I came to Senegal with high hopes of embarking out on my own and weaning myself off the comfortable interdependence of my family. There were my dreams and then, there was the reality. I am now an eighteen –year old, self-defined feminist …with a two-year child.
Alaine and I walk hand in hand to school each day. She tries to pull me into each boutique we pass, to beg for bonbons with her puppy eyes. We sing as we walk and she creates opportunities to jump down from little piles of rocks. The way home is a different story: It is a slumped, bounce-less Alaine whom I carry back.
She is in the petite section at preschool and I work in the grand section but that does not prevent her from an average of five surprise guest appearances in my classroom per day. I take her to the bathroom at recess so she does not have an accident and rush her to the bathroom again once we get home. When I have just settled down to read peacefully in my room she makes her dramatic entrance.
My first week here she fed my reading lamp to the dog. I have caught her chewing on my earplugs, dissecting my malaria pills and dipping her dirty finger into my chapstick like a chip scooping out salsa. She has peed on me, hit me square on the face, bitten me, colored on my pants, attacked me with a fork and flung rice at me.
In the throes of the terrible twos, she responds to nearly everything with either “bii ma” (“leave me alone”) or “ma mbang” with the accompanying chicken-like flap of arms which signifies blanket refusal. At these times, and when Alaine refuses to walk home from school, dragging her feet, wailing and swaying like tree in a tempest, I resent this forced motherhood.
But I love the joyful way she repeats my name endlessly (even when I am trying to study French or chop an onion) and her naughty I-know-I-shouldn’t-have-but-isn’t-it funny-laugh. I love our laundry-day water fights and the way we dance our preschool songs together. In December, when I was feeling misplaced and fallen out of time, it was she who laughed and jumped around my room to while I sang Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
Her mom, Madeleine, says that my name is often the first thing Alaine says when she gets up in the morning. Often, when Madeleine leaves for work, Alaine crawls into bed with me and when her older sisters want something from her, I act as the middleman, carrying out negotiations.
When people hear that I am leaving at the end of April, one of the most common responses is: “What is Alaine going to do without you? She is going to miss you.” And even though she is sliding her slimy fingers across my computer screen as I type, asking “Li lan la” (“What is this?”), and then jamming the keys as if performing the climactic stanza of some piano death march– boy, I am going to miss her too.