Learning how to be

Someone said to me at the end of opening night of our church Christmas musical, “How different from where you were a year ago!” And it’s true, Senegal feels like a dream sometimes. But in a way, I’m in a similar place now as I was a year ago. Last year in December, I was also trying to figure out a new life I had been thrust into. How to communicate with people, where I fit in, how to live.

How to communicate with people

During my first weekend back home, I went to a party with community members I’d known my whole life. I entered the party, and felt kind of frozen. First of all, I didn’t know how to greet everyone. Instinctually, I wanted to give everyone a handshake with a curtsy and go through a prescribed greeting, but it was so much more complicated than that. Each greeting seemed to have to be personal and different for each person. Who do you hug, who do you not hug? I didn’t know how to act. Mom said, “Just smile and act happy.” Some people didn’t know I had been away, and many wanted a quick version of how my year was. “Was it good?” “How good of you to go there.” “Wow, Julie’s back from Africa.” All I wanted to talk about was power and privilege, theology, language, climate change, the environment, what to do with all the plastic waste created in the world. It seemed that the people at the party wanted to talk about home renovations. I felt like there was glass between us all and I just wanted to break through it! I went to the snack table, eating out of my hand anxiously and with angst because I wasn’t about to go and get a little disposable plate and fork! To my relief, a church member and friend came up to me and told me about when she returned home after a long period overseas as a young woman. She said something like, “It seemed like no one understood, and it frustrated me. After a while, I understood that they couldn’t understand. They hadn’t had the same experience.” When she said that, I felt relief wash over me. Someone understood.

Now, in December, I have reached my cheery voice again (In Senegal people are more stoic in my experience). I am getting better at communicating with people and saying, “How are you?” “I’m good!”. I realize that it is not the worst thing to say, “I’m good!” in passing, even when I’m just feeling, “meh”. I am better at getting excited about pets again. When I first returned, and everyone seemed to be talking about pets all the time, I was like, “what??” because that was just not a thing in Senegal (You should have seen my host brother Pascal’s face when he saw an animal hospital during his visit here). I have not given up on the causes I care about, and many people here have gotten an earful of information and opinions from me. And they (you?) have all been so nice to me when I go off on a tangent, or say something that is considered strange. I have been supported ever since I’ve been back. One thing about being considered strange is that now I am more used to it, so it is not so bad.

Where I fit in

There were several factors that have made it interesting and sometimes challenging to figure out where I fit in since I’ve been back. I was happy to have church jobs secured, and happy to have a home secured with my parents. I had a job and a place. When I got to Senegal, I had a job and a placement, but I wasn’t sure what category I fit into, because I had traits of many different groups. How would people think of me? Child, adult, man, woman, white, volunteer/paid worker, guest, part of a family, temporary but also long-term? What was I? How did I fit into the makeup of my host family and community? Eventually people knew me, and I didn’t always feel out of place. Here, I am again waffling between child and adult. How do people perceive me? There are people here who have known me during different times in my life. Which box can I be put into? Silly, serious, kind, strict, bossy, indirect, direct, funny, awkward, wants help but doesn’t want to be viewed as helpless, intense, lackadaisical, pretty, not pretty, procrastinator, doer, thinker? What am I here? Why am I so many contradictory things? How am I supposed to present myself here?

At this point, I feel more comfortable about my role in the community here, but I also feel like I need to keep forging a way for myself. One of the most difficult is becoming an adult figure in my childhood home (/community), where I am single and live with my parents, but we are steadily getting there. We are supporting each other at our house, and we are all falling into roles in the house, learning each other again. It’s kind of like when a fishbowl gets picked up and set down again, all the particles have to get settled back into place. I am hoping to go back to further my education or do more service in the church, which will upset my fishbowl again, but when I lean on God, it makes it a lot easier.

