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  • Writer's pictureKatie

Laughing and Together in Senegal

After Anne-Marie peels me off of her, I hug her sister Touty and then all the little ones before I turn around and squeeze Anne-Marie again. Something plows against our legs, and I look down to see Baby Joe wrapping his arms around us in the sweetest little bear hug you’ve ever seen.

While Touty finishes making lunch in the closet-sized kitchen, Anne-Marie tells me to set my bags down and to get off my feet, worrying that I’ve been traveling too long and that I must be exhausted. I feel pretty fantastic, probably thanks to the ability to lay 180 degrees flat on both flights for the first time in my life, and I bounce around on her bed, the only place there really is to sit at the moment.

We talk and talk and talk. I always worry about my French skills before I see her again even though we text and voice chat on Whatsapp almost every day. It’s different holding an extended conversation in real life with goats bleating outside and kids yelling and playing and the TV on in the background, you know?

But just like all the times before now, I easily slide back into my broken French and don’t even think about the language as we try and cover every possible topic- the weather, her kids, COVID, the upcoming month that I’ll be here, other family members, and more. I feel so comfortable, so at home, so at ease. My husband is the only other person on the planet with whom I feel this level of safety, love, and non-judgement.

“Tell me about the land you bought last year,” I say, remembering the moment she proudly shared that she bought a small piece of land in a village in the south with her savings from Teranga Market. “What was the town called again?”

She’s leaning back on her elbows, legs stretched out on the bed, shiny forehead in this heat and humidity- just like mine. “Nguekorh,” she says.

“Bless you,” I say. “Now, what’s the name of the village?”

She swats at me and laughs, repeating the unpronounceable sounds, a little more slowly, “Ngue-korh.”

I make a sound like I’m coughing up a furball and miss the mark. She repeats it again a few times in a row, and I screw my face up into a half dozen ugly contortions trying to say it.

“Really, Kah-tee,” she says, “It’s not so complicated.”

I poke her foot and say, “Not all of us speak four languages, you know.”

I concentrate extra hard and finally pronounce at least one syllable right. “That’s better,” Anne-Marie tells me.

“Oh, so I just have to act angry when I say it to nail it, huh?” And I repeat it a few more times more accurately but with my face conveying pretend-anger and Anne-Marie falls back laughing, grabbing her stomach. I feel like such a toubab, because I am, and I flop back on the sponge-like mattress and realize that the floral covers match my outfit almost perfectly.

“Anne-Marie, look! Except you can’t see me, haha, check out this camouflage!” And I go still and pretend like she can’t see me, and then we’re both laughing together, so glad to be just that- together again.



Haven't read the book yet? Check out my memoir about Senegal here :)

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