Goodbyes, Hellos, A Baptism and a Death (of a goat)…my first few days in Senegal and the Circle of Life.
The sky above New York City on October 2, 2012 was gray and heavy, the traffic on the way to JFK international airport was oppressive and as I made my way to the airport I was acutely aware that my external surrounding were a manifestation what I was experiencing internally. I felt exactly how I expected to feel upon leaving New York: heavy, sad and anxiety-ridden. I snapped one-word responses to my dad’s feeble attempts at conversation, trying to focus on the license plates on the Toyota in front of me instead. I was afraid that even the slightest bit of pressure would open the floodgates, and all the tears and emotion I was trying desperately to repress would come pouring out-so talking and thinking were both out of the question. The thing is, at some point during the past year, I had grown to love New York, despite the fact that more often than not, that love felt unrequited.
Moving to New York after five years of college and then grad school was hardly an easy transition. The reality of life outside the confines of academia-was just that: reality. Like many recent grads, (particularly those aspiring to work in the film industry), I spent most of the year juggling production internships, restaurant jobs and an active social life. The pace at which my life seemed to be careening ahead often felt out of my control. And despite the excitement of living in a city of endless opportunity, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was stuck on a ferris wheel in a nightmare-ish carnival. Constantly spinning up and down. Never moving forward. Never stopping.
When I was offered the opportunity to work in Senegal for a year it was as though someone had pulled the emergency brake, and I knew it was time to get off. I decided to say, “yes” immediately. Maybe I was afraid that I wouldn’t end up going if I spent too much time weighing the pros and cons of trading the upper west side for rural Senegal…Who knows... Regardless, I was going. And while I was sure it was the right decision, leaving my friends, sisters, newborn nieces and the lifestyle I had gown accustomed to, became more and more difficult as my departure date approached…
Still, I knew that my pre-departure anxieties would dissipate once replaced with the new experiences and challenges that lay ahead…
I arrived in Dakar, Senegal early Wednesday morning. The Senegalese coordinator for Women for Girls, Aminata, met me at the airport, and immediately made me feel right at home. I will be staying with Aminata and her family for the next week before I leave for N’dem (where I will be teaching). Now, Aminata’s family is huge, and rapidly expanding (which I will get to later). In the beginning, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the number of people, as well as the mixture of French (which I am comfortable with) and Wolof (which I am not at all) that swirled around me. Little did I know that within a few days I would begin to consider Aminata’s home a peaceful refuge amidst the chaos of Dakar.
Still, I was fighting jet lag (and a major climate change), so I spent most of the first day reading and not doing much else.
The second day would prove to be far more eventful. It was the baptism of Aminata’s nephew. A Senegalese baptism party is a sight to behold. The festivities began early. The Imam arrived around 10, and he and all the men in the family sat together in prayer as the maternal grandmother presented the baby. It is then that the child is given a name, (chosen by the father). In this case the baby was given the name, “Amadou.” Once the name was announced some of the other small children in the family began handing out candies and cookies to all of the guests. While this was going on I was more concerned with a man, off to the side, sharpening a knife against a stone step. My mind raced as I considered what he was possibly going to do with it. Almost simultaneously I caught sight of a goat, tied to the side of the house, needless to say my questions were answered. Being someone who spent the previous few months living with a vegan (and also considered the lifestyle), I was initially horrified, then I began to wonder if we (Americans) would all be better off if we did not have such a sterilized/disconnected image of where our food comes from, and what we change if we had a daily reminder of our factory farms…but obviously that’s a whole different blog post…For now, one thing was clear, I wasn’t on the Upper West Side anymore…