How to live

When I returned home, I felt like I was in a dream world of air conditioning (which I didn’t like the feeling of at first; it felt so unnatural), supermarkets with anything and everything, even out of season, disposable water bottles, plates, silverware, cups at every event. I knew I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint, but it felt like I was drowning in a world that was insulated from the earth, and drowning the earth in the process. Germs were scary to everyone; everyone had individual cups to drink from. People seemed angered by inconveniences. There was so much un-needed STUFF in my room. There was such a big house to clean. Washing clothes was so easy; it didn’t take hours and muscles. I had wifi constantly (And I didn’t know a healthy way to deal with that). When I went out on a walk outside there was no one there until I got to a busy street, where people stared at me from their cars driving by. If there were people on the sidewalk, it was in special exercise clothes. Just like when I arrived in Senegal, I felt so different again. I felt isolated in the big house; I missed the little kids in my courtyard who would come hang out in my room every time they heard me playing guitar. Especially my host sister and brother, Cécile and Pascal. I would watch little videos of them on my phone and cry, just like I would watch videos of my Arizona family and cry when I got to Senegal. I had to come to an understanding that people around me did not understand, and could not, just like how people in my community in Senegal did not and could not understand my life and culture in Arizona.

Now, I have gotten into somewhat of a routine. Mom and I have made some zero-waste cleaning products at home. When we buy vegetables, we don’t put them in the little plastic baggies, and we are trying to eat less meat at our house. We also turn off our lights and appliances more diligently. I ride a bike to church and the store when I can and try to ride in the car as little as I can. This gives me more exercise and sunshine while also using less gas! I have a reusable water bottle that I take everywhere. I have a bed in the church garden, go swing dancing every Tuesday, and teach recorder lessons to my wonderful & wild neighborhood kids. I make my bed and read my devotions every morning, and get to voice my opinion in politics through calls and signing petitions. I get to cook creatively at home, and I have family and friends to hug every day. There is still a long way to go, and deadlines, cleaning, snacks and wifi are my weaknesses, but I have been improving, and getting into more of a routine. The eventual goal is to continue weaning myself off of excess and live a simple life where I use all my God-given gifts (and save the world 😉 ). But for now, my life is filled with people that I love and that love me. How did I get so lucky?

Thanks for reading! Love to all!

Some pictures of things I’ve been up to here:

 

 

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Sunday to Sunday: People are the remedy for other People

After writing down things I was grateful for this week, I realized that they fit well with the Senegalese proverb, “people are the remedy for other people,” and the words of Desmond Tutu, “I would not know how to be a human being at all, except I learned from other human beings. We are made for a delicate network of relationships, of interdependence. Not even the most powerful nation can be completely self-sufficient.”

Sunday:

– After a nap, Emily fanned me while I slowly and sweatily woke up in the Linguere heat. Now that’s a true friend!

– Got to participate in and watch Emily’s after-church English lesson. So fun. Lots of songs!

– Emily bought beignet supplies so that she and I could make beignets to eat and share with her neighbors after sundown during Ramadan. (100% enjoyed)

– Emily’s host aunt, Sowa, gave us cold bissap to drink while the family broke their fast. She also gave us a special early dinner.

Monday:

– Nate showed me the laitery where he works. The milk is sooo good.

– Nate’s host family (The Tendeng family) invited Emily and me for lunch and talking. Later, Emily and I reflected on how all of our French has improved.

– The Tendengs’ dog Meadow followed Emily and me back to her house, like she was making sure we would get back safely.

– Emily showed me Miriam’s health office (with A.C.) and the medicines and forms and how the office helps and works with people around town. It was cool to see where Emily works and what she does most days.

– Emily’s host family (The Beye family) invited Nate and Erik for a special dinner and cold bissap.

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Talking after lunch. Nate and Emily

Tuesday:

– Sowa gave me a comfortable & fun dress before I left Linguere, I think because of Teranga, but maybe also because she could tell it was about my size.

– Loading our final taxi back to Fatick, Erik asked, “Want to take the front seat?” after a long day of travel.

– After dinner, Cécile whisked me into Marthe’s room, and gave me a math and grammar lesson that she had done at school that day.

