I ‘always’ come back

10 years ago I entered the airport of Dakar, excited, anxious and exhilarated even. I had studied myself all the way to Senegal. At the time I was with 10 other students, each of us going to do their own research in their village or small town. Some of us had been to the continent of Africa before, but most of us were as blue as the sound of a blue grass guitar, heart wrenching and nerve wrecking when listened to in a moment of complete despair. Fortunately Senegalese have different musical preferences and it really became a different experience all together. I do remember some run-ins with rats in my toilet ‘hole’, cockroaches becoming ‘uninvited’ pets and facing my ultimate fear for bugs injecting acid under your skin, but ever since, the Senegalese have made it to the top of my list of all time friendly people.

Yesterday I entered the airport again, and was feeling the same excitement, anxiousness and exhilaration: I’d made it back.  To my surprise, the airport was exactly the same, but the girl I had met on the plane already told me a lot else has changed (and later on my colleague from Oxfam informed me a new airport is in the making, but this was still the tiny and chaotic arrival hall I remembered). The girl also gave me her phone number and stressed to me several times to call her if I stayed longer in Dakar to meet up. Unfortunately I’m already leaving the city tomorrow, but the hospitality and spontaneity made me feel at home immediately – as I’d never left.

This time round I’m here for a different purpose then doing research with African singers (and whilst doing this learning some songs that I still know by heart). An exciting new job has send me here for a first assignment, but the way I’ll be discovering a new part of the country won’t be much different from my first time round, I’ll be asking loads of questions and hope I understand the French answers (and they will understand my questions).But somehow I feel this is also a journey where I will go back to the a part of the origin of where I developed my story and poetry writing roots.

10 years ago, I wrote letters (yes, letters!) and one email once a week. Next to this there was one phone call once a week from the house of the neighbours as my host family had no phone. The phone calls were an opportunity to vent some frustrations and get emotional as I heard familiar voices from far far away (to the despair of my hosts as they would see me cry in a language they couldn’t understand, while gathered all around me), but I vividly remember how much I enjoyed constructing my letters and that one email to give my family and friends an idea of what Senegal was like. I’ve looked up my first email (yes, there’s a purpose to email archives) and here’s how it started.

Everything is going well here in far far faraway Senegal. First, I’m in an internet cafe with a fan and a reasonably fast internet connection! Furthermore, I am completely healthy and don’t have any stress-related headaches. Stress would be a difficult concept here, everything will happen when it is time. And I really mean when it is time. Yesterday we were supposed to leave at noon, but we only left at 3PM. This morning we just went to buy mattresses. Three hours later we were back.  Before you can even go to the store, Papisto, our African internship supervisor, must get his driver, then take us to the store, greet the seller, review which mattress to take, more greetings with other people, then negotiate the price, shake on it, buy water (it’s hot enough to drink 5 liters per day), final selection of mattresses, payment, count the money, shake on it, load the mattress on the truck and so on.

And to be honest, I’m just fine with it, because in the meantime you can quietly take in a 1000 and one impressions. 

My work won’t be as slow as described above, most likely there will be even too little time, but I will be sure there will be a 1000 and one renewed impressions, mixing the old and the new, to construct into new short stories and poetry pieces.

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