It might sound like nothing, but travelling alone with a toddler from San Francisco to Senegal is not an easy thing to do. It's not something I want to do again.
The waiting room at JFK bustled with people waiting for the Dakar flight: The fifty-something woman doing Tai chi next to the window, a group of peace corp volunteers exchanging stories, a senegalese man and woman talking in wolof. I watched an american couple rifle through a Senegal guide book and felt, strangely, like I might offer advice if asked.
When had it happened to me? I understood some words in wolof...I understood french. I understood that some people were returning to their home, the place they were born. Some were returning to the place they had made home: working for the embassy, NGO's. Some, perhaps like the woman doing Tai chi, were returning to a place they loved like home. And me?
So much had already happened in our six months of travel. We spent two months in Paris like tourists, visiting museums and monuments; we loved it, we hated it. we felt at home, we felt homesick. Then on the eve before leaving for Dakar we discovered something: I was pregnant.
To say it made the transition to Dakar a little rocky would be an understatement. It was hot when we arrived in November. Mosquitos were everywhere. We couldn't find a place to live and then when we did, it turned out to be the landing path for all the airplanes coming into the Dakar airport. That first night it felt like were being dive bombed from above every hour or so. That and the general sense of living amongst rubble and dust and I felt like we were in a war zone. It didn't help that french and american military jets were practicing above the city that first month in Dakar. So we moved out. lost some money in the process. Looked for a new place. couldn't find anything in our price range. Expanded that price range. and finally, the third week, we moved into the apartment where we live now.
On Friday (Saturday) I returned with my two babies, one who had been screaming and kicking for much of the second flight, the other, thankfully, still tucked away, a part of me. I walked out toward the baggage claim, a heavy backpack on my back, an exhausted toddler in the stroller and I thought, almost there. You only have to get your baggage, make it through one more checkpoint. The door is over there....
A group of men approached me, offering to help, wanting my money, I walked right past them. I chose who I wanted to ask for help (because I did need help). I negotiated with him in french. 5 dollars...I only have five dollars. He helped me with my bags and got me to that door where Jon was waiting.
That night we were all lying in bed. It was well past midnight and we were awake. There was a mosquito net over us. Outside we heard chanting which would continue throughout the night. Maggie was crying a bit when she said to me, "mama, I want to go home...I want to go home to nanny's," and I thought, me too. I want to go home.
I looked towards the window. I felt sadness. I let the sadness sit there for a moment and then let it go. Again and again I let it go. We are here. I know that looking back this will be one of the most enriching experiences of my life. But for now I just have to make it through each day, to see the beauty in what is right in front of me. And there is beauty.