Wednesday:

– I lost my needle in teinture class. Gnilane (a classmate) stayed after class to search her bag for her extra needle to let me sew with after school. When I said, “I’ll give it to you tomorrow,” she said, “No, no problem.”

– Finnish missionary Anna-Lena prayed with me about climate change and let me cry in front of her and talk about feelings.

– Walking home, I exchanged some words with a guy that I see most days. Another man passed us, and said to him, “a Toubab who speaks Seereer, eh?” My friendly acquaintance responded, “Her name’s Mossane,” and then looked at me in the eyes. And it felt good and humanizing.

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Gnilane, in our classroom

Thursday:

– Opened wifi to find supportive messages from friends and family. Encouraging me in general as I prepare to go into another transition time, and giving me the encouraging information they have heard about chances for fighting the human-induced parts of climate change. It reminded me that I have a good support system to come home to.

– Ate around the bowl with my host family, and like every day, they took pieces off the fish and vegetables and shared them, putting some in everyone’s portion. (side story: Once when I was sick, my host dad saw I was only eating the plain rice. He moved all the sauce off of my portion and into his, without speaking. And he doesn’t even like a lot of sauce!)

Friday:

– Got an email from Heidi and Stephen (my sister and brother) that was so nice it made me cry.

– At the end of a week-long Sunday School teacher seminar, people were sitting and visiting in the Lutheran center courtyard, under the shade tree. They clapped when I came by so that I would dance for them. I danced. Then, they pulled out a chair for me to sit with them. When people would walk by, we started clapping so that they would dance. Then, we’d make loud acclamations. It is so fun making people dance.

– When I stepped into our complex’s courtyard after a day at the Lutheran center, little Pascal and Thior saw me and ran up to give me little 3-year-old-kid hugs and to do our secret handshakes.

– Simon and Joe (From University/Lutheran church in Dakar) came from Dakar to Fatick and stayed with my host family / Pierre for the night. They showed me some old pictures on Joe’s computer, and Simon and I talked about music together. (Simon is a musician)

– Before I went to sleep, I saw a prayer/text from Jessica (YAGM in Yeumbuel), wishing me a peaceful and love-filled sleep. It came at just the right time, because I had started to let anxious thoughts wedge into my head.

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Thior and Pascal. My li’l huggers. ❤

Saturday:

– Got a text from a random number. Apparently it is a new American peace corps volunteer who lives in Fatick! They got my number from someone that they met in a taxi. It will be interesting to meet them.

– There was a different and yummy kind of sweet potato in our ceebu jen at lunch. Bousso shared it generously around the bowl.

– Was invited to drink tea, snack and watch a movie in English with Anna-Lena and Erik.

– Not many came to choir practice this week, but we who did cleaned the sanctuary and bonded. It was peaceful.

– After dinner, Cécile encouraged me to dance with her, even though I was tired. We ended up having lots of fun and making up multiple choreographed dances to a song that came with my in-country phone.

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Who wants to hire us for some gigs?

Sunday:

– It was Pentecost Sunday, as well as confirmation of some adolescents in the church.

– Had party food at Mame Ndiaye’s (Maurice’s mom) house and then Mame Coumba’s (Théophane’s mom) house to celebrate the confirmations. We had moroccan couscous with raisins, chicken, pork, soda, cake; all the works.

– While walking home from Mame Coumba’s house, my neighborhood group warned me when a moped was coming my way.

– I got to have a quick call with my mom.

– At Mame Ndiaye’s house, someone asked me a question that I didn’t understand. To help me understand, Bousso rephrased the question in Seereer, instead of immediately translating it into French. That felt AWESOME.

– At Mame Coumba’s house, I was able to use my Seereer with a group of young women. We understood each other!

– After the parties, Cécile, baby Awa, Marthe (Awa’s mom) and I sat in Marthe’s room, talked, sang, and chilled out. I had a feeling of ‘Wow, I really feel comfortable around these people. I feel like I am with family’.

