Four journeys. Eight plane rides. One fraction. At age two, I flew over the Atlantic Ocean guided by my Senegalese father and part Portuguese, Irish, German mother for the first time. Our destination was Senegal, West Africa. My appreciation for other cultures stems from this early exposure to my own heritage. With each passing visit, my understanding of comfort, happiness, and need flourished. I found that the people of Diokoul, my father’s village, are entirely content with what they have and what they do not have. Though they may not hold many materialistic luxuries others feel are essential to survival, they do not just survive, they live. As I matured with each each journey to Senegal, I experienced perception altering situations essential to becoming my own person.
The bounding main of undiscovered life and sharp tides that is the Atlantic Ocean, stands boldly between my cultural roots within Senegal and my life in America. I look out the window at the bright lights of Detroit and prepare for a life changing journey. Twelve hours in the air draws the coordinates between my homeland and the land that is my home. The sounds of a million dialogues shoot from the tongues of passengers. English, French, Wolof and Arabic sprout from various ends of the plane, all meeting in the middle in an explosion of chatter. An army of children surround me, bellowing harmoniously, “Bon Anniversaire, Ami-Naine!” With a heaping bag of delicately wrapped fruit candies, I respond, “Merci, mes amis!” For the first time, I am giving gifts rather than receiving on my own birthday. The beaming faces of my immediate family and newfound acquaintances send a shock of genuine happiness from the tips of my hair to my sandy feet. Giving rather than receiving shapes my character and my passion to make others happy.
I stand out like ice in cool tea. All people within the expanse of the village are conscious of my presence, as word spreads like wildfire. Young children, unaware of where I derive from, scream with excitement, “Bonjour!,” with the belief that my abnormally sandy cream complexion and irregular ripple waved, mahogany hair, must be an indicator of French blood. Though they are mistaken, I respond with the prevailing French I have absorbed from French class and my parents. Children seem to elevate as they tear through the sand to reach me, with their slightly tattered, resplendent clothing. Young girls grasp my hair and feel its unfamiliar texture. A faint, rhythmic, Tamma drumming meets my ears, travels through my body to my tapping foot and welcomes me home.
Comfortable situations are easy to live by. Uncomfortable circumstances call to be challenged or ignored. I choose to attack the challenge that comes with becoming acquainted with a fraction of my own unbalanced heritage. My journeys to Senegal have opened my eyes to a life where fortune is something not possessed but created through the love and support of a village. A village bound by ancestry, shared beliefs and an overall love of being alive. I have now shattered the barrier of the Atlantic Ocean and connected to a fraction of my identity, leading me to see the world in a new, blazing light of understanding. This understanding has lead me to hold an experiential vision of living under circumstances unfamiliar and challenging. Senegal is central to my identity. Portugal, Germany and Ireland are all central to my selfhood. Without the imbalance of the mingled four, I would not be what I have come to be. Well traveled, culturally aware, and grateful.
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