Meet Burkina

learning & sharing Burkina Faso


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A little reflecting on little changes

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In picture: Me and my globe pillow I’ve had since I was a baby.

PSA to everyone in my life: I live in Ann Arbor, in a big beautiful house with 9 beautiful women. My bedroom is modest but nice. It’s not fully unpacked yet, but that’s okay. You (every one of you) are welcome to come over whenever you want! It’s something I loved so much about Senegal and will miss dearly: it’s not expected, and even can be rude, to ask to come over. Don’t wait for someone to invite you over: they won’t. And if you want to go over, don’t ask. Just go! If that means you are over every day, okay that’s fine. If that means you come over when your friend isn’t home – okay, fine, turn on the TV. If that means you come over when your friend is sleeping – okay, nicely wake him up, or not, but you can stay and hangout. You can treat my bedroom like a Senegalese one, if you want. Stop by! If I’m busy with something important I’ll make just a little time for you, but you can still eat some food and chill while I continue my work. I’m sure just about none of you will take me up on this offer, but it’s honestly there – if you show up at my house unannounced and ask for a drink and snack I will love you for it.

I’ve been home for ten days now and I finally feel like I am able to reflect on my time in Senegal and leaving Senegal. For the first week, it felt sort of like I was physically back in Michigan, but not necessarily emotionally. I still thought thoughts in French. For the first week, when I woke up in the mornings in my bed at home, I had to re-realize that I wasn’t in Senegal anymore. It was always the saddest part of my day. Often I would come close to crying. Once I did.

I realized today in the shower, (where all my best thoughts come), that my four months in Senegal and my next four months over this summer spent in Ann Arbor, are perfect opposites when it comes to many things relating to independence. That’s a confusing sentence I know. What I mean is that, for example, in Senegal I had no control over what I ate, for the first time since I was young. Now, in Ann Arbor, for the first time in my life, I have 100% control over what I eat; I buy groceries and cook all my own meals. In Senegal, for the first time in a long time, I had to be home by a certain time. I kind of had to announce when I was coming and going. I had to be respectful of the family. But now in Ann Arbor, for the first time, I have literally no rules and no one watching over me, (except my dearest roommates like Megan and Kelly of course). Even last year in the sorority house I had a house mom, and there were certain rules (ie: no boys over past midnight, etc.) It’s a weird transition is all I’m saying. The reverse culture shock is real.

Although I feel comfortably adjusted back to life in Michigan now finally, I also realized that some of me will never go back to normal. Waly had told me upon leaving Senegal that this would be a good thing. Senegal did change me, and it would be sad and stupid to think it didn’t. Some changes include:

  • I am more hospitable;
  • I am more willing to share – everything! Food and forks and literally just about anything
  • I am all around more at peace, relaxed
  • I am not as worried about being late, especially to things unimportant, although I still do love punctuality
  • I am more willing to do things I want to/are best for me without worrying about what others think
  • I have embraced life as a privileged American, more on this right here:

I have always known that I am privileged to be an American. I have somewhat understood this privilege too. I’ve known for a long time that people all over the world dream of coming to America, the land of milk and honey. The dreamland. I used to feel sentiments like this: Oh, if only they knew the problems we have here! It’s true, of course we have problems in the U.S. (One journal entry I wrote in Senegal included a list proving a new theory I have about all countries having an exact equal amount of “bullshit”, just manifested in unique ways.) But after my experience in Senegal, I realize that America really is quite a dreamland. Of course it’s easy for me to say that, being an educated, upper-middle class, white woman. However, in general, with enough effort (more is required for some populations perhaps) you really can be successful. Or maybe it’s safer just to talk about myself: I have realized that for me, American privilege means that if I want something enough I can have it.

This realization has amped up my work ethic. After meeting a hundred brilliant people in Senegal who want a job and can’t get one, I realized that I need to take advantage of the privilege and fact that there are so many jobs out there and I need to go get one! I actually recently got two. The first one I will talk about later in this post. The second one is at Tim Hortons, less than a three minute walk from my house; my first day is tomorrow.

