In Mandinka “saroo” is the announcement of an imminent departure; “Nnata saroo” is what you say when you are preparing to say goodbye, when you want someone to know that you are going away and won’t be back for a long time. I have said my saroo’s in Saré Pathé.
As I sit in the office in Dakar, in between appointments and errands, it is hard for me to imagine myself where I was a week ago, and I suppose the reality of it won’t fully hit me until I am done here and on my way back to America. In the end I decided not to make a big scene – no parties, no major public announcements. I went around village and said my farewells to each compound individually and spent the rest of my time at home with my family. For days on end I heard the same few phrases over and over again: “Nafi you are going to make us lonely,” “When will you come back?” “You are going to make Filijee cry.” In response I told them that I would miss everyone very much, that I would love to come back someday, but don’t know when I’ll be able to, and that I also was going to cry a lot. In fact every day of that last week was tearful and I kept going back and forth between thinking that it should be like any other week and thinking that it should be somehow special and significant. The evening before my departure I divided up the large items I was leaving behind and paid for a nice dinner for my family. Afterwards we all sat together and each person took turns saying nice things about me and recounting what they will remember most fondly of my time with them. Some of the things they mentioned were obvious (times when I helped when no one else could), but some of them were surprisingly small good deeds like helping pick tomatoes, and others were just funny anecdotes about jokes Nafi made. Mostly it was just nice to cry with everyone and be reminded of why I came here in the first place… to know that I did good.
I didn’t sleep much that night, but when I did I dreamed of a Saré Pathé Bouya in America. I had planned to wake up before dawn and walk out of village, but things never seem to go according to plan here. It happened that a NGO car was in the area and able to pick me up and drive me to Kolda. So I got some time in the morning to take a few more pictures, to record some goodbye videos and to hug the people I love. It was one of the hardest goodbyes of my life, knowing I may never seen them again and that just keeping in touch at all will be difficult. I have to just trust that Nafi won’t soon be forgotten and that even if I can’t see them or talk to them, there will always be people in Senegal who think of me often and love me like a member of the family. They will certainly always be in my heart.
Allah maa kana ntala lebang and may I return to them again someday. Amen.