(Not) the end to my time in Senegal
After spending a year with a host family in Senegal, one Fellow speaks on leaving what became home.
I started crying on the morning two days before I left Gale Neenang Dialamba et Babang Sori, the place I have called home for the last eight months and always will. “Wataa wulu, wataa wulu. A wuli. Yewni.” (Don’t cry, don’t cry. Alright, you’ve cried, enough.) My family, outside the kitchen, was telling me, waiting for me to compose myself so we- Aissatou, Juma, Neenang Rougi (my younger host mother) and myself, could go to the market to buy the ingredients I would need to throw my goodbye party that evening. My neighbor, Neenee Mama, had just brought over a huge bucket of lettuce from her garden, as a going away gift to me. I had periodically gone over to help her plant and then water the lettuce, and this simple act of kindness on her part to give me what we had together labored over was what had me sobbing.
Those last few days seemed to be the peak of my existence in Senegal. In the growing reality of my fast-approaching absence, both I and the people around me better valued and understood the meaning of my presence. For the first time I was really referred to as a “sister” when a lady at the market asked Juma if I was her’s. As I searched the market for ingredients for my goodbye party’s food (bonbons, salad, and shrimp crackers) and drinks (hibiscus juice and baobab tree fruit juice) with Juma and Aissatou, I realized how at home I felt when I was the one who knew where to find the fattest chickens. My little sister, Hawa Ba, finally admitted that I could pull up water from the well better than she could (however she was better at carrying it on her head and would always take the heaviest bucket to carry back to our compound). People asked me to promise to return, and I offered to take them in my luggage to “Amerique.” It was clear how much I had grown, but it was heart wrenching to think that in the weeks to come I would not be here to steadily develop myself as a member of this community. All that I had gained was not something I could necessarily take back with me to “Amerique” in a neat package.
When I first arrived in Kedougou, Senegal, I remember being a bit taken aback that they didn’t think my achievements were important. What good is running a half marathon if I could hardly wash my clothes? Graduating high school if I can’t cook a decent sauce? Teaching a fun English class at the high school if I struggle to speak the simple language of Pulaar? Therefore, most of my efforts in Senegal were geared toward my family’s and community’s definition of success—becoming a good potential Senegalese wife. And now all of this is flipped on its head as I go back to a society where youth are challenged to define success for themselves.
The author, Kaitlyn Johnke, in Senegal
In my leaving, they treated me as if I was getting ready to be married away—the wedding decorations our neighbor had used for a wedding were borrowed. To prepare me for my departure, the younger of my two host mothers, Neenang Rougi, put henna tattooing designs on my feet and Juma braided my hair for me. They wanted to make sure that wherever I arrived next, people would see that I had been well taken care of: I was turned beautiful with care and clothes and, above all else, was well fed.
There is so much more that I am taking with me and so much that I am leaving behind. I want to remember my experience fully and I want to be remembered fully. All that I have experienced is really not just a place and time, but it has become me and my personal journey.
I might now physically be on the North American continent, thousands of miles away from Africa, but a part of me never left Senegal. I know this because Natasha Torres, the Fellow who had been in my Senegalese home the year before me and has since attended college in New York, was never forgotten by my family and they never stopped loving her. I trust I am still there now the way she was (and is). She would occasionally become almost palpable while I was in Senegal as people spoke of her hugs, ability to wash clothes and love of spicy food. I put trust in the fact that I am born and reborn from the breath of the people I said hello to, I am in the remembering of the memories we made together, and I am in the things I left behind.
Mariama Diallo, my Senegalese name, is waiting for me whenever I pick up the phone to make a long distance call, is waiting for me if I ever want to take an airplane ride back. To an extent, I have been able to continue the connection since my physical departure. I have heard about how the river is rising, how my older host sister just passed her baccalaureate exam, and how my seventh baby brother has been born. The time of my Global Citizen Year might be drawing to a close, but that doesn’t mean the things that were created and grew from it—memories, friendships, stories, and meaning—will ever stop. I will be moving on to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the Fall to study Anthropology, but I will never forget the last year of my life nor will I ever stop being affected by it.
Thank you to Neenang Dialamba, Hassana, Assane, Babang Sori, Oumou, Sadou, Seydou, Mamadou, Hamidou, Ibrahima, Mahamady, Neeneng, Neenang Rougi, Aminata, Hawa Ba, Oumar, Alaji, Amadouwori, Idirissa, Cira Keita, Neene Mama, Mr.Niang, Papa, Fatou, Alseyni, Yousef, Ousman, Mariama, Yaya Ba, Juma, Aissatou, Karamba, Nicole, Mr.Toure, fellow Fellows,…(this list could go on forever) for being the people that made this last year the unforgettable experience that it was.
Thank you tremendously to those that have supported and followed my journey through this blog and in many other ways! I hope you explore the Global Citizen Year website and read other Fellow’s blogs to understand the diversity and connection of our experiences. This one, this one, and this one are a few blogs I really connected with and think you will enjoy.
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This article was written by Kaitlyn Johnke in support of Global Citizen Year
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