“You haven’t believed God until you’ve attempted to do something that can’t be done unless his power is at work in your life. Rick Warren.”
21 months ago I left my hometown and everything familiar to me and headed out to Senegal, West Africa on a big adventure. Previous trips to the region had allured me to its people, tastes and ideas. I was now ready for a two year dose of its exoticness.
30th June 2010 – “Dakar, is HOT! And dusty, and sweaty, but which African country isn’t?? Plus there r people jogging everywhere and oh so polite, they even apologise when they cut you in traffic, and Vals cooked me dinner, she is the bestest! I am here:-)”
And exotic it was. The sun shone at extremes (of upto 40 degrees) never experienced before, causing me to break out in a terrible sweat morning, noon and night. Being a peninsula/island, the stunning coastal view of the Atlantic was never very far. Everything was artsy and colorful; from the language, to the houses and even cars. There was a mosque and pharmacy at every street corner. The music was loud and dancing boisterous. Preferred dressing featured brightly colored printed fabrics, most specially the Bazin, the local national dressing (a uni-color dyed stiffened cloth embroidered in colorful, artsy designs). Their palates favored a daily filling of thieboudjen (spicy palm oil rice and fish).
“Chatting online – be it a quick update or a real deep tet a tet, a freezing cold yet so refreshing soft drink, free wi-fi, experiencing new sites and Aloko & Acheke (yams % plantains)…these are a few of my favorite things.”
Out of my comfort zone, the first few months were hard. I had read the culture shock manuals and prepared myself for the change, but none of that seemed to have prepared me for the challenge before me.
“The past is so tangible/I know it by heart/ Familiar things are never easy to discard/I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt/ Leaving out what it lacked /The future seems so hard and I want to go back /But the places that used to fit me /Cannot hold the things I”ve learned /And those roads closed off to me /While my back was turned (Sarah Groves)”
Far from my friends and family, I felt lost, alone, uncertain, perturbed. Many times I wondered if I should give up and head back home.
“Somedays i wake up and wonder if i have made all the wrong choices…what if i chose a different highschool or studies something different in uni, or took a different kind of job, or made different friends and had different relationships…sometimes i just dont want to settle for what i got…sometimes all i want is a do-over.”
Somewhere around the 5th month, I bumped into expatriate acquantainces on a plane that explained to me that they too were experiencing the same challenges in Dakar. They were older and wiser, and as I spoke to them something happened…ts like God breathed hope and strength into my soul. I returned to Dakar aware that God who had brought these people into my life was with me, and I was no longer alone.
“i still dont speak french, sometimes i get lost between my house & the supermarket, & the sweltering heat is forever my hot topic. But, i can now get myself down-town, to the jogging beach, and even to church, i can communicate with taxi drivers, shop keepers & the guard outside my apartment. Yeah, its 5 months already; & i’m not saying life here feels ‘normal ‘ but for sure, West-Africa & i are gonna make it…”
And life became bearable. I found an apartment 4 min from my office with an English-speaking landlord, wireless internet and closets!! (Who knew that in Dakar that is considered a luxury) I got used to walking in the sand and wiping the sweat off my brow. My environs became familiar and I learned how to handle the taxi-men. I found a church with heavenly sounding music and made more than a few friends. I got invited to lunches and dinners. Life developed a soulful rhythm.
30th June 2011 – “Tomorrow i shall have been in Dakar for a year, one whole year!! Where does time go to? Thanking God for nourishing friendships, amazing experiences, surmounted challenges, disappointments and personal failure, unexpected lessons and counted costs…i am grateful, eternally thankful for the way each experience has made me even more ME.Here is to an even greater year two!”
And now, Dakar feels like home. I’ve had many wonderful experiences here. I got to travel to the inner parts of Senegal as well as neighboring countries.
“In Mopti!!!!! In the middle of the Niger Deltar…just a couple of hours away from Timbuktu (I would go but i dont think my family has enough ransom). -25 workshop participants, 22 men, 3 women…. – the men’s perfume is waaaayyy stronger than the women’s. -And here is an interesting fun fact, the arid area of the desert has increased over the last 50 years but the amount of rainfall has actually increased by upto 0.9mm a year.”
“Toubacouta is lovely. For the longest time i wondered what tourism senegal has to offer but this is picturesque & inspiring all at once. Outside hotel room looking out at the sea, although i cant see that far because of the mangroves, the warm breeze, singing crickets and mosquitoes i have to keep whisking away are making me nostalgic. Now off to eat some Dibi de mutton in the village nearby (Mutton Choma). Awesome!!”
It’s not that life became easy or the world perfect. There were scars and struggles; a fair amount of tears and laughter, challenges and triumphs.
Gained Weight – “Walked 70min to the Corniche and back, starting the exercise/endorphins-restocking again!!#NeverGiveUpPressOn”
Witnessed God’s interventions – “I would like to cry, like abandon all reserve & let the waters just flow, in a freeing undignified fashion…and in so doing let go of all the meaningless shoulda-coulda-wouldas causing my sadness…but i can’t, i’m at the printers!!! Miraculously, printer’s machine got fixed and my stuff is ready in time for this huge European animal protection conference. At last, i say Amen, even though it’s still raining.”
Discovered the art of Crying out to God – “How amazing is it when I can wholeheartedly testify to the truth of David’s words spoken centuries ago? I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire.”
Shared moments across the cultures – “I’ve had possibly one of my most favorite days in Senegal. Traffic free out of town trip to a country house with a private pool, awesome food, even better company…relaxation/chilling/peace of mind…just a wonderful time with people that remind me that this world is a good place to be.”
God has given me experiences that have grown and matured me in leaps and bounds. It’s grown my communication skills as I have been forced to work with the challenges of a francophone foreign environment. Time here has also tested my friendships, many of them didn’t pass.
“In life there are some people you have to lose in order to find yourself.”
In the midst of this, I discovered my own voice, and found it to be lovely. I grew a backbone…and got to experience depths of myself that I previously didn’t know existed. I became ok both with my greatness and the parts about me that are not so great. “If you are constantly looking to your performance or the opinions of others to make yourself feel good or worthwhile, you are constantly going to be chasing something you can never catch (James A. Francis) via beckyjohn.org”
I grew a faith of my own, gaining firsthand experience of a God who is present, real and tangible. It has broken my self-reliance, as I have time and again had to turn to God for every need. One thing I know for sure is that I would not have survived Dakar had it not been for God’s constant grace. “All my romantic idealism was a misplaced longing to unite with God. I’m convinced my heart was pointed in the wrong direction. Donald Miller.”
And as this Dakar season comes to a close, I am hopeful that I will take these life lessons with me.
“I return to Nairobi 1. So certain about God’s incredible love for me (something I want to constantly remember) 2. So knowing that He has my back in regards to cash, relationships and any other anxiety producing need (My times and seasons are in His hands). 3. Wanting to live my life fully for Him #GrowingYearningLearning”
Still, the dichotomous transition emotions are wrecking havoc in my intestines.
“So excited to be leaving…yet also quite sad to be going;
Can’t wait to be back…yet afraid to discover how much life has changed;
Having faith that God is in control of the future…yet apprehensive about the unknown.”
Have you transitioned before? Do you have any transitioning tips for me?
SONG OF THE WEEK – Matt Redman – Never Once
Standing on this mountaintop, looking just how far we’ve come, knowing that for every step you’ve been with us…Never Once did you leave me on my own, You are faithful, God you are faithful