Assalaam Maleykum, dear friends,
I hope this note finds you in peace, in jamm. In Senegal, we will talk often of peace, asking our friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, are you in peace? Is your body in peace, your family in peace? It is a beautiful way to move through the day. We will greet one another with nanga def?, and respond simply: maangi fi, I am here. Present and peaceful.
I write to you in an unexpectedly peaceful moment: I am currently visiting family in the south of Italy, and a storm swept across the sea a few hours ago. Torrential rains and strong winds drove away all of the tourists and beach-goers, and left behind the still sea, a few birds, and a cloud-strewn sky. I sit here, looking out at the sea, and thinking of the continent that lies on the opposite coast – of you all, and of the lives we will build for ourselves in Dakar come September.
I first travelled to Senegal in spring 2016, after having spent a year in other areas of West Africa between 2013 and 2015. Travelling from St. Louis to Thies and Dakar, I spent my days sipping hot, sweet attaya in the courtyards of new friends, learning to roll perfectly oval balls of thiebou dienne in the palm of my hand, and swaying to the pulsing rhythms of Senegalese mbalax, djembe, and jazz. I knew I would soon return.
In fact, I returned that fall, as an instructor for Where There Be Dragons’ Fall West Africa Semester. Over the course of the past two years, I’ve instructed three Dragons courses in Senegal, and have come to deeply love Senegal, in all of its beauty and challenge: my incredible colleagues and friends, their playful children and warm families, the communities that welcome us time and time again, the way that I always seem to be cracked open, inspired and eager to grow more peaceful, present, generous, and loving. Senegal is a place that has taught me so much, and has so much still to teach me; I chose to step into this role with Bridge Year because I am eager to continue to learn, from this place and from each of you. I am thrilled that you have also chosen to embark on this journey. Bismillah; welcome.
I’d like to begin by introducing myself. I grew up in Connecticut, and spent summers visiting my father’s family in Italy, where we would explore the sea floor and abandoned archeological digs, ancient olive trees and old farmhouses. As a child, I was curious and hungry for adventure. During my freshman year at Yale, this curiosity led me to two activities which have shaped my life since then: a Freshman Orientation backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, and an international development program in partnership with an organization in rural Uganda. At the end of my freshman year, I remember realizing that the personal growth and intellectual passion born of the conversations, tasks, and projects carried out on the trail and in rural communities were far more profound than anything I had experienced in the classroom that year. I was hooked on experiential learning – as a participant, and soon after, as an educator and facilitator.
These experiences, coupled with my studies as an Anthropology major, soon led me to realize the multitude of ways of seeing, knowing, and experiencing the world. The opportunity to constantly reflect and re-evaluate what I believe – and to facilitate that process for others — has kept me on my feet and around the globe since college.
While still a junior at Yale, I started working with a new initiative that offered experiential learning, cultural exchange, and travel opportunities to West African students. I spent that summer in Ghana and Benin and fell in love with the vibrancy and grit of the region. We named the program “Mayi Mava,” a common Ewe phrase meaning ‘I’ll be right back,’ or I will return soon. I returned the next year on a post-graduate fellowship to continue developing the program. And here I am, five years later, still returning to West Africa.
Since my post-graduate fellowship, I’ve worked as a trip leader with Rustic Pathways in Southeast Asia, taught English at a semester school in Idaho, and instructed four Dragons courses: three Senegal courses and one Mekong Semester in Cambodia, Laos, and China. I’ve cherished the opportunity to create friendships across the globe, to facilitate deep and probing reflection, and to support students as they step out of their comfort zones, and into themselves.
I also love writing and reading, baking sourdough bread, having outdoor adventures (hiking, camping, swimming, etc), and practicing yoga – and I’m looking forward to bringing these passions to our community.
Kate has graciously kicked off our Introduction posts, and now I’ve added my own – please take a moment to post your own introduction to the Yak Board, telling us about who you are, what you love, why you’ve chosen this experience, and anything else you’d like to share!
As we prepare for our journey, the Yak Board will also serve as a forum for questions and (hopefully) answers. If you have any questions, go ahead and post them here – if you are wondering about something, it’s likely that one of your peers is wondering about the same thing. Babacar and I will be responding to questions, posting additional notes, and sharing resources on this page, so please be sure to check it regularly. When we arrive in Senegal, the Yak Boad will become a place to document our journey, culminating in a collective journal that can be shared with friends and family, and as an archive to look back on after our return home.
In the meanwhile, if you have any questions that might require a more personal response please feel free to email me at [email protected]. Babacar and I will also be reaching out soon to connect with you over the phone before your arrival at Princeton. We look forward to getting to know you better!
Jam rekk; Peace only —