I’ve been plagued with dreams since returning to the U.S. Most of them stressful and painful, remnants of the constant changes I’ve been making in every part of my life. But last week I had a different kind of dream. I woke up feeling energized and excited rather than anxious and desperate.
I was sitting in a classroom where the teacher, a close friend or family member of mine, was berating a fellow classmate in an intensely inappropriate way. Whether the prejudice towards that pupil came from race, sexual orientation, or faith I do not remember. But I sat there unable to listen to the continued abuse while no one did anything about it. So I stood up, I began chastising the teacher for their inappropriate behavior. My voice grew louder, my stature grew taller, and my hand motions became a spectacle. I finished my rant, leaned over and grabbed my bag, and turned around walking out of the classroom down the center aisle. As I walked out the rest of the class stood up, clapped, and cheered for me in encouragement.
I woke up immediately. I was confused by what the dream meant. Was there something in my life I needed to stand up for myself? Maybe. Probably. But why wasn’t I?
One of the most common questions that PCVs in Senegal are asked during their last language test (where we find out just HOW awesome our local language has gotten) is “What is the difference between (real name) and (local name)?” It feels like an easy thing to answer while you still feel like both people. But as the last few months have passed I have realized, I have been losing my “Mame Diarra.” And I want her back.
Mame Diarra was a bad-ass. Ask any of my Peace Corps friends. At her best she could waxale (barter) with venders down to their cheapest prices with a conversation full of jokes, jabs, and the occasional “Yalla yalla may la beenen jebar,” (may God grant you another wife). At her most intense she created a scene on the side of the road refusing to let her and her Agfo friends who were on their way out of the country be ripped off on their last ride of the Kaolack (the boss was called, family gathered, the gambian speaking relative asked if she needed help then stepped back when she realize “Mame Diarra’s got this.”) At her most impressive, she yelled at a policeman, who wanted a bribe from the taxi she was traveling in with her american parents, for over 10 minutes until he just let them go ahead without charging them anything. She walked around Senegal with her head held high, her radar on for anyone who dare cross her. She was defensive of her friends and their right to be treated like humans, not “tourists.” She had a cause in helping her village, and loved to talk to anyone who listened about how they could care for their fields differently to protect their natural resources. She was respected, and shocking loved in her community. She understood that a Wolof woman’s strength came from her confidence and stature and never backing down.
With that confidence and outward strength came a heart that had been broken wide open. I loved people who wouldn’t even listen to me, I let them in and was hurt by their petty actions. But I still went out everyday with a purpose and a nothing-will-stand-in-my-way attitude. Life wasn’t perfect. I cried a lot. I felt helpless and drained, angry and hurt. But I lived passionately.
I miss that. Coming back and figuring out what is next has been the most difficult transition period I have experienced. And I miss the passion, determination, and confidence of Mame Diarra.
Mame Diarra took extreme joy from the small things, like her favorite snack: marshmellows
Her favorite and least favorite snarky, entitled, 10 year old cousin and shadow.
Her closest confidant and friend: her super hot Aunt Awa