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”

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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).

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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.

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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.

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Some gift ideas for Christmas

Before I left home, I cleaned out the bedroom that I grew up in. It is painful cleaning out a room with 15 years of accumulation of stuff. We get so much stuff in the U.S. Why is all that stuff important to
us?

At a church youth retreat weekend, us church youth (18-35) of Senegal stayed in a village near Fatick. I got to stay at the house of a young woman named Martha. She was probably in the 18-20 years old region,and one of the sweetest people I have met in my life. She said that it is wonderful that I am from the U.S. because they have lots of things. “In the village, there is nothing,” she said. I said, “You have a lot. You have lots of hospitality” (because that’s all I could say in French about the subject), but I wish I could have said more. Because the night I spent in the village I slept very peacefully. Martha got all my water ready for my shower, and led me around town, not once making fun of my accent but only helping me. Martha’s house did not have electricity, so we used an LED flashlight to go to the bathroom and shower. When we got back to our bedroom in the house, we laid down to go to sleep. The LED flashlight was still shining, and I thought of a current events article I had read in 7th grade about how these new LED lights would do wonders for people without electricity in farming communities. And when I remembered that, it felt like I got punched in the stomach. When I had read that article on my home computer (what an immense privilege) in 7th grade, it didn’t seem like that was a real thing. It was just “those poor people” and when I put the “those” in front in my mind, it made it seem like ‘they’re so far away, they’re not real’. But people all around the world don’t have electricity, and they’re not just “those” people. They’re part of our world family. I set my phone alarm for the morning (I wanted to set an alarm because we all stayed up late; there was a big concert for all the choirs in the area that night that lasted till 1am, with maybe 500 people) and put my head down. Martha said, “You’re going to sleep?” and to be welcoming, she put her head down too, and I heard her whisper, “Jookanjal, Faap es… Amiin” (Thank you, my Father, etc. etc., Amen).  How did she have that much together so late at night? I want to reach the level of peace that Martha seems to possess. In this village, there’s definitely not as much waste as in a town in the U.S. And people have to depend on each other. And talk to each other face to face. There’s no T.V. at home to block out your thoughts. You have to think through your thoughts, talk to people, and then give your worries to God, ‘cause what else can you do? (p.s. There is electricity and wifi at the church there, people have cellphones and keep updated on current events)

Martha wants to come to the U.S. someday. What kind of U.S. will we welcome Martha with? A wasteful one where people spend more time talking online than face-to-face? Where people care so much about buying new things, Christmas has been turned into a holiday about giving stuff as presents and posting some pictures? Or one where we are there for each other and use our privileges for good? I am learning more and more that the best present is presence. It really is. That’s the best gift you can give anyone, anywhere. A real smile, a real handshake, a real asking about someone’s day, a real listening to their problem. You already are a gift from God. The times in my life where people have really given me their kind presence are what I remember way more than physical things people have given me (plus I never have to give it away in a garage sale). Also, being present somewhere causes less waste than a spur of the moment gift that is bought because the giver ‘had’ to get a gift for someone (And the plastic packaging that will go in a landfill somewhere).

If we do have to give things (And it is expected, it’s just part of our culture & society), I am learning that a thought out card, a fruit, baked goods, music, a phone call, or something that you know the gift receiver really needs is a real treasure. Something that has a little heart in it. When I get back to AZ in July, I am hoping to have a different lifestyle than the one I had before I left. I am trying to set goals to share what I have (physical and non-physical things), care for the environment, and be kind, because we’re all in it together. Baby steps and grace, but I am hoping to do this, because I see a lot of hurting when I look online, and it’s making me hurt inside. I think that right now the U.S. is more ‘in-need’ than the village I visited in Senegal. The U.S. needs peace. Luckily, every person in the U.S. has the power to bring a little peace to someone else this Christmas season. Let’s give some presence.

