“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on… when in your heart you begin to understand… there is no going back?”
So I’m back from Senegal. Writing this blog exactly a year on from the departure date I awaited with so much fear, excitement, regret, worry, stress etc, I realise how much has changed in that time. On the 13th September 2013, I was just a little girl going on a big adventure who knew nothing about what it would be like. Now I write to you from the lovely town of St Andrews, which has become my third home even though it is so many miles away from my other two homes!
Leaving Senegal was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The last week was very emotional. I reluctantly packed all my things in the week leading up to our departure as we gradually said our goodbyes to a few friends here and there. Marianne and I were to leave our project on Thursday 14th August, and so we wanted Wednesday completely clear to spend our last day with the closest of our friends. When Wednesday came, we found ourselves in unexpectedly high spirits in the morning, popping from house to house to visit people during the day. However, as evening fell, and we realised this would be the last time we would see these people, the two of us broke down. We had our final dinner at our best friend’s (Ousmane) house, crying into our couscous and fish, and then wandered around the nearby houses giving photos to the families we had been most involved with. At every single house we went to (there were about 8), the two of us both left in more tears than the one before, having heard such heartfelt and lovely things from the families. All the way through the year, one of the biggest challenges was dealing with the very Senegalese habit of only giving negative feedback. If we made a mistake, people would be very quick to let us know, but never commented positively on things that we did. On this final night, this was totally turned around. Everyone talked about all the good work we had done, the ways we had made a difference to them and how much they would miss us. Most of them gave us some kind of bizarre souvenir; from a plastic bowl to a photo of themselves, and even though these are small things they are so important to me and I will keep them forever. My university room is an explosion of Senegalese culture!
Having said goodbye to all of our very closest friends, we walked home at about midnight. Walking for the last time past all of the places that had made our lives here, everything felt very wrong. That night, I didn’t want to fall asleep because I knew, as soon as I woke up, the sun would be out and it would be time to go. So I watched as the daylight slowly came through our windows and tried to focus on how exciting it would be to see my family again. That morning, our 2 best friends came to see us and say their own goodbyes before we left for Dakar airport. They had breakfast with us, and stayed with us right until the car actually came to take us away. For a while that morning I forgot how sad I was and just enjoyed the company of the two people who had always been there for us. When they left, there were lots of tears and I felt totally heartbroken. When I left my family and friends at the airport in the UK, I asked myself “What on earth are you doing, leaving all of this behind?” and the same question came to me as the two guys walked into the distance, and out of sight.
As we went through all the various stages at the airport, I was reminded of how fortunate I had been to spend the year with Marianne. She’s made all the difference to the year. She’s the only one who can truly understand what it was like to be part of Joal. All the way through the year, there was this cheeky smiling face beside me, knowing as little as I did about what was going on.
Polel, I could never have done this without you, and even imaging what Joal would have been like without you there is impossible. Thank you so much for being my Dom Ndeye! Namanala, bes bou nekk dama la xalate.
The journey was long and hard, but the closer we got to London, the happier I became. I began to remember all the wonderful people that were so excitedly waiting to see me on my return. I had no idea how I would feel when I saw my sisters again, but it was certainly not a disappointment. After getting off the plane, I grabbed my huge bags and ran into the arrivals room to find my fantastic family waiting for me and holding up an enormous and beautiful banner saying “Welcome Home Lauren and Marianne”. As I ran hugging one to the next, I felt so happy again – like the hole that Senegal had left was already starting to be filled up. Everyone was crying (even Dad!) and when my sisters told me “we’re going to pizza hut for dinner”, the tears of happiness fell even faster. 5 hours later, driving back into Dronny Town I was so content. We nipped into Aunty Rea’s house to say hello before we headed home, and I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.
Since being back, there are lots of changes my family has noticed in me. I’m told that when I first got home, I was “hungry” “skinny” and “dirty” – what a treat! After sorting out my various health and hygiene issues, I began to get back into the swing of life in the UK. My sisters had to have several conversations with me about remembering to be polite, and about my accent, which lots of people commented now has a bit of a twang. I only had 3 weeks between coming home from Senegal and moving to my new life in St Andrews, so I fortunately didn’t have enough time to even notice what big changes were taking place – I just had to let it all happen and hope for the best 🙂
St Andrews is a lovely little town and I’ve made lots of friends here. I’m really enjoying my subjects, and I’ve got involved with lots of things outside of that. I particularly enjoy my twice-weekly Scottish country dancing classes! My accommodation is really homely. I’m sharing a flat with 4 other girls and I have, for the first time in my life, my own room! People that know me well will be surprised to hear I have been named the “domestic goddess” of the flat… not sure how long that will last.
I had 2 fantastic homes, but now I have three. Leaving everything I had worked so hard for in Senegal was heartbreaking, but I will always think of that place with an enormous smile on my face. I have no regrets about the year. I learnt so much and developed in ways I did not even know were possible. There’s nowhere in the world quite like it; nowhere quite so weird, quite so friendly, quite so homely and nowhere will ever replace it. But now I have new adventures beginning and I can’t wait to find out what I’ll be saying about them in a few year’s time. I’d love to go back to Senegal some day, and see all of my wonderful friends there again, but for now,
DOUMA LENE MOUSSEU FATE
(I will never forget you).
I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has followed my blogs throughout the year, and everyone that has taken a real interest in my life there. You are the people I was thinking of on that last night in Joal, and you are the reason why I can continue my life here.
The next Joal girls are called Beth and Charlotte. The link to their blogs are here:
They’re in for such an incredible year, and I know they will do a fantastic job. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers as they continue and build on the work we did last year. Good luck girls, and say “YES” to Senegal!
For the last time,
Written on 13th September 2014