As previously promised, I present to my dedicated readers a post of the most exciting events from this last month: a UK trip, the (ongoing) Holiday of Ramadan, and my nephew’s arrival into the world.
Olivia Murphey-Sweet and I have been buddies from the get-go. We were room-mates during staging in D.C., still room-mates during training in Theis and (despite learning different languages and being in different AG sectors and distant by geographical standards) fast friends throughout service so far. So when she suggested a vacation to the U.K. around Ramadan, I couldn’t think of a single reason to say no. We ended up planning the trip early- back in February- nearly enough time for me to forget entirely about it and be pleasantly surprised when it suddenly rolled around in May. May marked my 8th consecutive month in Senegal, and my experience was starting to blend together. The days went slowly and the months went quickly and the experience was fulfilling and I loved it, but the monotony was starting to effect me. Imagine how exciting it was to travel to Dakar with Olivia, to struggle through the airport experience again, to get back in an airplane after months on the ground, to receive complementary beverages with ice we could unconcernedly consume- it was an absolute thrill! We touched down in Ireland in the afternoon, and I had fallen in love before I even set foot on the country. We spent a few days in Dublin and a night in Galway- we only had 4 days in Ireland, which was a criminal amount: not nearly enough to give the country as much attention or appreciation as it deserves. We flew from Dublin to London, which was as picturesque as I imagined it would be, but lacked the heart that I had loved so much about Ireland. Granted, we did only see London, and a country is much more than just it’s capital city (I have vowed to explore both England and Ireland in greater detail at a later date). The Harry Potter studio was, as advertised, absolutely magical. By the day of our flight to Senegal, Olivia and I were exhausted. We had fit so much into our days but we wanted to stay longer, see more, continue our ravenous tea consumption (really just my ravenous tea consumption.) Simultaneously, we wanted to go home. However easy it had been to fall into the way of life in the U.K. (reminiscent of America as it was), we did miss a lot of things about Senegal.
Olivia and I got back to our sites a few days before the beginning of Ramadan. What exactly is Ramadan, you ask? My eloquent friend Wikipedia explains more articulately than I could: Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief. I was excited to experience a brand new holiday with a family that I had come to care for so dearly. The first day of Ramadan arrived and I emerged early from my hut, mug of water in hand, ready to start the fast with my family. One of my mothers looked at me, smiled, and asked,
“Today you are not fasting?”
I looked at her with some puzzlement.
“Yes I am,” I replied.
My mother’s eyes shot to my mug of water and I realized the mistake that even my youngest siblings would have known not to make.
“I’ll fast but drink water?” I suggested lamely.
My mother laughed and said,
“Today, you will not fast. You will fast tomorrow.”
The next day, however, I didn’t fast. My younger sibling ate breakfast and lunch at the regular times and my family insisted I join them. I didn’t require a whole lot of persuasion, to be perfectly honest. Ramadan since has continued much the same. People ask me daily if I’m fasting and if I’m with one of my moms or aunts they always reply for me, “Yes, she is fasting,” and later inform me that it’s easiest to lie. If I’m by myself I’ll say, “I am fasting only a little bit.” And people usually laugh, knowing that means that I’m fasting not at all, but seem content enough with the answer.
Finally, my nephew. May 28th, Jamie Wirth Daanen was born in CDA Idaho and it broke my heart not to be there to see it. The first few days after his birth, I was devastated. I spent more and more time in my room (I was already in there a lot because of Ramadan) and thought about how nice it would be to be home, how nice it would be to see my sister, to meet my nephew. My mom and my sister updated me with videos and pictures everyday, which made my sorrow both better and worse.
It must have been just a few days after he was born, I was feeling so low and vulnerable and desperate for company, that I invited about a dozen preteen girls from my compound into my room to color. I sat on my bed and watched them and felt my heart mend just the smallest bit.
I made myself leave my hut and spend time with my favorite mom, who is in her third trimester and should be having her own baby very soon.
I invited my oldest sister (she’s about 11 or 12) to visit the garden with me, where she imparted such wisdoms as rubbing snake skin on your head to prevent snake bites, and being wary around toads because the little ones will crawl up your nose and live there.
I went to my counterpart’s compound and spent time with his second wife’s youngest child, a boy about 4 or 5 months old, who inexplicably loves me despite my strange ghost-like appearance and obvious limited knowledge of how to actually hold babies.
It got better because I made it get better. I could look at new photos of my nephew without that sharp pang in my chest that I’d felt before. I convinced myself that I could be strong and wait to see him until my Christmas visit. I knew that I would never forgive myself if I left Senegal then. I couldn’t leave- not after so many months, after so many struggles and triumphs, and not right before rainy season with all the AGFO work that accompanied it. Senegal Sophie perseveres.