And for all of you, I just want to say, “It’s You I Like

And another goodie, “It’s Such a Good Feeling

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Sunset in Saint-Louis

Sharing food and stuff

*UPDATE* After I wrote this, I shared some Skittles. Baby steps!

“When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up into heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were satisfied; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” Matthew 14: 14-21

Being in Senegal, I have really had to work on my sharing. Yes, the skill that is supposed to be learned in Preschool. Ah.

I mean, I like the concept of sharing, but when I get a package from the US with Skittles from mom, I really do not want to share. But I feel a little selfish when kids come play in my room and ask, “what’s in that bag?” and I say, “Oh, what? I don’t know, heh heh heh,” and hide it in my closet.

This skittles situation has caused a lot of cognitive dissonance in me, and I am trying to figure out how to get around it.

Let me tell you about the sharing I have experienced in Fatick where I live. Every meal is shared. My whole family sits around one big bowl of (Usually, but there are variations) fish and rice, or Senegalese couscous*. We say a prayer, and then start to eat some of the rice that’s in front of us. Sometimes people will come and say hi while we are eating. My host family always says to them, “gari ñaam,” (come eat!) and makes a place for them around the bowl. There are usually big pieces of fish, or carrots, or sweet potatoes in the middle. My host parents will pick off pieces of any one of these foods and put a little bit in everyone’s indent of rice. And when you are full and put your spoon down, people say, “Ñaami. Ñaami waay” (Eat. Eat.). And you say, “Kaam gin” (I’m satisfied) many times until they are convinced. People do not say, “save some for _____” or “there’s not enough,” or “wow, you have eaten a lot.” Everyone gets their share. Church President Diouf said that when people eat, “they should be at ease.” I don’t know how there is always enough for everyone to eat so much, but there always is. It really reminds me of the story in the Bible about the feeding of the (more than) 5,000.

Even little kids share. But I guess they learn from their parents. Toys are shared, fun things are shared, little cookies are shared. When the kids that live in my apartments buy a snack from the boutique, they come over to me and give me some. Sometimes I shake my head and say, “A faaxa. Merci” “I’m good, thanks,” and they say, “Non, c’est trés bien!” and put it closer to my face till I try some.

Once when this was happening, I was thinking of how it’s kind of different from my experience in the US. I never really liked sharing my food with other kids (We weren’t even allowed to share food in Elementary school, maybe for sanitary reasons), and I’ve had kind of a scarcity mindset when it comes to delicious things, like a candy bar or a little sack of cookies. Or Skittles. Sigh.

I’ve been practicing my sharing by buying little sacks of cookies for myself, then sharing with the kids. So far, it has yielded good results. It’s actually a lot more fun to eat a bag of cookies when you see a smile on the face of another person who is also enjoying the cookies. I am working up the gumption to also share my Skittles.

People don’t just share food. I heard from a guy at the center where the YAGMs first learned about Senegalese culture that sometimes, he sees his son’s friends around town wearing his clothes. And he doesn’t care. He just thinks it’s nice that they like his clothes.

So, my time here has really challenged me on the importance I place on my things. Can things really belong to someone? They are just things. How many times have I been upset when someone has taken my thing? If I didn’t place so much importance on holding onto things for me, I think I would be happier. And lighter. The only thing that I can really claim is myself. Sometimes things are better shared. There’s always enough.

*Senegalese couscous: It’s made with millet, and we eat it a lot, at least in Fatick. In Seereer it’s called Saaê. Saaê bugum. (I like Saaê). I included some pictures of it.

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First, the millet plant. Kinda looks like corn.

 

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Next the grains. You can eat ’em crunchy like this if you want.

 

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Next, someone grinds and cooks the Saaê for a long time and sifts it in a bowl.

 

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This is what it looks like when it is ready to eat! (We don’t ever eat it alone for a meal at my house. Usually with a bean/fish sauce and squash)

 

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Yum, yum.

Stories of Accompaniment

In the program that I am in, accompaniment means, “walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality. In this walk, gifts, resources, and experiences are shared with mutual advice and admonition* to deepen and expand our walk within God’s mission.”

