September 29, 2017
by Miniya Ali
It is nighttime in the funky Sahara town of Touba Toul and like most nights it is significantly cooler than the day. My host family sits under a neem tree to discuss the highlights of the day. They passionately gossip about unmarried women and crazy men and of course me. I am a new element, a change in the usual so I am used to being the subject of their conversation. Although I can only speak a small amount of Wolof, I understand that my existence to them is very confusing. Who is this girl? She has dark skin, thick lips, and a wide nose. She has kinky hair, black gums, and religiously lathers her skin with shea butter. Yet, when she opens her mouth, she speaks the cold emotionless language of a toubob. She is of us but not one of us. The equation would be much easier to solve if I were only one or two generations removed from Africa, Senegal in particular. However, the 400-year gap that separates me from my indigenous Senegalese brothers and sisters creates a painful yet necessary burden.
As we sit I notice my host mom and uncle stare at me in curiosity and whisper quietly to each other. Luckily my uncle speaks a bit of English and is ready to translate the long awaited questions my host mom has for me. “Are you sure you can’t speak Wolof?” “Is your mother Senegalese?” “Can she speak Wolof?” “What about your grandfather?” The redundant “no” to all of these questions confuse both my host mom and uncle even more. It was now time for me to explain my illusive heritage and wipe the dust time and deliberate intention had created on the peculiar story of the trans-Atlantic. I pulled out my phone and showed them the classic black and white diagram of a slave ship. My host mother squinted as she stared at the picture while my host uncle eagerly leaned over in his seat to see what I had shown. I then held my hands up and put my wrists together as if they were bound by chains. “Saama Mamaata Senegal laa joge””My ancestors are from Senegal” Both my host mother and uncles jaws dropped as they looked back a forth between the picture and me. The missing variable had been found. While I couldn’t understand the heated conversation about toubobs that occurred after, I felt as if a tiny piece of the generational hole had been healed. The need to be remembered had been somewhat filled.
The ancestral ties that link me to Senegal made coming an easy decision. In fact, it was the main reason I decided to choose Global Citizen Year over any other gap year program. I felt as if the only way I could begin honoring my ancestors and laying the generations of tormented and terrorized African souls to rest was to return. When I learned that West Africans being stolen would desperately scramble to grab handfuls of dirt from the ground and shove it in their mouths in order to have a piece of their homeland with them in the dark bowels of the slave ship, my decision was made. At a young age, I am able to fulfill a dream that many Africans in America died wishing they could do. Being the first in my family to set foot on African soil since the transatlantic gives me an amazing sense of pride.
In order to better our communities Africans of the diaspora must begin to heal the generational hole that exists in all of us.We can’t place the heavy burden of healing this hole on indigenous Africans nor can we wait for any other outside force to magically ease the pain. The gradual restoration of balance and self-love will start and end with us. My year in Senegal is only the beginning of a lifetime of mental and spiritual healing. Never in my life have I allowed my soul to be so wide and receptive. Although I face times of discomfort and hardship, I get to experience personal heavens that I didn’t have in America such as blending in or speaking a language designed for my lips. Here I don’t have to wait until Kwanzaa to see melanated people draped in beautiful African garb, which I consider visual ambrosia. I will continue to sew the sights, sounds, and smells of Senegal into my memory and savor each moment. I can say with absolute surety that returning to my motherland is a decision I will never regret.
“My name is Miniya Ali and I’m extremely passionate about learning the history of new cultures, and traveling. One major issue that is important to me is environmental cleanliness and the preservation of the earths natural habitats. The second issue would be insuring that people in all parts of the planet have access to the resources they need to build their communities. My ultimate goal for this year is to improve in a second language (French) and the learn as much as possible about Senegalese culture. My all time favorite quote is by Will Smith in the movie “After Earth” “Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me danger is very real but fear is a choice.”
Miniya is a Fellow in the Global Citizen Year program. Although given a scholarship, Miniya still needs funds to finance her stay in Senegal. You can support her through Go Fund Me: https://www.gofundme.com/mygcy-senegal