It is nightime in the funky Sahara town of Touba Toul and like most nights it is significantly cooler than the day. My host family sits under a neem tree to discuss the highlights of the day. They passionately gossip about about un-married women and crazy men and of course me. I am a new element, a change in the usual so I am use to being the subject of their conversation. Although I can only speak a small amount of Wolof I understand that my existence to them is very confusing.Who is this girl? She has dark skin, thick lips and a wide nose. She has kinky hair, black gums and religiously lathers her skin with shea butter. Yet, when she opens her mouth she speaks the cold emotionless language of a toubab. She is of us but not one of us. The equation would be much easier to solve if I were only one or two generations removed from Africa,Senegal in particular. However the 400 year gap that seperates me from my indegenous Senegalese brothers and sisters creates a painful yet necessary burden.
As we sit I notice my host mom and uncle stare at me in curiosity and whisper quietly to each other. Luckily my uncle speaks a bit of English and is ready to translate the long awaited questions my host mom has for me. “Are you sure you can’t speak wolof?” “Is your mother Senegalese?” “Can she speak Wolof?” “What about your grandfather?” The redundant “no” to all of these questions confuse both my host mom and uncle even more. It was now time for me to explain my illusive heritage and wipe the dust time and deliberate intention had created on the peculiar story of the trans-altantic. I pulled out my phone and showed them the classic black and white diagram of a slave ship. My host mother squitned as she stared at the picture while my host uncle eagerly leaned over in his seat to see what I had shown. I then held my hands up and put my wrist together as if they were bound by chains. “Saama Mamaata Senegal laa joge””My ancestors are from Senegal” Both my host mother and uncles jaws dropped as they looked back a fourth between the picture and me. The missing variable had been found. While I couldnt understand the heated conversation about toubabs that occured after,I felt as if a tiny peice of the generational hole had been healed. The need to be remembered had been somewhat filled.
The ancestral ties that link me to Senegal made coming an easy decision. In fact it was the main reason I decided to chose Global Citizen Year over any other gap year program. I felt as if the only way I could begin honoring my ancestors and laying the generations of tormented and terrorized African souls to rest was to return. When I learned that West Africans being stolen would desperately scramble to grab handfuls of dirt form the ground and shove it in their mouths in order to have a piece of their homeland with them in the dark bowels of the slave ship,my decision was made. At a young age I am able to fulfill a dream that many Africans in America died wishing they could do. Being the first in my family to set foot on African soil since the transatlantic gives me an amazing since of pride.
In order to better our communities Africans of the diaspora must begin to heal the generational hole that exist in all of us.We cant place the heavy burden of healing this hole on indigenous Africans nor can we wait for any other outside force to magically ease the pain. The gradual restoration of balance and self-love will start and end with us. My year in Senegal is only the beginning of a lifetime of mental and spiritual healing. Never in my life have I allowed my soul to be so wide and receptive. Although I face times of discomfort and hardship, I get to experience personal heavens that I didn’t have in America such as blending in or speaking a language designed for my lips. Here I don’t have to wait until Kwanzaa to see melenated people draped in beautiful African garb, which I consider visual ambrosia. I will continue to sew the sights,sounds,and smells of Senegal into my memory and savor each moment. I can say with absolute surety that returning to my motherland is a decision I will never regret. Sankofa!