“I’m a long way from the land that I left, I’ve been running through life and cruising toward death. If you think that I’m scared you got me wrong, if you don’t know my name, you know it now. I belong bodily to the earth, I’m just wearing old bones from those that came first. There’ll be many more flames when mine is gone, they will build me no shrines and sing me no songs…”
-Way Out There, LH
Shipwrecked, A solid metaphor for how I have felt for much of my service in Senegal. There are many reasons for this sentiment, but I never wanted to talk about them. Not all of them. I never wanted to share the negative aspects of my service or make Senegal seem like a bad place. Some truths are just hard and speak for themselves. They are tales for another time. Honestly, if you make the best of things, time flies and you sail through your service. When you don’t, your hull drags across the rocks and its easy to lose sight of your horizons.
I stood on the rocks of the Goudoude Valley for far too long. I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself. I spent many a’days idly working at the Master Farm, whose origins were a political gauntlet of sorts, with little particular thought for its future. And I couldn’t work well in a community that didn’t particularly care to participate in what I was trained to offer- agroforestry. My audience was limited and I was growing jaded and all other shades of green.
I fell ill. So I fled to the capital where my friend convinced me to take a trip to an island with her. She said it was the most peaceful place she had been. We went. She was no liar.
The island was small, and covered in shrubs, grasses, and ancient baobabs stunted from the winds. Sapphire blue waters stretched from the rocky shore to beyond the horizons. I looked out for a long, long time. Rare birds circled above, curious and cautious as we began to ascend to the island’s peak. The Elder Tree sat high up on the hill and we made the climb. As I approached the Elder Tree, I began to see coins, tokens, and other small wishes tucked into the nooks of the eternal bark. I tapped my pocket to hear the melodious jingle of coins. Pulling out a silver, I stepped toward the tree and found the perfect niche. It wasn’t a wish I needed; it was a resolution. And I was going to pay for my resolve with a small offering to the gods and the spirits of the Elder Tree. I refused to remain derelict.
I had crossed the sea for this and left everything I knew behind. It was time to churn the brackish water and stitch some new sails. I’d come too far to jump ship and I certainly wasn’t going to sink.
The Elder Tree
(photo: Dorothy Voorhees)
Clink! The silver found its way to the heart of the trunk. At that very instant I already felt different. The winds of change were blowing and they were blowing in my favor…
Hot season is upon me but I am used to the heat. I’ve primed myself for my research and begun traveling and hosting discussions with farmers with my language skills at their peak. I know exactly what I’m doing. I’ve achieved a certain confidence and identity. I’ve been weathered to the bone by differences in cultures and I know just how to navigate uncharted territories. Here’s to smooth sailing for the next six months.
cover photo by Houley Mballo