I got burned on the calf in the garage in Thies.
I ignored it because I wanted to get home and as I walked towards the line of old station wagons surrounded by women selling oranges to bargain for my ticket, I felt sand kicked up from my chacos dusting the open wound. The money for my ticket was sitting in a tight ball at the top of my blue sports bra and as I clamored into the best seat in the car (middle row, the seat far on the left) I breathed in the smell of oil. A talibe came up to my window with dirt streaking his forehead wearing a yellow soccer jersey and hid his face behind the rusty joints of the car as he sang and begged for money. When I smiled at him, he smiled back shyly.
I carefully pulled up my light grey skirt and looked at my burned calf. A perfect circle of skin was gone, replaced by white puss. I licked my finger, pushed away some of the sand, and gently placed my foot back on the sandy floor.
Sometimes it feels like none of it was real, now that I’m home to North Carolina. So much is just as I left it nine months ago. My room still has the same green comforter with acrylic flowers that my mom painted over the stains. The same sweet fresh smell of falling rain lies heavy after thunderstorms and the inside of my boyfriend’s water bottle has the same distinct scent I didn’t even know I knew.
As I put on skinny jeans, sit down to dinner with a fork and make a long to-do list, sometimes I wonder if I ever left, and panic slowly starts creeping through my chest, because Senegal mattered to me. And if its not real than who am I and what have I done and where did I go and where am I now and what am I supposed to doÛ_..
But then inevitably I look down to my leg and I see that scar on my calf. The one I got from my burn in the garage in Thies. I know I didn’t have that scar before I left home. And then I know for sure that Senegal was real, because everything comes back into focus around that scar.
When I look down at my leg now, I don’t just see a faint circle of scared skin, but I can see myself pulling aside my grey skirt in the garage to see that white puss. I can look up and see Alassane sitting next to me, the driver handing me my change, and the high pitched ding of my cell phone as a message from my host mother came in. I can feel the dry dusty heat of the garage and the tickling pride from getting the right price. From there I can see my host mom’s delighted face when I returned home and hear the giggle of my older sister as she told me a story as we walked to the health post to clean my burn.
As I tell the story of my bridge year, I tell a lot of stories of wounds. Times I was lonely, scared, sick, harassed, tired, and done. Sometimes after I tell the stories the reaction is thank God you’re home” like coming home is the healing.
But, I didn’t come home with wounds. I came home with scars and that’s different. I came home with scars from wounds that couldn’t have been healed by running away. They were healed by staying. They were healed by my community. They were healed by a little girl who gave me her whole lime, an opukai fan my host mom bought just for me, and by a promise that a plant I smothered in water would stand up. Healed by a family who just let me come and hold their baby and an organization that came to value my voice. The scars remind me that belonging was hard. So hard that I was injured, broken, tired, and wanted to run away. The scars make me grateful I stayed and remind me of the joy I found.
I tell the story of my scars because the story of my bridge year is how the wounds healed. That’s the good part.