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Photo by Elke Schmidt, Senegal Bridge Year Program.

Bismillah! A Letter of Introduction

Bismillah!

Warmest greetings to you and your families and hoping that this note finds you all well. It’s hard to believe that in less than a month, we will be sitting around a shared bowl of mouth-watering rice, vegetables, and fish and beginning our journey together through Senegal. I congratulate you all for your adventurousness and ongoing commitment to learning and growth.

My name is Jenny Wagner and I will be facilitating our time together in Senegal in collaboration with my incredible co-instructor, Samba Sow. I want to welcome you to the Yak Board, our collective group blog. The Yak Board is also a great place to post questions prior to your departure for Senegal. We will be posting more detailed arrival information, itinerary updates, and prompts for reflection prior to your departure. For now, Samba and I want to invite you all to post a brief introduction and photo here on the Yak Board so that we can start to get to know one another.

A little bit about me: I am currently based in Dakar, Senegal, where I live with my partner and work remotely for the Where There Be Dragons Admin to support our five Princeton Bridge Year program sites. For the past eight years I’ve been working as an experiential educator throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

It was 2013 when I arrived in Senegal for the first time and was ushered into my colleague Babacar’s living room in the sleepy beachside neighborhood of Yoff. A fan was humming in the corner and beads of sweat rolled slowly down my face. A child handed me a chilled glass of wine-red bissap juice, a refreshing concoction made from hibiscus flowers and mint. Outside, the solemn call to prayer mingled with the cries of fish sellers and the clip-clop of hooves from horse carts.

A few months later, in a village in southern Senegal, I stooped to enter a low mud hut cluttered with mysterious items and knelt before an old man on a straw mat. This old man was a marabout, a holy man and Sufi teacher who many people believed could receive messages about the future. Examining a calabash full of water, the marabout proceeded to tell me my life story in perfect accuracy. He then proceeded to tell me my future with an accuracy that would later become frightening.

Some stories are better shared around a campfire, but I will tell you that the last thing the marabout said was that I would keep coming back to Senegal. Spoiler alert: I’m still here! Living between cultures is a process that has forced me to confront my values and question many of the things I previously thought were true. Being here, on a daily basis, pushes me to reflect on how I show up to the world.

I want to extend an invitation for all of you to do the same, even in the moments when it can be confronting and uncomfortable. I want us to be open to the idea that everyone you will meet along our journey in Senegal is a potential teacher. This is a country that welcomes visitors with a patience, hospitality, and tolerance that is famously known as teranga. Despite the fact that my own time in Senegal has been full of mistakes, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations, my friends here have always received me with graciousness and given me room to learn.

Someone once explained this tolerance to me as the difference between eating around a shared bowl of ceebujen and drinking your personalized coffee drink in a takeway cup from Starbucks. When you’re sitting at the bowl, you get used to the idea that someone might put their spoon in front of you or do something generally annoying, and you learn to tolerate it. When you drink from your personalized coffee cup, you have less tolerance if someone touches it or comes near it. The lesson of shared eating is the essence of tolerance, and it is just a small part of the vast wisdom that Senegal has to share with the rest of the world.

I hope we can all experience the same sense of acceptance and spaciousness in our own learning journeys. I look forward to reading your introduction letters and hearing what motivates you, what inspires you, what you’re afraid of, and what you’re curious about. Please feel free to email me directly with any questions about the program ([email protected]). You can also post questions here on the Yak Board, as your fellow travelers might be wondering the same thing!

Stay tuned for more to come here on the Yak Board, and looking forward to reading your introductions as well!

Jamm rekk,

Jenny

P.S. In the spirit of life-long learning, I want to leave you with a poem from one of my favorite books, Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet.

On Self-Knowledge

By Kahlil Gibran

Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.

But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart’s knowledge.

You would know in words that which you have always known in thought.

You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.

And it is well you should.

The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;

And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.

But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;

And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.

For self is a sea boundless and measureless.

Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”

Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.”

For the soul walks upon all paths.

The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.

The soul unfolds itself like a lotus of countless petals.