Toubaab, Redeemed

Clara Sekowski - Senegal


April 25, 2011

My second day in Ross-Bethio, I tagged along on a USAID mosquito net distribution project. Towards the end of our rounds, we sat under a canopy of a house on the border of the village, speaking to the village chief. I was completely exhausted and dehydrated and couldn’t drink any of the water they offered me because I had learned to deny anything that wasn’t filtrated. Just when I was becoming desperate to go back to my new home, the village chief tried to talk to me. I squinted and tried to grab onto a recognizable word were it to pass me by, but my Wolof was far too elementary and I was left pleading “francais rekk” (French only). He asked how old I was, and when I told him I was 17, he called me an ignorant child.

Last week, I walked with three professors from the high school meeting with people to discuss our environmental project. In December when I heard about the Senegalese holiday ‘Set Settal’ where the community gets together to pick up trash, I thought it would be a great starting point to try and expand it into a system. Five months later, we have t-shirts, a trash truck, a pledge mural, a pick-up schedule, an environment commission, and partnerships with the municipal, teacher association, women’s group, and soccer and environment clubs. In order to celebrate our progress, my team and I went to invite our partners to our party. [slidepress gallery=’toubaab-redeemed’] Please scroll over the images for captions.

I had forgotten about that second day in Ross-Bethio until we walked into the last house on our schedule and I recognized the canopy. I was immediately swarmed in recollection of what seemed like a much younger self. When I saw the village chief come out, I went up to him to do our salutations, now in perfect Wolof. He asked my Wolof name, which I now had, and my age. I told him I was still 17. He raised his eyebrows and said, ”You are that Ndeye Bator? You are the one that is doing all this?” I told him I hadn’t done it alone, but he shook his head and told me that he was sorry for being an ignorant child.

Yesterday, he came to the second day of our Set Settal continuation program with a broom and a smile and together we cleaned up the market with the women’s group. It’s hard to believe that I’m the same age I was that day, that this is the same year, and that now I have to leave. But nothing can take away what I’ve learned here, not even time.

Clara Sekowski