Beyond new realizations, Senegal also has left me with a lot of questions. It’s good – there are many things I will continue to think about and educate myself on. The hardest transition of all upon coming home was with Yama. In Senegal, Yama and I were best friends with a side of romance. It’s been hard dealing with the “side of romance” now that I am here. We aren’t dating. And I think we are the kind of people who really can just be great friends for the rest of our lives and nothing else. But he means so much to me, it’s crazy really, and the side of romance has been really hard not to bring in my carryout box back to the U.S. I trust that God will handle the situation and show me what, ahem who, he wants for me. Senegal has made me very patient.

This post is very jumbled I know. There are a few more things I want to mention.

My main job I have, and the reason I am in Ann Arbor, is a research job. I meet with my boss and co-investigator in Ann Arbor, but the research is done in Detroit. The project is really huge, and I would love to tell you more about it if you ask. Basically I will be interviewing immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa who live in Detroit. We want to learn all about their experiences, but specifically will approach those who have started their own business or have influenced specific social circles. As an example, my main task is to interview African immigrants who have started hair braiding salons. (From preliminary research today I found that these women are largely Senegalese! Which is beyond exciting. I will certainly floor them with my Wolof.) My co-investigator is starting by interviewing taxi drivers. We will create a public website with the results.

It seems so far that this job is a perfect transition from my life in Senegal to my life here. I am interacting with Senegal as intimately as possible without actually being there. This intimate interaction with Senegal also comes through my daily conversations with Yama and Sadikh, and also my Wolof lessons from Yama.

We had our first very official Wolof lesson today. Guys, it was by far the best post-Senegal moment of my life. Yama’s patience is unmatched, and we can communicate and fully understand each other all the time, against all odds. We use a free international application called Viber, but we use the voice message feature. Honestly it’s perfect for language lessons! I hear his voice speak the phrases, and he hears mine and makes sure I say it well… but it’s better than a phone call because I can replay the message over and over again. Tomorrow I will go back and review the stuff I learned from him today. I help him with English too, like yesterday when I corrected an essay he wrote about his academic life. We have a perfect system and beautiful friendship.

Beyond Wolof, I also work on my French every day with Rosetta Stone now. I want to get fluent in French of course, but what really motivated me to start was the fact that by the end of Senegal I had gotten really comfortable speaking French and I didn’t want to lose that. Rosetta Stone is obviously amazing. My parents bought it for me in 2011 (but I really haven’t used it), and Senegal taught not to take things like that for granted because not everyone can learn a language if only they want to hard enough.

I read again for fun, currently Divergent. I drink smoothies for breakfast. I scribble out plans in my agenda because it’s therapeutic, even though before I would never do that because it’s not “neat”. I let people come in my room even if it’s messy. Any of ya’ll can wear my clothes. Eat my food and drink my drinks. I give stuff away even if “but maybe I would use it some day”. I cuddle with my globe pillow and let other people too, even though before it was my prized possession only for the shelf. I notice little changes in myself now. They’re good.

Learning Wolof: Maangi sama negg di naan tey. I’m sitting in my room drinking tea. (My favorite phrase from my lesson with Yama today.)


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I believe He’s watching out as I travel around Senegal

I’m truly overwhelmed.

I keep saying “best meal so far in Senegal”, “nicest person so far in Senegal”, “coolest thing so far in Senegal”, “best day so far in Senegal”, “best week so far in Senegal”. I’m not sure if things truly keep getting better or if it’s just the case that everything is so awesome all the time that everything feels like “the best”, “ever”.

