So here I am, writing again, but this time, I’m typing in an air-conditioned, brick walk-up after enjoying a lovely homemade panini with kale chips and buying two boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch (on sale!) today at Jewel. Yes. I am back in Chicago! The Senegalese adventure has come to a close, but lucky for me, adventure on the whole has continued.
Ever since leaving Senegal, I’ve had a lingering sense of guilt about not writing a closing entry to sum up my experience. I know that many of you kept up with me through this blog, and I did want to put some parting words or thoughts here at some point. But frankly, the time just never seemed right. When I left Senegal, I had just been hustled out of money at the airport, told I may or may not have had a debilitating disease, and experienced a transient, semi-homeless three weeks after a financial misunderstanding with my host family. Consequently, the end wasn’t exactly the highlight of my service, and I knew that anything I had to say at that moment probably wouldn’t be a lasting sentiment. So in lieu of documentation, I just jumped on the airplane, bought a whole bunch of donuts in the airport, and proceeded to dive into patriotism when I got home in May, hoping that eventually, I’d end up with good feelings about my break-up with Senegal.
So now where am I? It’s over two months later, and I truly do wake up almost every day extremely happy about where I am, where I’ve been, and all that I’ve been able to do. The process of coming home and catching up with all of the friends and family I’ve missed, maintaining contact with all of the new friends I’ve made, and meeting so many new people has continuously reaffirmed how lucky I am to have such a multitude of wonderful people in my life, from all corners. I’ve experienced far more understanding, support, patience, and love here than I dared hope to receive. I expected people to be bored, removed, or dissociated from the stories I’d be bringing. But I’ve come back to a place where people listen, ask me great questions, and ultimately have fantastic conversations with me. America, or at least my version of it, is pretty damn wonderful.
I called Senegal for the first time the other day. It’s Ramadan there right now, so I purposely called around 5pm - that’s when the throes of fasting get roughest and grumpiest, when afternoon naps are ending but 2-3 hours remain until dates, coffee, and bread. My host mom didn’t recognize my voice at first, and I could hear Ramadan in her voice. Then, once I finally exclaimed, “It’s Mame Diouma!” and the house all but burned down. Suddenly everyone was yelling, passing on blessings, fighting to get on the phone. I found my French-Wolof exactly where I left it, and all sorts of stories started spilling out: my dad’s wedding, my new apartment, my family, my adventures and misadventures. At the end, Bigue got on the phone and chatted with me. It was pretty fabulous.
Who knows if I’ll be able to keep up this trans-Atlantic communication trail. Staying in touch is hard, and there’s no blueprint for how, or even if, to keep certain people in your life. When I came home, people weren't exactly where I left them... but they are still here. They're firmly in my life, planted, and that fact has made me overwhelmingly grateful. Grateful and also resolved to continue retaining the parts of my life that have been most important – whether they’re people or places or practices, I don't have to lose them, not completely.
And to answer the inevitable question: yes, I am glad I went to Senegal. I always wondered how I would eventually respond to that one – especially on those really terrible, humid days that ended with children throwing rocks or me crying in my maggot-filled room. It’s strange. I’m home, and I feel like the same person I was when I left. But every once in awhile, I find myself responding to a weird situation with a strength or conviction I didn’t know I had, or I didn't have before. It's like my American self is slowly melding with my Senegal self, and I get to test it out almost every day. Weird. But awesome.
So, yes. That’s really all I wanted to say right now. I’m having a lovely time, back home in Chicago, blissfully enjoying summer and not really accomplishing any of the goals I set out for myself. That’s okay. I’m pretty content riding my bike around the city, making dinner with my friends, watching ‘The Bachelorette’, seeing babies grow up, wandering, writing, dancing, and living. Ultimately, I just wanted to thank everyone. For everything, really.
All my love. Mame Diouma OUT.
And I promise my next entry will be funnier, because my life has been really ridiculous in Chicago. You didn’t think this was the end, did you? This is not the end.