Ash Wednesday

I was stuck in my inner monologue, walking to church. Mane had told me the service would be at 9 o’clock. Most of my friends along the way weren’t out at their shops yet, so I walked a bit faster than usual. Near the end of my walk though, I saw one of my two friends who work in the restaurant next to church. They’re both named Mariame, and they’re both maybe in their mid 20’s-30’s. So, one of the Mariames was there but not in the restaurant yet; she was sitting on a bench outside and looking into the distance. I said a greeting to her. She kept looking out not really at anything in particular, but kind of mumbled a greeting back. I figured maybe she was having a rough morning and didn’t want to talk (Sometimes I feel like I’m imposing friendship when I say hi to them every day, up to four times a day). I walked past her, and actually went into a bit of a jog because I felt uncomfortable and awkward. I had gotten a little away when I heard her and the young man next to her call, “Mossane!” “Mossane gari,” (Mossane, come here). I felt like a turtle who wants to crawl in its shell but made my way back to them. Mariame was still looking into space a bit, and I jogged off again, thinking maybe she just said “come here” to be nice. I hear them call my name again. I said to myself, “Come on, Mossane. Be like a normal person.” I walked back over there, looked at Mariame, feeling like a 13-year-old again, and she put out her hand for me to shake and asked about my morning. We talked a little bit and I was back on track to get to church. I saw Jagar, one of the guards, standing outside. We shook hands & did the greetings. Then I asked, “Waxtu fum a ref Mees?” (What time is the service?). Jagar said, “neuf heure” (9 o’clock). He also gave me the time at the moment:  8:57. I went over to the sanctuary. I was the only one. I sat there in silence for a bit, thinking that it would be good for me to take some silent time to reflect on life in the sanctuary. That idea did not work, because I pretty much just had coffee and a small bit of plain bread for breakfast (I was in a hurry), and the coffee was making me antsy. I walked out of the sanctuary and saw Pastor Jean-Noël coming. I asked him what time church is and he said something to the effect of, “I just arrived. Church will be at … 10:30”


Mariame who I am awkward with sometimes but is nice to me.

Well, I stayed at the Lutheran center and worked on some of my schoolwork (Sewing on a white fabric to prepare it for dyeing) from the Women’s center. It was kind of fun seeing Jean-Noël making the sanctuary Ash Wednesday ready, and he showed me the bowl of ashes he was going to use and some of the different Pastor outfits that have been stored away over the years.

Finally, it was 10:30, time to start (I guess everyone else knew this already, because that’s when they came). At this point I was kind of trembling from my coffee breakfast, and lightly chastising myself. I also started to think, “Oh no, it is Ash Wednesday, the depressing service. The somber ‘Dust to Dust’ stuff.” Will I be of a good mental state to take it when I have a coffee rush?

Well, it was finally that part of the sermon where the pastor had to talk about it. You know, the “We’re dust and to dust we shall return.” Church President Thomas and Jean-Noël were working the sermon in tandem, President speaking in French and Jean-Noël in Seereer. I realized that the word in French for dust, “poussiere” is kind of a cute word, and doesn’t sound so scary and somber. Another thing was how Pastor Thomas said it. He kind of nonchalantly & with his always-a-peaceful-smile face said that we were poussiere, and we’ll be poussiere again. I thought about how me and all these people in this room are going to die. But right then, we were all there in that room. It made me feel more connected to the people. I thought of a little anecdote I read this month about waves in the ocean. One of the waves sees other waves crashing on the shore and cries out to another wave, “I’m going to crash and die up there!” The other wave says to the afraid wave, “Don’t you see that you aren’t just a wave, you’re part of the ocean?” And so this Ash Wednesday I didn’t just feel like an anxious little wave like I have often felt at these Ash Wednesday services, but more like part of the ocean. And I felt happy to be alive. When we all lined up to receive our ashes, the pastor put the cross on our foreheads but not with the dust line. Instead he said something that with my still-language-learning-mind sounded like, “For you, Lord,” or “You are for the Lord.”

After church, I went to the Mariames’ restaurant to say hi and saw that some breakfasters were still in there, the bread toppings still out. I asked if I could eat breakfast, and Mariame (The other one, not the one I already said hi to) served me the best breakfast bread I’ve ever had. Yes. A baguette with homemade mayonnaise, bean sauce, and some hot sauce. Mariame handed me the bread and I sat on the bench to eat it. “Podnum a jara?” (How much does it cost) I asked, taking out my change purse. Mariame snapped her tongue and said “Rien, Mossane. Kaam ci’oong” (Nothing, Mossane, I’m giving it to you.) I took the first bite and it was dee-vyne I tell you. Mariame asked if she could get me some coffee and I said “No, thanks.” As I ate, Mariame left the restaurant for a bit, came back and plopped a water sack in my lap. She introduced me to some other people in the restaurant, like her sister who had also stopped in for a bread. Now I’m telling you, this was the most wonderful breakfast experience. It made me feel more like we’re all part of a big ocean. And waves have some power. Mariame’s wave pushed some kindness into mine. And the whole rest of the day my wave was ridin’ that kindness. As I walked out, I made note to eat breakfast here when I can (and to pay for it).