This past week was Spring Break for me, and the week between the two halves of my time abroad, the first half being the classroom phase and the second half being my internship/research phase. It’ll be hard to write a blog post summarizing the week, but I’ll do my best. Sometimes when I have a lot to write about, my tactic is starting at the present and writing about the events in reverse chronological order. This post will be something like that, as I am writing about the trip home from Spring Break, and a rundown of my six days of vacation will come later.

clando: an informal taxi, an unmarked car with a random driver; part of the Senegalese informal sector; not exactly illegal; less expensive, just as safe. My theory is that “clando” comes from the word “clandestine”. (For readers who aren’t great with vocabulary, clandestine is an English word meaning secretive.) However, my other English speaking friends here did not make that assumption and perhaps that’s not the case. (I strongly believe it is).

A week ago my friends and I left Dakar to head to Saly for Spring Break. Saly is a small city south of Dakar on the coast known for its beauty and tourist opportunities. Our plan to get there was this: take a taxi from the mosque in Mermoz to the lot with the sept-places, pronounced “set-PLAAS”, which translates as “seven seats”; take a sept-places from Dakar to Mbour; take a clando from Mbour to the house we were renting in Saly.

It was, as always, easy to hail a taxi in Mermoz where we live. “Hailing a taxi” is an overstatement anyway because when you’re a Toubab (white) walking along the street here, the taxis all hail you (honk, slow down, honk again, stop, honk) and you acknowledge them if there’s mutual desire. We bargained with the driver for the price to the lot with the sept-places, a ten to thirty minute drive. While in the taxi, the driver tried to convince us to let him drive us all the way to Saly, a roughly two hour drive. We insisted that we weren’t interested because the sept-places were so much cheaper. So the bargaining began.

Because locals had told us to expect a price just around 25,000 FCFA, we were happy when we successfully bargained with the taxi driver for a price of 15,000 CFCA ($25). This split between four people wasn’t going to be that much more expensive than paying for the taxi, the sept-places, and the clando. Futhermore, staying in the taxi and not getting out until we were at our vacation home was going to be so much less stressful, albeit not as exciting. So we did it. Although we had some difficulties in Saly finding the exact house, where street names and addresses exist only in theory, all went very well.

Now fast forward a week to this afternoon. Our amazing vacation has ended and our bags are packed. We say good bye to the two people who had become our Salian parents, and the pool boy. We walk towards the busy road where a clando will hail us and we will accept. (Taxis don’t exist in small cities and villages.) We plan to take a clando, then a sept-places, and then a taxi – the reverse of our first plan out of Dakar. However, it was as if God was telling us that we weren’t meant to ride in a sept-places, that we weren’t ready; our plan failed again.

After getting in the clando, it turns out that our driver was on his way to meet a friend. He called him to let him know he was going to be late because he had “clients” he had to take to Mbour, a little bit of a drive. When he has the opportunity to make a couple thousand francs he will. Again, we never made it to the sept-places lot. After only a couple kilometers he flashed his lights and pulled his car off the road. It’s not abnormal for a driver to pull off and buy water or fruit or sandals or anything really. But this time there wasn’t anything to buy. It turns out that he signaled for a taxi to stop. Generally taxis don’t exist in small cities like Saly, but this taxi had just come from Dakar and was dropping a man off.

Our clando driver said “Get out” and we said no, take us to the lot with the sept-places because that’s what we’re paying you to do and who is this random taxi driver eyeing us and we don’t want to take a taxi because they’re expensive and even though we are white we are ready for the adventure of the sept-places. The taxi driver came over to our window and said “Dakar? 20,000.” We told him that we were planning to take the sept-places which was much cheaper. Then he said, “Okay, 1,500.” Time stood still. I looked back at Katherine and Tori and Haley in the back seat with the most confused expression. Katherine told him that we didn’t understand what he said, and he repeated himself. “1,500.” I told the girls, no way. Even if he actually means he wants to do it for 1,500, that’s just too good to be true. We aren’t looking to get trafficked.

