Leaving Senegal, Actually Leaving Senegal, and Whats Up 2015?
I haven’t blogged in two and a half months. That’s way too long, and for that I am sorry. I was really busy my last month in Senegal, and then when I got back to the states I went MIA to catch up on family time and SLEEP. If/when travel blogging becomes my job, I’ll be way better!! But I still wanted to share with you all about my final weeks in Senegal, my horrific travel back to the states, what I have been up to since then, and what’s to come in 2015!!
The last time I blogged I had just finished my second and final excursion outside of Dakar. We got back from that trip and had our last week of classes. We tested out of both of our languages—French and Wolof—and began our month-long independent study project. I chose to focus on a topic that I had been well exposed to before my time in Senegal. In April of last year, I got word that my podcast/senior capstone project for Humboldt would be published in my University’s academic journal; that project took a look at the relationship between oral and written history in West Africa, more specifically Senegal. It was a great project, but my scope was limited to secondary research that I could access from my library stall at HSU. So when I went about choosing my topic for this independent study project in Senegal, it was honestly a no-brainer. Take what I learned through all that secondary research and expand the crap out of it with field research! I chose Daour Wade, an established children’s book author and all around incredible man, as my advisor. We worked together in shaping my project over the course of the month. I had the chance to see more of Dakar via interviews and participant observation opportunities! I visited private schools, authors’ homes, research centers, and even got invited to the opening ceremony of the Francophonie Summit of 2014 (which Senegal was hosting)! The month was full of fun, love, learning and genuine intellectual excitement. I even celebrated Thanksgiving with a UN family! I met more than one potential future employer and really came to understand how to work on my own. Though, I will mention here as I have mentioned several other places, the work I did would not have been possible without my advisor—Daour Wade—and my translator—Yerim Conga. If you’re interested in listening to the podcast(s), here are the links!
Episode 2: https://soundcloud.com/harleemai/isp-podcast
I tearfully moved out of my host family’s house about a week before leaving the country. It was heartbreaking to leave my little sister, the two housemaids, and my mother behind. All of them defied the normative female role I had come to recognize during my stay in Senegal, and all of them had beautiful souls that I miss every day. My study-abroad group left for a week-long stay at a beach resort in Mbour, Senegal. It was beautiful! The wifi was down all week, or I would have posted a blog while we were there… (I swear!) But it was a week full of mixed emotions. We all presented our individual projects to one another, went on safari, visited a beautiful small island town of which the ground was composed entirely of shells, went to a liquor tasting at a small Belgian distillery (what a lovely, lovely gift from our academic director that was), went skinny dipping in the icy Atlantic, and wrapped up our program. We went back to Dakar on Saturday morning. I spent the rest of the day with my lovely boy, visited my host family, had one last huzzah at my friends’ and my favorite bar, and headed to the airport.
Here’s the part that has taken me so long to be able to write about without sounding angry, bitter and annoyed by. It may be important to preface this by saying my flight itinerary was confusing, I had 3 major stops before I was supposed to get back to California, and I had bought tickets for some of them separately due to funding availability and visa stuff. So, all that being said… I get to Dakar’s one-terminal international airport. I start looking for the desk of the airline that I would be traveling with. I don’t see it. I ask someone working there, to which they respond: “no, you missed that flight.” I say “no, it’s 11:30 and my flight doesn’t leave until 2:05, I’m quite on time.” They say “no, the only flight out of here today with that airline left several hours ago.” My brain starts to hyperventilate. What? I say, “no, look, I have the itinerary right here, I am on a flight at 2:05…” We go to talk to someone else. They say the same thing. A third airport staff member, too. After talking to several, one of them says something along the lines of “oh yeah, that flight was dissolved and merged with a flight that leaves a week from today, so just come back then!” I actually start to hyperventilate. I say “excuse me?” I get: “Your flight doesn’t exist, go home.” And thus began my very public, (and in hindsight) very obnoxious breakdown. I had a flight leaving Barelona’s international airport in 7 hours, by not being able to leave at this time, I would miss my flight to New York City too. It was a MESS. After about an hour of being paraded around, and my friend Arden reigning my meltdown in, I was $1200 out on a new ticket for a direct flight to NYC. And as I go to check my bag for this flight, I am swarmed by airport employees asking me weird questions like “why did you just buy a ticket to leave the country tonight?” No, ma’am, I am not a suspicious traveler, you all know why I just bought this ticket. All 70 employees of this airport just saw my public meltdown! Let me through security!!! I was a bitter, quiet storm by that point in the night. But I was let through security, checked for Ebola, and on my way.
Upon arrival in NYC, I was graciously taken in by Arden’s family. I then spent a few hours with a friend I met at camp over the summer, and spent an evening locked in a very nice Best Western near the airport! When I got there the concierge asked if I needed delivery menus and gave me some cookies. I knew then that I must look like a wreck. Best Western took great care of me! I took the shuttle to the airport way too early (because I was not going to tolerate another mishap), and got home safely on the night of Monday, December 15. I was welcomed at the airport by my brother, mother, and a burrito. I had missed California.
Readjusting to the fast life that is the United States is hard. Everything’s so expensive and unnecessary. But I have been so happy seeing all of my family and friends and having a bunch of food I couldn’t have for six months!! It’s such a shock to me that I went all of those places and did all of those things in 2014. I am so fortunate. So lucky to have visited 3 continents, worked and studied, met amazing people, and seen so much. It will be hard to top that…But you can all bet your asses I am going to try. This year, I will be graduating from Humboldt State University! 3 great years in college, but I am ready to get out there for real. I will be returning to Taiwan this summer to work at camp again! After this summer, I think I will be spending some time in France!!! I can’t sit still. When opportunities arise, I now have the freedom and ability to say hell yeah instead of “hold on I need to finish school.” I am so bummed that Invisible Children closed their US office before I had the opportunity to work with them, because it was a mutual understanding that I would do so ASAP. But c’est la vie. 2015 is another Year of the Harlee. I’m comin’ for you, world.