Wednesday hope

Armi Katariina Kauppila - Senegal


June 8, 2016

April 20th. I feel obliged to publish some kind of a reflection now that I'm back "home" again. I feel obliged to make an effort to describe why Senegal, this sort-of-random country that first felt so foreign to me eventually made me sob on the floor of the airport departure hall after bag-drop, repeating again and again this phrase that we hear ourselves whisper too often after taking things, people and places for granted: "I don't. Want. To leave."

May 16th. I can't believe I still haven't done this. Why have I still not done this? I guess I just have no words.

June 8th. 

Dearest, dearest Wednesday. There was a storytelling exercise at our Re-Entry Training in California nearly two months ago in which we had to raise a thing on a pedestal and speak to it with appreciation. And I write to you now-

– I write to you now because I… miss you. I know you're probably surprised, because I did indeed dislike you at first. For quite a while actually. That's why I write to you – because I need closure. I need you to know that you're special…
 
…Not to say that all the other days were worth nothing, but you were special, you pushed me somewhere far from where I thought I wanted to be.

The market day – that's you. The Day. The day everyone waited for, every single week for who knows how long. I felt it from my first week in Ngueniene – I didn't even understand the language yet but still I could sense that something was going to happen on only one day of the week. 

I was told you'd be something to look forward to – you were clearly the one thing they all waited for. And when you arrived I had no doubt it was you, this was noise, this was so much preparation done for one day only. Every Wednesday I woke up and there was something different in the air – a tension, a promise. 

Every single week, from Thursday morning to Tuesday evening we waited for you. And then. Each Wednesday-

– I'd wake up and stare at the mosquito net the exact same way as every day. Determined and lost, in a varying ratio, each time, like always. Then it would change all of a sudden when – on my first step outside towards the toilet at latest – I was brought back to the right page in the calendar. Inevitably. It just wasn't the same as all other days – there was… hope. 

I guess not more than on other days, but different kind of hope.

Initially I only sensed confusion, chaos. The struggle of living right next to the market place culminated into the fact that Wednesday was the worst day to have diarrhea, because somebody was always using our toilet. It was loud, and I had to wake up to loudspoken words that I could not understand. I confess now that in the beginning I used to take naps just to escape you, dear Wednesday. Our house was filled with people, they would come and go. People having lunch or making tea, people selling body creams and spices and fruits, people washing their hands and feet in order to pray. But the worst thing was to walk out of my house and go to work at the health post. Dear Wednesday, for you I always dressed up because I cared about the way people shouted things on my way to work. I cared because not being able to respond properly made me feel insufficient. On Wednesdays I was more "tubaab" than ever, because the number of people who didn't know me multiplied as did the number of everything in our village. Except quiet moments.

And then, I suddenly liked you. It didn't happen all of a sudden, it happened very slowly and gradually, but it struck me all of a sudden.

One morning I realized that the direction to which my mood changed on Wednesday mornings when I remembered what day it was had changed. I didn't feel anxious anymore, I felt excited; I didn't see you as a threat anymore, I saw you as a possibility. 

I started hearing the music through the noise, I started to understand the loud announcements I woke up to. I became capable of answering and chatting with people on my way to work. Of course I was still very much of a "tubaab" for people who didn't know me, but I now had the possibility to change that with words in Wolof. I rushed to finish my Tuesday language classes to go and sweep trash from the sand in the market place and watch the sunset. I became friends with two of the boys from Thiadiaye who used to tell me they wanted to marry me. I deliberately chose to walk through the market rather than the main road in the afternoons because I felt more confident. I felt like you carried me, dear Wednesday, through anything, or maybe you helped me carry myself.

The most important thing I want to take back home, desperately, is something I saw bits and pieces of everywhere throughout my experience, but it took a particularly clear and coherent form in our preparation for Wednesdays. I was touched when I saw how all the women in our house, aged three and older, combined their little leftover energy on a Tuesday night to put ice cream into small plastic bags because the woman who was supposed to sell it the next day had been too busy working on dishes for her breakfast stall and now needed help. Even more touched I was because I didn't only see it, I felt it, because I was one of them.
That's what I discovered was most important. To be able to drop what you have on your plate, what you are supposed to do or be and what seems to matter to you in the order of things, for someone else. And to do that spontaneously, freely, with a trust for tomorrow and an open heart. To do that together.

You, dear Wednesday, brought us together, and I thank you for that. I know that you keep bringing people together now that I have left too, just like you did before I came. I just wanted you to know that from what I saw, and felt, you create the routine to people's lives. You keep people believing because – on Wednesdays, we wore anything – nothing felt impossible. There was always hope. There is.

When I left Ngueniene something like two months ago, it happened to be a Wednesday. I spent my last minutes in the village standing outside a t-shirt stall, holding the baby in my arms because I had refused to leave her at home, while my sisters bargained. Sometimes I put an occasional, absent-minded comment in between, but I couldn't focus on the situation any more than the fact that the baby was about to start crying. I had to push myself really hard to be able to tell her to stop crying when my own eyes were constantly directed to the sky to make my tears disappear.

Today, it's Wednesday again. It's not a coincidence this time. I write to you, dear Wednesday, because when I look up to the sky now I see a line. An airplane has made its way somewhere, leaving a foamy soft line in the sky. But for me that line is hard, because it hurts to see an airplane for the first time after I returned home. Today it breaks my heart that I'm not there, in the other home, and that's why I'm half here half there. The line tears me apart from the middle. Today, like often, for a passing moment I feel like something is pulling my heart towards my throat and tickling my skin from the inside. The feeling is almost unbearable and I have this insurmountable need to shout. Then it passes. 

"Some day", I remind myself once again, "Some day."



Armi Katariina Kauppila