal


May 21, 2019

On the morning of pick up day, I woke up early at 6:00 to finish packing my room, and as I finished I sat down on my bed, looking at the family picture that my dad had made us take the night before, and wrote this, glimpses into the mountains of lessons I learned from each person in my family, and while I knew that they might never read this or hear this, this was my goodbye to them, my thank you, my final conversations:

"Ibra, you have taught me what it means to be reliable, what it means to know that at some point it isn’t just you that you need to look after, but that family, in whatever capacity, is not something to be left. Thank you for taking an interest in me, for caring enough to ask questions and patient enough to listen to them in my broken Wolof, for accepting me as your family when you had no reason to. 

Papa Gueydi, you have taught me what it means to be an unconditional supporter of a non traditional education, what a passionate student should look like, from day one you defended me and you encouraged me, I never had any doubts about where I was supposed to be because you made me feel home. You taught me what it means to be wholeheartedly kind before anything else and what it felt like to be protected, what it meant to truly feel safe, and I will never forget watching you stand outside our front door watching me come and go. You were my first hello and my last goodbye. Jamm ak xewul.

Ami Sol, you helped me find an innocence that had been lost, the free spirit of a child, how to be goofy and strong all at once. I can’t ever decide if I want to smile or cry when I look at you. Probably both. You knew me, I don’t know how you figured me out, but you did. You knew what frustrated me and you knew what made me laugh, you were the first person I fell in love with here. You are only four so you will probably forget me, but I won’t forget you, and I will remember for the both of us. 

Maam Faatu, you have arguably taught and retaught me one of my most important lessons here. People are complicated and complex. People have layers and life is not fair, but you were gracious enough to give me a glimpse into yours and welcome me into your spaces. I may not know everything about you and your experiences, but I have learned enough from you to know that people are beautifully messy. You made me feel proud to be a woman and you taught me that being strong does not mean that you can not also be lively and that those qualities can coexist in one person. You were not what I imagined, you were a surprise, but one of the people I needed the most this year and you gave me so much in such a short amount of time and so willingly, I don’t even think you knew. Thank you for singing to me and dancing with me and for inviting me into your room at night to share silly stories that were all you. 

Tanta Marieme, you have taught me how to occupy a space with your spirit and personality, you have a big one, a loud, proud, overwhelmingly radiant one which has taught me to never be afraid to be bold and that there is no such thing as being too much. You are a woman with power and purpose and it showed, your beauty began with your energy and trailed all the way to your flawlessly tailored dresses. Thank you for looking after me as if I was your own and for never being afraid to tell me when it was time for me to get newer, prettier shoes, how there was no excuse not to be dressed in one’s best, always.

Faatu Wathie, you have taught me the importance of whimsical side comments and what it means to be relatable. From feeling misunderstood to boys and acne, you have returned to me the playfulness of inside jokes and I could always count on you to make light of anything and of course, the best attaya. You grounded me and although you were younger than me, I looked up to you.

Yacine, you are not in this picture (you are taking it), but you have taught me a sisterly love like no other. I do not have any sisters of my own so I want to thank you for teaching me what beauty there is in having one. You have been my saving grace here more often than I think you have realized, but you are who I turn to when I need someone. I needed you this year, I didn’t know it, but I did. You have taught me that a little sassiness is key and to always turn the music up louder. With you I never felt alone, I searched for you everywhere I went. You were my favorite person to talk to and talk about. Know that I needed you, I still do. You are my best friend, my heart. My hardest goodbye. Words do not do my love for you justice. They are not enough, but you are."

Perhaps this was not the most articulate composition of my thoughts that I could have written, but these were some of my last words written in Senegal. They were from the heart, messy, scattered, raw, and all true.

I have always believed that you can be alive and not living, that everyone is alive, but not everyone is living. In Senegal, I was living. Living and loving and laughing in the purest of forms. My year was not perfect, it was even better than perfect. 

It was beautiful. 

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Mia Reyes