Eight years ago on a flight back to the states, I read a piece in Yoga+Yoyful Living entitled Simple Gifts from Guyana by Katherine Jamieson, and I poignantly remember trying to envision this faraway place the author was taking me to; a place where less was more and that beauty was in the unexpected. I tore the page out leaving the magazine in my seat back pocket only to find it years later in an old box of papers, intrigued by the beauty and simplicity of Guyana and longing to find such a place. I would find such a place years later nestled on the most western tip of Africa.
Most of my twenties were spent trying to find myself: I studied English because I love to write but I found my passion in studying the marginalized characters of the literary world. Finding those same themes play out in our society: poverty, gender and racial inequality, and access to education. I spent my twenties volunteering in communities doing everything from fundraising, event planning, to interning under a social worker. Envious of friends who were off starting their careers with all the answers. After all the English papers and the 3.5 grad point average I was stuck in suburbia with two children under two and no answers. Even after I launched my design business I knew it was a placeholder, something to keep me busy while I was stuck, while I sifted through the dust.
A placeholder to let me grow.
It’s in the waiting that we discover so much truth. After the birth of Evie I knew I couldn’t pursue a business in the creative field. I didn’t have the passion for weddings like so many of my extremely talented industry friends. In Dakar all I could think of was getting away from my computer and getting involved in the community right in front of me. I wanted to reinvent my purpose and passion beyond telling the story of a bride and groom on their wedding day. I wanted to make a difference and tell the stories of those in the world who, for whatever reason, have been left voiceless. I wanted to work with communities to build a better future.
When I think about the serendipitous way we landed in Dakar four years ago, I smile knowing sometimes are best plans are ones unknown to us and these sacrifices and trials are all a part of the roadmap of life. Like the piece on Guyana I stowed away all those years, I also kept a pencil from OU back in 2008 when I first looked at the MAIR program. I needed eight years of trial and error in my own business, raising a family, and moving to West Africa. I needed that perspective shift. I did my growing up on the coast of Senegal. I was pushed to my limits, broken, and conflicted. I arrived with every stereotype both the ones I projected onto others and the ones I played. I left with a humbled heart, a broader sense of empathy and love, and the desire for my life’s work to leave on impact on those who left an impact on me.
So here I am today. Studying the MAIR program at the University of Oklahoma and a 2016 Pat Tillman Scholar. I’m so humbled and honored to be where I am today and it’s not without the love and support from everyone in my life. To the friends who wrote letters for me, proofread essays, and just pushed me to take risks- thank you.
Dakar, much like Guyana, is a place where you learn community is valued over things, beauty is in the hard work, determination, and resiliency that is evident on every corner and in the hearts of everyone you meet. It is a place that is truly magical. À Bientôt! Inshallah!