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Photo by Elke Schmidt, Senegal Bridge Year Program.

On My Renaming

My name is Fama Sarr. We were all given Senegalese names by our homestay families, and that is mine.

I became Fama after unpacking the gigantic fifty-pound backpack that was my only constant sense of home during our four weeks of travel. I became Fama after sitting down with my mother for the very first time—eighteen years old and just now sitting down with my mother. Eighteen years old and just now moving home. That was two weeks ago.

Sometimes, when I don’t run into anyone from my program within the hectic entanglement of streets that is the Yoff neighborhood of Dakar, and there isn’t a language class to attend after lunch, and I spend all my free time peeling potatoes with my sisters instead of browsing the internet and skyping a friend from home—my previous home—I am Fama for an entire day. And not even a single person calls me by the name I’ve lived with my entire life.

Sometimes, I almost forget that I haven’t been here forever. I almost forget that I haven’t always been Fama Sarr. It’s quite a feeling.

So much of my identity revolves around my name. The name I used before living here carries eighteen years of memories on its back. Even when I am surrounded by strangers and surrounded by Senegal and surrounded by everything in the world that could possibly be unfamiliar to me, I have my name to hold onto—and with my name, I have everything I need to know who I am. So who am I, when I am forced to unpack my name, as I have unpacked the contents of my 75-liter Osprey into the empty wardrobe in the corner of my room? Who am I, when I’ve lived for eighteen years, one life—and now, a new life has begun?

I am Fama, with only two weeks of life behind me. I am Fama, with the experiences of eighteen years carefully hidden away, and yet, nothing is hidden at all. Just six and a half weeks into this nine-month-long endeavor, I am already beginning to grow out of one name and into another.

The other morning, I stepped into the bathroom in my homestay and there was running water so I used a shower head to shower for the first time in weeks. And it was horrible. So now, I just take my bucket shower and don’t even check to see if the tap works. And I find myself answering waaw instead of yes when speaking english in the program house. And when someone asks about my family, I usually say I have five sisters—not two.

I feel like I’ve placed so much pressure on these nine months in Senegal to be a transformative experience, in which I question every single thing I’ve ever believed to be true and rediscover the world and wow—would you look at that! Maybe not everything I learned in high school is correct and accurate and unbiased! And maybe these nine months will be “transformative”. Maybe they already have been. Because I probably don’t even realize how different I am—probably won’t even realize how different I am—until I sit down with a best friend of that eighteen-year-old girl from New Jersey who isn’t Fama. So I think, six and a half weeks into this nine-month-long endeavor, it is far less important to pinpoint all the ways I’ve changed, than it is to acknowledge that I am not the same.

(Sophie Slutzky)