In case you didn’t know, this year I am living in Senegal with the Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The purpose of this year is to live in accompaniment with our global companions. Right now there are 85 of us living in 11 different countries. Six are in Senegal! (Go, Senegal!)

We just got here last Thursday, and since then our YAGM group has been accompanied and accepted by many Senegalese people.

During our first full day in Senegal, we were accompanied by our teachers in our cultural training class at a school called the Baobab Center. All of the teachers were patient with us Toubabs (foreigners) as we asked lots of questions about the culture of Senegal and learned part of the Senegalese way to interact with people and eat properly. We ate Ceebu Jen** ‘around the bowl,’ which means that groups of us ate around 3 big bowls in the room; a teacher with each group guiding us along the way. Part of eating around the bowl is using your right hand to make a ball of rice and then adding little bits of the goodies from the center (but not too much!). The point of eating around one bowl is sharing with and being with the people around you. The way the Senegalese eat is an insight into the way they live; for the community and with the community. Also – at the end you get to lick your hand before washing it, which I enjoyed very much.

After a long day of a new culture, we came back to the apartment of Kristin, our country coordinator. Her housekeeper+, Ndombour, had cooked us a meal called Couscous Senegalaise. Ndombour was patient with us and helped me practice my French. Mon premier amie du Senegal! She accompanied us, accepted us, and helped teach us right at our first meeting, which she didn’t have to do.

14102699_10202162171572720_7321978711257130275_nYAGM Senegal eating Couscous Senegalaise with Ndombour on our 2nd night. From left to right: Karen, Ndombour, Julie, Nate, Emily, Erik, Jessica

Another story of accompaniment happened the next day when our group started a walk to go past some stores and get a feel for the neighborhood we are in. I was a little daunted at first. We walked past the Lutheran church office to pick up some things and were greeted by Ussman, the security guard of the office. Shortly after, Baboucar, another security guard for a Missionary’s house walked up. Both men offered right away to show us the way through town and help us receive better prices at boutiques. Throughout the walk, Baboucar and Ussman helped us with our language skills, showed us when to cross the street, and made us feel welcomed and safe in a new place. One of the Bible verses our group had been reflecting on that day was about recognizing when the presence of God is with you (Luke 24:13-32). The peace of being with Baboucar and Ussman definitely felt like God working through God’s people to bring peace.

There are other stories of accompaniment from this week, like when Ndombour and her mother Néné (And their friend Martin!) helped us get through a busy market place, and when we YAGMs ate and talked with some missionary families living in Senegal, and when a Senegalese woman studying at University graciously translated the Sunday church service into English for another YAGM and me. I will, however, focus on the stories written above for now.

14141559_10202173346532087_6608512868724778051_n.jpgYAGM Senegal at a fabric store in Marché HLM with Ndombour, Nene and some shopkeepers. Buying fabric for our outfits for a very celebrated Muslim holiday here called Tobaski!

One thing I would like to point out, especially in a time of conflict and controversy in the United States between Christians and Muslims, is that the people accompanying us in the 3 stories on this blog are Muslim, and that the Muslims and Christians live in peace in Senegal. Both groups recognize that the other group has good intentions and that they are children of God. There are many Muslims who work in the organization we are working with in Senegal, SLDS (Services Lutheran of (du) Senegal). They are all Senegalese, and they have mutual respect and Teranga (hospitality) for each other. Thanks for reading, and I hope you are doing well.

Thanks for accompanying me along this journey with your thoughts, prayers, etc. I encourage you to look around and see who is accompanying you. They are there where you don’t always expect.

Peace, Julie

*Admonition: gentle expression of disapproval

**Ceebu Jen – A very popular, traditional and delicious Senegalese dish with fish, rice, and other vegetables and spices.

+In Senegal it is normal to have a housekeeper, it is considered a way of sharing the wealth

***Fabric Picture courtesy of Emily