Here I am. I’m back again after several months of silence. In true Senegalese fashion, I have prolonged my last blog post because, well, things will happen as they happen – ndànk ndànk, inshallah. (Slowly, God willing)
My readjustment to American living is going smoother than I anticipated – but I’ve realized that readjustment into life aux États-Unis (in the United States) isn’t something that I can say will end on any certain day. I am constantly the product of all the people I met and all the experiences I had while in Senegal and I will perpetually reflect upon them.
Senegal seems like a vivid yet distant dream. If I think too much about it, I simply become sad. My friends and family in Dakar & Thiès hold the utmost importance in my heart. With the recent end of Ramadan, I wondered how my family would be celebrating. I miss Wolof and still find myself stating simple Wolof phrases in my head (neex na, like the title of this blog post, essentially means “it’s good”). And every àjuma (Friday) I imagine the beautiful, tailor-made clothing that every Senegalese person, without fail, must be wearing.
Sama yaay et moi (or “my mom and I”)
I learned so much in Senegal and by far, the most important experience that I have taken away from my time there was being a part of a minority for the first time in my life. In every way possible – race, gender, religion – I was different. This has reframed my perception of what it means to be a minority in the United States. In the wake of Trump’s advances towards the presidency, the Orlando shooting and Black Lives Matter’s increased visibility, it hurts my heart so much to think about how my Senegalese friends and families identify with groups that are so marginalized in the United States. In Senegal, I was moved every day to see the unity that racial and religious identity could bring to such a beautiful, tolerant and peaceful country.
Senegal has a small Catholic following and both religions coexist with respect and tolerance. Racial unity is also hugely important. One interaction in particular that underlined this was when I noticed that the current president of the United States – Barack Obama – has a huge following in Senegal. There was a cardboard cutout of him at my school and as I talked with more people about him, it became clear that everyone loved him. When I asked a close family friend about this, he succinctly explained to me how important it is that the United States – the wealthiest nation in the world, but also a nation with such a violent record towards black people – can elect a black leader. But here in the United States, I am distraught to see the xenophobic sentiments expressed towards people who are black, Muslim or both when they attempt to unify in the US.
Senegal also put in perspective for me how the United States mainly lives in a bubble. When I first arrived in Senegal, I was amazed by the extent to which my Senegalese family and friends were informed on global politics. They told me that they felt it was their responsibility to be so informed about the world in which which they’re living – which was novel because I feel that in the United States, we’re largely ignorant to politics occurring outside our borders (I am guilty and a part of this myself). Furthermore, I was surprised by the stereotype that my Senegalese and other European friends (Belgian, French) had of American people. It was not uncommon, after people met me, for them to ask if I was 1) a Trump supporter or 2) owned a gun. Please let that sink in. We are still a part of this planet and that is the image of our country that we broadcast to the rest of this world.
When I first arrived in Senegal, I was an outsider looking in. But Senegal is the country of teranga (hospitality) – everywhere I went in Senegal, I found people who treated me with the utmost consideration and generosity. Senegal shifted my idea of what community means. It taught me the importance of loving thy neighbor – regardless of how much they may differ from you. I remember, earlier in the semester, thinking about how amazing it is that Senegal & Minnesota actually exist on the same planet – a mere 6 hour plane ride between them. Living in Senegal for only a semester greatly affected my perception of communities, minorities, traditions, religions, information and the list goes on. All I could think during my final moments in that beautiful country was “There’s no way I’m not coming back here. Senegal neex na, for sure.”