Some people fell in love with Senegal quicker then others and some have not and may never will. Me, I fall in and out of love with Senegal frequently and I think that there’s a certain beauty to that. I refuse to idolize an experience that others choose to believe is “admirable” or “brave” or “selfless.” There are days when Senegal feels a lot like the love of my short life but there are also days when there is less of an appeal, but I believe that this process warrants me the luxury of getting to fall in love again and again and with different aspects of the same environment. It challenges me to continue to seek out the beauty in places where the beauty is not blunt.
There is a constant duality to Senegal. A feeling of familiarity and a lack there of, a feeling of endless time in a time sensitive program, a feeling of calm in spaces that scream chaos, a feeling of intimacy in a setting where that word holds a less than obvious meaning. But in the end I will always carry a respect for Senegal. A respect for everything in between the written numbers and names of those who have so often approached me and the warmth of a country that has rightfully welcomed more questions than answers. Senegal. The place that lives and breathes for the friendliness found in strangers. The place big on politely belaboring the obvious. And even in spite of these descriptions, I do not believe that I could ever be so righteous as to hold with certainty the authority to limit a place, including Senegal, to a handful of definitions. At least not permanently anyways.
Lately, I have found comfort in the words of others, my peers, my friends, my family, whether they have realized it or not and this is not to say that I am limiting my time here to the contexts that others create as there lies a difference in what I was doing before and what I am doing now. They’re a source for insight as opposed to a source of dependency. I had previously began to feel like the experience was to be solely made up by moments with others and as a result let those that surrounded me define my experience for me. I began to believe that self care was selfish and I could no longer find with certainty the fervor that overwhelmed me when I first arrived in Senegal as pieces were taken from me at intervals and then all at once, and I let them be taken. I lost a fight I didn’t even know I was fighting.
Our experiences here are all unique but in some way we all go through similar things. And that is both true for our time here in Senegal and our time here on Earth.
Senegal has given me a lot. And while I can not say that I believe I’ve given it a lot back in return, I refuse to hold true the underestimation that I have given nothing or have nothing to give, it would be the ultimate dismissal to affirm the judgement that us as individuals no matter how much privilege we have or don’t have, don’t matter or can not contribute to a society that isn’t ours or a culture we don’t share. I make mistakes more often than I get things right but sometimes what we have to give is given without thought, the good grace of people, the curiosity of a conversation, the simplicity of a greeting. And then there are gifts that are granted or rather require thought and the consideration that coincides with respect. And it is this that we’ve spent a lot of time debating as a cohort, conversations which have been simultaneously self correcting and self critical.
I find that I frequently enjoy looking back. Looking back at the pictures of the Mia I knew before or the pages filled with the words from a world that was lacking all that I have now. And I don’t do this to discredit the person in the photo or take back the words that I had once written, but rather looking back is how I move forward. There was nothing wrong with then, but there is something sweeter about now. Something sweeter about a life saturated with experiences regardless of their association, so in saying this I believe life only inherently gets better. Richer with stories and more savory with time; a life abundant with brimming narratives.
My time here in Senegal has been short lived but well lived. I am not saying my goodbye just yet, but my journey to goodbye started the day I first came to Senegal. I’m not afraid of goodbyes, most likely because I don’t believe that they are permanent. Nothing in life is. I believe you hold the right to choose when you get to say goodbye and when you get to say hello again. When you get to free your heart or your head, wherever you cradle your stories, to revive and relive them in all their glory. I might always long for my time here in Senegal and I know that this experience is unique to the right now, but it’s the memories that I will carry with me, and memories are made in the past but survive in the present.