Head down, I stared at my knees. They were crumpled in front of me, slightly more knobby than two weeks before, and suffocating in a pair of army green pants. Wind blew through the taxi window, whipping my pony tail and whisking away the sweat that dribbled down the back of my neck. The sept-place taxi, with me and six other passengers wadded up inside, was heading south. The road taking us from Dakar to the village of Temanto Samba was flat, the only option in Senegal, and gently curved around the protrusion of The Gambia. Donkey carts, motorcycles, and countless other Peugeot taxis, all beyond their French expiration dates, pranced along the highway with dignity. They were at home here in the baobab dotted grasslands, emblazoned proudly alhamdulillah. I was the imposter, so far from my own parched prairies and cottonwood creeks in Colorado. It was in this distant home that my thoughts had swirled as my body lay bedridden in Dakar one week before…
November met me in the hospital, but I did not wake to greet it. I only woke when tentacles of nausea tickled my throat, ejecting acrid chunks of apple and bread from my previous meal. Such was my typhoid-induced delirium that time flowed by unnoticed, days and nights only distinguishable by the tidal rise and fall of light. And so time passed, the clinic my home and the IV my devout companion, draining itself to keep me alive. The dribble of paracetamol slowly peeled away the fever, leaving a salty membrane glistening on clammy skin. I hardly bothered to notice the newfound coolness that crystallized in the AC as I slid in and out of the silky sheets of consciousness. In this rhythm my mind slowly emerged from its stupor, only to find my body helpless, entirely engaged in its invisible battle against typhoid. Sleep was the best use of time, but it’s blissful escape became increasingly elusive.
My mind meandered to the past, aching to remember when eating and walking were not chores, and looked to the future restoration of this previously unappreciated ease of life. I thought of how my mother used to cook me soup, magic broth that soothed germs into submission when I was sick, and how my current bag of saline drip was a soulless substitution. I recalled the green blanket, prickly with dog hairs, that would keep away the chill as the broth bubbled on the stove, and how my cat would clamber into my fevered lap and rumble appreciation for the warmth. I listened instead to the footsteps echoing in the corridor, soft, then louder, then soft again. In my physical illness I found a growing fruit of homesickness, ripening sweetly in the sour scent of hospital disinfectant.
The doctor forecasted my recovery, inshallah, anticipating the date of my freedom while monitoring the squalls of nausea and vomit that could alter his predictions. I waited, like a new butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, drying its wings before they could be used, and anticipating the first flight of a new life with such hope for the future that the present became a test of patience. My body healed with the painstaking slowness of a glacier, and I surveyed my progress with disappointment at its speed. But finally it was decided that I could leave on Friday, nearly two weeks from my first feverish night, and that I should go home to America.
Here was my excuse, legitimate by any measure, to escape the challenge I had set out for when I abandoned the approaching Autumn in Colorado for the heat of Africa in September. I could return home, satisfied with my accomplishments: four weeks collecting the red soil of Madagascar on hiking boots and flip flops chosen for me by my new Malagasy friends. Then trusting in spontaneity to bring me to the sands of Senegal as an outbreak of the bubonic and nemonic plagues scampered across the island. In Senegal I had become Mame Diarra, a girl who was learning Wolof, communicating in gestures and smiles, and pounding peppercorns in preparation of thieboudienne or maafe. But there were more languages to learn, foods to taste, friends to keep and new ones to find. I knew that I would not be proud of myself if I returned home early. This was an opportunity to celebrate new beginnings and revel in the opportunities afforded by time and mobility.
And so it was in search of new challenges and unattainable pride that I found myself in the back of that sept-place taxi, on the way to a remote village rather than home, with the grudging consent of the doctor. But even as the taxi grew tired in the heat and puffed smoke under the hood, I was confident that I would find a home in Temento Samba. My family of friends, fellow followers of tangled paths that had landed us together, was waiting for me. Indeed I think my determination to continue is a much greater reflection of the virtues of my companions than any trait of my own. Although I strive for individualism, I see now the beauty and necessity of interdependence and human connection.
I took a gap year in part to collect stories and experiences, and in this I have certainly succeeded. Thank you to Dragons and my family for making it possible!