Mariame who gave me a free sandwich & water, and always says, “Merci, Mossane” when I leave.

During the afternoon, I tried to work on translating some of a Seereer book about Jesus, because I am wanting to put together skits with some of the kids for Holy Week/Easter. I could not do this alone, so I got some help with translating from the Seereer church preschool coordinators. They shared their knowledge with me, and I went back to the pastor’s office feeling good, and part of something.

I worked some on the skit ideas, and ended up reading part of my “The Skimm” news email of the day. I searched an article based on something I saw in the email. It was about how the Vikings’ football stadium in MN is killing birds at a record rate (roughly 500 birds a year) because its glass reflects the sky, and it is in the middle of a major migration route for birds. Three bird-conservation/volunteer groups put together a report to present to officials at the stadium, who did not want to ruin the aesthetic look of the stadium, or pay more money to replace the glass with less-reflective glass. This seemed a little absurd to me, coming back from Ash Wednesday service when we are all reminded to be humble. First I just felt sad and helpless and angry. But, I felt hope about the three groups who came together to put together the report, and I reached out to them through their contact pages and asked if maybe they can put together a GoFundMe webpage for the stadium’s glass replacement. One of the bird groups messaged me back quickly and gave me more information to understand the situation. When you care, reaching out to other people who care really can make a difference (Like those groups who cared enough to make a report about their MN stadium that reached me and many others around the world, and made us care). We’re stronger together. Also, Viking’s stadium, please think of the birds! Birds have been around longer than us humans. They’re beautiful, they help keep ecosystems (that we need!) healthy, so be nice! We’re all in this ‘ocean’ together. And we need each part (Sometimes we humans just choose to think about us & the short term. C’mon, us)!

After dinner, I was walking back to my room when I saw Maurice, my 12-year-old neighbor friend and his older brother Philipe, dismantling some wood from an old broken bed frame. “Xar o wata?” (What are you looking for?) I asked. “Kene” (this), Maurice said, holding some of the dry wood. I laughed a little. When I got to my door, I saw that they were starting a fire with the wood and some old school papers. “Yes,” I thought, “maybe they will let me burn some of the extra paper I have!” I went over to them and asked if I could add some of my paper stash and they said, “Yes, bring it!” I excitedly went to my room and gathered two grocery store bag-fuls of paper trash I had been storing (Not really trash or recycling infrastructure that I can find here in Fatick, besides goats a plenty that will eat anything). When I got back, fire was going at it, and I discovered the reason for the fire. Maurice and Philipe were roasting peanuts. Maurice, Philipe and I stoked the fire and kept it going through the windy night, putting in more paper and peanuts. Maybe this wasn’t the most efficient way to roast peanuts, but we did have fun and work together. Eventually, the fire went out. I tried to use my metal fire-starter kit to try and burn off some of my last newspapers. I did make some sparks, but no fire started and I knew it was time to stop trying when Philipe started picking up unburned papers and putting them back in the sacks. I followed suit, and we had all the unburned papers put away. I started to walk back to my room, and Philipe tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a bowl. While I was single-mindedly trying to start sparks in newspaper, Philipe and Maurice had been sorting out peanuts; one bowl for their family and one smaller bowl for me. “Ah, merci!” I said, really touched that they prepared a bowl for me. Philipe just kind of chuckled and we all wished each other a good night. When I got back to my room, I started cracking open the peanuts and noticed that the bowl they gave me had little dotted hearts on the edge and a sleeping beauty princess in the middle. I don’t think the two brothers gave me that bowl on accident. It felt sweet and thoughtful, and I felt special, and part of the ocean.


The princess and her peanut friends (Poor Sleeping Beauty, a bit of a shut-in princess. At least these peanuts have lots of personality). 

I could not have expected the day to unfurl the way it did. It just left me with a content and peaceful feeling inside (and an itching to write a blog). Another thing: while I was cracking the peanuts I noticed that they were very ashy from being in the throes of our little fire. It felt like a nice book-end to my Ash Wednesday to start with Ashes on my forehead, and end with ashes on my fingers. And what a blessing to have the moments I had this Ash Wednesday, realizing how I’m part of the ocean. I’m not just a wave that’s gonna crash and die. Stuff we do in our lives every day effect people in their lives every day. And throughout time, all these little stories and actions get woven into who we are. We’re all part of each other, and we can all make someone’s day by doing something kind or thoughtful (includes thinking of wildlife when making decisions), or helping another wave know they’re included in the great ocean of us.


And to make sure you have a good day, here’s a pic of my little love, who is happy to be wearing a shirt with a car on it, because he loves cars.