A Thank You Note to #Dakar!
It’s been three months since I left, and boy do I miss you! I miss your ocean breeze while enjoying a drink at Chez Abdou, the wahale every time to get into a taxi, then the following conversations about our favorite kind of thiep, hearing funana, mbalakh , kuduro and of course the hottest hits from Nigeria blasting out of storefronts, being called Awa Sane and most importantly, the amazingly diverse, open, caring, intelligent community you have permitted me to foster over the past seven years.
I first came to you in 2009 when Obama was a brand new President, and provided excitement and inspiration to Africa. I was 22, starting my first job after graduating from college, a high school English teacher. You provided me with the setting to explore how I could have the most social impact through education, and introduced me to some of the most formative individuals, families, and organizations that have shaped me into the woman I am today. You hosted major Pan-African education summits that allowed me to meet inspirational African leaders and role models like Kofi Annan, Oby Ezekwesili and more. I experienced Africa, and the world, because of your ability to welcome strangers and make them feel part of you.
Because of you, Dakar, I have made life long connections with people from all over the world- from Norway to Netherlands to Madagascar to Benin to Italy to Central African Republic to Japan to Bolivia to Senegal, women, men, old, young, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Bahai. The list goes on and on. I was able to share my traditions- 4th of July barbeques, Passover at the Israeli Embassy, Halloween costume parties, and learn so many new ones- Easter and Christmas at a Pan-African church, Mardi Gras, Tabaski (Eid) and more.
Because of you, my family and friends were able to visit Africa, creating beautiful memories of you and your people that will last them a lifetime. They were able to experience your beauty, now able to fight the negative stereotype that most Americans believe about Africa and Islam. They can recognize Senegalese people in our society as Senegalese, and can relate to each other through references about thiebudieune, Goree Island, and the hustle and bustle of the Place de l’Independance. These interactions might seem minimal, but they are important here in America, where our ability to understand cultural, religious and racial differences is at a depressing low.
Because of you, I am tougher. You showed me in 2012 during the elections how a democracy must work, with everyone assembling and sharing their opinions, both in person and online, and uniting when your country is threatened. You have taught me the importance of hard work, knowing that most of my friends and colleagues were not only working their 9-5 jobs, but also running microbusinesses in their spare time in order to feed their immediate and extended families. You have sent people to rob me, but also helped me realize that material items are much less important than the relationships you have to help you in times of wellness and also in danger.
I left you because I felt like I needed to be in my country. I needed to participate in this historic election, and begin to understand why there is so much frustration, angst, and pure hatred brewing up on the other side of the Atlantic. I also knew I needed my American friends and family to hear your concerns, and how our actions can affect the way many of us in the Dakar community- immigrants, emigrants, locals, expats- will live for the next four years. I also needed to take the values you taught me-community, joy, humility, hard work and flair- to New York City to make a difference in my country and encourage my compatriots to shift the paradigm of how we view, talk about and interact with Africa.
To the Americans you host- please take advantage of all that Dakar, Senegal and West Africa have to offer us as lessons in solidarity and fraternity. Make sure you keep an open mind and heart when you meet individuals who may have very different beliefs than you, controlling your own judgements and getting to know them on a human level. The ability to connect with those who have different backgrounds is shockingly low here right now, as you can see by all of the racism, sexism and hatred going on. Please be the kind, respectful, curious and nonjudgmental American, and try to learn and improve from your neighbors. You are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do so in a melting pot like Dakar, and America needs you to learn how to be examples for intercultural understanding.
To Dakar, and all of the people I love and admire who call you home, I vow to channel the knowledge, strength, wisdom, perseverance and courage you have shown me, to support intercultural understanding both in my own country and abroad. I vow to share what you have taught me, learn from what I see here and work to close the unnecessary gaps between Americans and Africans, and even between Americans themselves.
Thank you again for all you have done for me, and for the others who have experienced your teranga. You will always be my home!