Jaraama (or hello in Pulaar) to all you wonderful Senegal semester students (and anyone else reading this board)!
I wanted to introduce myself, I’m Espoir (she/her/hers), and one of your instructors for this semester and am absolutely thrilled to be spending the fall in Senegal with you all. I grew up in the northwoods of Minnesota and Wisconsin as well as in the metropolitan area of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. In the last 5 years I have had the privilege of traveling down the Mississippi River by canoe, in continental Africa both in Senegal and Rwanda as well as through the US by bicycle and in a car named Berta. Through my travels and the places I have lived in longer-term, I have come to know generosity and beauty while trying to engage myself in community through the many forms it can take. I am passionate about social justice and have always been curious and motivated to understand how we define our own communities, who is a part of them, who isn’t. I am endlessly interested in the many ways being a part of different communities helps us make meaning and connection with other people, while contributing to ensuring everyone’s needs are met.
As we embark on this journey we will be entering and coming to learn more about communities that exist in different ways across Senegal. Something I think of immediately when imagining community in the places we will go and people we will meet is the phrase “nioko bok”. It is usually used as a response to “djerejeff” or thank you in Wolof, but directly translated it means we are together. The idea of an exchange that elicits a thank you as being an interaction that brings people together I think is a reflection of the ways I have experienced Senegalese people always inviting others to join. Wether it be to share a meal, attaya (a tea) or anything else, there is a value to sharing things. Especially coming from a more westernized culture here in the US, where things are often about ones ability to be have or create something unique, independent or self-sufficient, I think the value of sharing and interdependence is a powerful thing to learn. It’s something I hope we can learn again and again together this fall in Senegal, and one that we will have to be intentional about especially during a pandemic. However, while we will all have our own experience and moments within our shared semester, we will be learning about ourselves and this moment globally together. I am really looking forward to learning from each other and sharing our thoughts along the way as a Dragons community and within the communities we will visit.
Things I have found myself dreaming of most in Senegal since I left are my homestay families, crowded markets, streets that hold far more than just vehicles, slow and calm moments in a homestay village, and zooming across the countryside in a sept-places taxi. The experiences that shaped my time in Senegal are ones we will get the chance to seek and have in this new moment, together. Since the last time I was in Senegal I have worked in community and student organizing for climate justice as well as on an organic farm, as a college radio DJ, in bike shops, as a dance teacher for kindergarteners- and now as an instructor for Dragons (a dream come true for me as a previous student) !
I am really looking forward to meeting you all and coming together in the land of Baobabs so very soon- nioko bok!