Our very first stop upon arriving in Senegal, after leaving the bustling airport around 10PM, was to the small Sufi community of Dene. We drove through the dark and carried our over-stuffed bags across the sand, until we found a cluster of lights not emanating from our headlamps. We were introduced to Dene in a singing and dancing welcome ceremony of jet-lag induced surreality.
Over the next few days, we were able to get our bearings in Dene, to come to terms with our being in Senegal and our new way of life. We also got the chance to begin exploring Senegalese and Sufi culture. This entire process was made far easier by the presence of the kids who live in Dene. After the first night of shy smiles and hiding behind their parents’ legs, the various siblings and cousins of this rural community accepted us whole-heartedly. They ran to greet us despite our utter lack of useful Wolof skills and our inability to offer them anything other than smiles; they grabbed our hands and showed us around; they translated our broken language attempts to French and back; and they laughed and laughed whenever we danced with them. The openness of these kids made our transition to Senegal easy and happy, and I’m sure they have no idea how grateful we are. On the last night, as we heard the US national anthem sung in beautiful Wolof, Hadija fell asleep in my lap.