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Photo by Elke Schmidt, Senegal Bridge Year Program.

Fun breaking-out-of-your-comfort-zone idea: take your homestay siblings to the beach

“We’re going to the beach this afternoon” my 12-year-old homestay brother, Babacar, told me on a Saturday morning. I immediately agreed, and spent the rest of my morning excitedly looking forward to swimming in the ocean in Dakar for the first time. I would lie if I said I didn’t have very high expectations for how the afternoon would pan out. I’ve noticed over the past month and a half in Senegal, that every time I go to the beach here I get in a bit of a reflective mood. Before coming here, I’d lived my whole life in Cancun, Mexico, and the beach is a crucial part of what I consider home. Now that I’m on the opposite side of the Atlantic, being in the shore feels a little bit nostalgic, but meaningful at the same time. I figured that this first beach outing with my homestay family, where I would get in the water for the first time, would be a mix of emotions that made way to some reflection, and, who knows, maybe even a yak.

At around 5:00 pm, I was putting on my swimsuit in my room, and gathering my stuff for the beach, all while listening to many infants’ voices chanting “Binta, pare nga?” (Binta -my Senegalese name-,  are you done?) outside of my door. When I was finally done and I walked out, I was greeted by the sight of nearly all of my younger homestay siblings, all dressed in their beach clothes and ready to go. We started walking towards the beach, and I looked around and suddenly realized the situation that I’d gotten myself into. Turns out, our beach trip cohort was made out of the following participants:

  • Binta, my namesake and 13-year-old sister who was riding her bike to the beach
  • Babacar, my 12 year old brother
  • Yukabid, my 11 year old sister
  • Takha, my 10 year old brother
  • Souberou, my 7 year old brother
  • Aminata, my 5 year old sister
  • Rassoul, my 5 year old brother
  • Rebecca, mi 3 year old sister
  • A boy I did not know, who joined us along the way at some point and seemed to be friends with my siblings. He looked to be in the 10-12 year range.
  • Me, who had initially thought she was having a nice reflective time at the beach, and was now realizing the increasing unlikeliness of that scenario playing out given the present circumstances

At this time, I surprisingly didn’t panic as much as I probably should have. I just used my newfound role as responsible adult to focus on these children’s survival while crossing the streets on our walk to the beach. Admittedly, they did most of the work, because I had no idea where the beach was, and the older kids were pretty much leading our group. I basically just held hands with the smaller ones and tried to ensure that none of them wandered off or stayed behind.

Finally, we got to the beach. It was beautiful, the water was refreshing, and life was great.

Then things started to happen. I’m not super sure of the order of the events that unfolded on this Saturday afternoon, and I like making lists, so let’s just say that over the next two hours, the following happened:

  1. So. Much. Sand. Inside of Souberou’s eye. Way too much. Enough for him to be physically unable to open it (and willing to hit anyone who tried). I was starting to panic slightly, when a man at the beach asked why Souberou was screaming, and came over to help. He ended up holding my brother down, and cleaning his eye with an admittedly very effective technique that involved spitting into it and using some water from the sea. God bless this hero, because a few minutes later Souberou had stopped crying and his eye looked okay.
  2. Rebecca, who I was holding the entire time that we were in the ocean due to her being 3 years old, swallowed seawater. Twice. So, Rebecca threw up a little on me. Twice.
  3. Binta’s bicycle got stolen. Then it turned out it hadn’t been stolen, it had been a misunderstanding, but for a solid 20 minutes there she was crying and we were trying to find a missing bike.
  4. During the whole bicycle debacle, Aminata refused to get out of the ocean, even when I told her that we were all leaving. I couldn’t pick her up because I was already carrying Rebecca, and dragging her was not working out, so I kind of had to choose between letting all the others wander off alone, or walking away without one of my five year olds. Takha saved me this time; he came back and somehow managed to get Aminata to move slowly towards the rest of the group.
  5. Aminata then decided to pick up a dead fish.
  6. Rassoul and Aminata at some point decided to run away from me into the ocean again.
  7. I had to stop being the cool sister to break up a fight between Souberou and Rassoul that was getting out of hand.
  8. On our way back home, it was dark, and all the kids were thirsty. Eventually some were crying, and we ended up stopping at a random house and asking for water for the younger ones. Maybe I was imagining things, but I’m pretty sure the man who gave us water gave me a sympathetic look.

When we got back home, it wasn’t even 8:00 pm yet, and I was exhausted. I wasn’t in a bad mood though. I can’t really explain how, but I actually had enjoyed our little beach excursion, stress and mini-crises and all. As I watched them all hobble into the shower and eat some dinner I realized just how fond I am of these kids. All throughout our time outside, I was feeling extremely protective of them. I realized that even with everything that happened today, if they asked, I’d probably take them to the beach again in a heartbeat. Although next time, I might just ask my mom to come along as well. Just in case.