Thursday, July 14, 2011

Examining the End from the Beginning

I hate goodbyes. Because we need to be at the airport at 6 am tomorrow morning, yesterday was day full of goodbyes to the students of Mame Yelli Badiane. All of us have developed such great relationships with these students in such a short time. It is not easy to leave them.
I suppose I'll start addressing all of the goodbyes by talking about the beginning of the trip. On our second day in Senegal, before all of the kids knew each other, we decided to take them all to Toubab Dialaw, a small seaside town on the coast. It looked like a place where you might spend your honeymoon.
Seriously beautiful
We got a bunch of bungalows and spent the next day and half getting to know each other. This was the night I stayed up with the students and teachers from Mame Yelli Badiane making lists of words in Wolof and English. We told traditional stories and laughed and sang... it was definitely key in my getting to know everyone. There was one point in the night where all of the students were together in one room dancing, singing, yelling, screaming... you could hear them all over the complex where we were staying. Part of me wanted to get up and join them, but another part of me just wanted to leave them together and let them have their time. It was a strong start.
Toubab Dialaw... beach paradise
It was a stretch for our students to share a space with people and a culture they weren't comfortable with. In some ways I believe the students were asked to do more mentally and emotionally than they've ever been asked to do. Some responded to these requests in negative ways, but if asked to explain why they were acting the way they were, they had no words. I don't know if they'll ever find the words, but I hope that one day they'll understand this whole experience and be able to articulate it more deeply than just saying, "Man, Africa is crazy!"
Saying goodbye to the students from Mame Yelli Badiane
Despite my annoyances with the students throughout this trip, I know that they have grown and will continue to grow when we get home. I'll do the same thing. I talked to Matador during our first week about all of my frustrations and he said that this is just the beginning for all of the students, Senegalese and American alike. I've repeated that mantra over the last two weeks like my life has depended on it. I'm not going to compare neighborhoods in Kalamazoo to neighborhoods in Dakar because that is truly impossible. However, I know that if we were to take the students and teachers from Mame Yelli Badiane and throw them into life in Kalamazoo, they would struggle too. Their struggles would be different, completely different, for completely different reasons, but they would struggle too.
Amari's first time climbing a rock in the ocean. He did a lot of things he's never done on this trip. I'm super proud of him.
When I got home from traveling internationally for the first time (last year, in Senegal), it was easy to set aside everything I'd read, seen, and heard in the country and just sleep. Cleaning the house, getting lesson plans ready, signing up for classes at WMU... everything took over and it was easy to forget that life is still going on here in Senegal. People are still hand washing their clothes, cooking on a propane tank, walking on sandy streets. This is their life.
Sidi. He called me his mother today and told me not to forget him.
It is so easy to tell the students from Mame Yelli Badiane that we'll see them again, or that they should come to the Michigan... but words are easier than actions. Our students have plans to fundraise and bring some of the students to the United States in the next few years. I like the way they've started thinking. They keep saying that a true exchange should go both ways and I agree. I don't know what is going to happen with that, but I hope the ideas don't fly away with us on our way back to the U.S.
At the top of the African Renaissance Monument looking over Dakar
I'm a pretty emotional person, so I thought I'd be crying a lot yesterday. I only cried once. I wrote Binetou a note thanking her for bringing me into her home and telling her that she will always have a family in Michigan. The Heymoss house is definitely open to her at any time. She walked over, gave me a hug and said, "Thank you." I thought it wasn't a big deal, but then she leaned over and started sobbing. I automatically put my sunglasses on and tried not to cry but was unsuccessful. Being a woman in this country can be really difficult and I'm glad I was able to connect with a female student here.
Binetou and me (with my sunglasses on and trying not to cry)
I wonder where all of these students will be on July 14, 2012. I wonder what they'll be doing, what they'll be working on, what they'll be thinking. I have the highest hopes for all of them.

I can't wait to get home to my family. I love it here, but I'm not fully happy without Nate and the dogs. I'll be doing lots of relaxing with half of the responsibility. 
At home I'll be acting like this for longer than a half hour. 

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