Ways To Grow

April 3rd, 2015.

Damay nyibi dek. (I’m going home.)

Kan ngay nyibi? (When?)

Mardi bi di new. (Next Tuesday)

Loolu gaw na. Do togg ba ci kanam. Fii dina wet. Dinanu la namm! (That’s so soon. You should stay longer. We’re all going to miss you!)

Man tamit, dinaa leen namm loll… (I’m going to miss all of you so muchtoo…)

Bo nyibi, dinga fate fi, dinga fate Senegal! (When you go home, you’re going to forget us here, you’re going to forget Senegal!)

Ah bul wax loolu waay! Menuma ko def. (Don’t say that! I will never be able to do that.)

In Senegal, conversations tend to take on patterns and as I’ve been letting my community know about my approaching departure, this dialogue has been the gist of interactions I would have 3 or 4 times a day. As I go around leaving thank you notes and saying goodbye, I can’t help but wonder: “Did I contribute enough to this relationship?” “How will they remember me when I leave?” “Will they remember me at all?”

I’m thinking about the negligible impact I’ve seemed to have made. My older sister Mareme says she’ll miss me, but I can only think about how I’ve probably only made cooking a longer process for her, crowding up our little kitchen space and fumbling with the knives. My colleagues at FADEC* tell me the office is going to be quiet without me, but I can only think about all those long meetings I sat through, not saying a word as I focused on piecing together information with the 40% comprehension my Wolof allowed. How can all they are telling me possibly be true??

Yet as I ponder these thoughts, on the other end, my Senegalese friends are convinced I’m going to forget them, my Wolof, or worse, the wonders of ceebu jen. They have no idea. The heroes I’ve seen in the people around me, the people I’ve secretly taken up as mother/father/brother/sister figures, the lessons I’ve learnt on values of community, sharing & concepts of happiness, the nuances in a good ceebu jen and feistiness of the Wolof language – these things have affected me on a level more profound than they will ever understand.

So I realize there are different ways to grow – sometimes experiences change you, sometimes they enrich you and sometimes they help you discover completely unknown capacities you have to learn and to love. Senegal never clicked in a great eureka moment where I realized why this is where “I’m meant to be”. Through the past 7 months, I discovered my capacity at becoming attached to this foreign culture and it’s diverse people.

In much the same way, always being a little too young, too old, too fair, too weird, I never quite fit in. I never “found” my place. Instead, as a community, we created it. I went from a (metaphorical) Senegalese baby to a 19 year old girl who scolds her siblings, laughs with her neighbors and splits earphones with complete strangers on public transportation. I was present at every moment and sincere in my interactions. I grew with Oumy Kebe** and now although leaving her is difficult, I can trust that my place will always be there.

There are different ways to grow – sometimes we are changed, sometimes we are enriched and sometimes we get to uncover capacities completely unknown to us. Ngaye Mekh̩ created a place for Oumy Kebe theydidn’t know theyhad, and, opening a whole new chamber within my heart, I created a place for Ngaye Mekh̩too.

My community has shown me another way to grow and I will never forget. Menuma ko def.

*FADEC – a local microfinance organisation
**Oumy Kebe – my given Senegalese name