Then I understood. The taxi was a Dakar taxi, and the driver lived in Dakar. He had taken a man to Saly. Now he was headed back to Dakar. Taxis don’t belong in Saly and he probably wouldn’t be able to get good business because clandos can drive people around Saly for cheap. Not to mention he probably wanted to get back to Dakar to pray and eat. Our clando driver saw an easy way out of driving us all the way to Mbour (because he wanted to go hang out with his friends), and he thought he could help a Dakar taxi driver make 20,000, or at least something, off Toubabs headed home. The taxi driver knew he probably wouldn’t be able to find Senegalese people to drive to Dakar, because they would most certainly take a sept-places, or even a Tata or another big, cheap bus. But today we Toubabs were Senegalese too, and after insisting that a sept-places was just fine for us, the taxi driver decided to give us a sept-places rate if we would just get in his car and go. It wasn’t too good to be true – the taxi driver was happy with the situation too. Because there were four of us, his car would be at max capacity for his trip back to Dakar, and he would charge a rate slightly higher than he would normally be able to charge – 1,500 per head.

It worked out perfectly for all parties involved. He was charging us each 1,500 FCFA ($2.50) to drive us right to the door of our homes in Mermoz. Considering the length of the drive this was an insanely good deal. He even convinced us to pay to take the toll road which got us, and him too, home in record time. We trusted him more than the average man because he was quite old and wearing a traditional Muslim gown, (regardless if this increased trust is merited or not). He stopped just once to buy raw meat but he put it in the trunk. He was mostly silent, and spoke to me only when he wanted to tell me something interesting about what we were driving past. We tipped him well (in a country where tipping doesn’t really exist), and he gave us his phone number if we wanted to call him in the future. “What’s your name?”, Haley asked. “Saliou”, he said. “How do you spell that?”, Haley replied, fingers ready to type it into her phone. “T-A-X-I”, he said with a smile.

Where travel was likely going to be the most stressful part of my day I actually loved it. Also, I officially love clandos, even though the idea was mysterious and questionable before. In a country where unemployment, idleness, and money insecurity abounds, things like clandos put men to work and money in pockets. I’ve decided that although things seem unorganized and crazy in Senegal, systems exist here just as much as systems exist in the United States. Where formal systems are lacking, informal systems take root. Sometimes the systems in Senegal are less efficient than the ones in the U.S. Other times the systems in Senegal are notably more efficient, and more exciting too.

Learning Wolof, but Arabic first: InchAllah, God willing. (It’s appropriate to use this phrase after any sort of plan, and people use it several times a day. For example, “See you tomorrow, inchallah.” “I’m taking a sept-places, inchallah, (and it turns out God wasn’t willing).” “I’ll post tomorrow about my Spring Break, inchallah.”)


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Empty Wallets, Full Hearts

Once a week I write and turn in an essay about my experiences here. Sometimes the essay topics are chosen for us, sometimes they just must relate to Senegal geography/history/culture, and sometimes they must be a personal reflection. I turn them in in French, but first I write in English in order to organize my thoughts and lay out a map. When I go to translate it into French, some of the sentences’ meanings change a little because of my limited French vocabulary or the non-existence of certain words. Also, when I write the first draft in English, I often choose my words based on what I know I can easily translate into French. Here is the most recent essay I wrote. It needed to be a personal reflection essay, but it’s always good when the essay relates to development which is the focus of the MSID program. The essay is the expansion of a journal entry I wrote near the beginning of my life in Dakar, but since that day I’ve been thinking about the topic a lot and forming an opinion. Here it is.


Empty wallets, full hearts

Since being in Senegal, my ideas and perceptions of many things have changed. My ideas about religion are being challenged, my ideas about myself are being challenged, and my ideas about poverty are being challenged greatly. “Poverty” is one of the first words the typical westerner thinks of when they think about Africa, and “development” is the most commonly proposed solution. Indeed, almost all development scholars include “reduction of poverty” in their definition of development. Since being here I find myself asking questions like, “What is poverty? Why is it an important topic?”

Some friends in the United States, upon hearing that I have a maid at my house here in Senegal, assume my family is rich. I’m not here to talk about my family’s income because truly I don’t know, but consider this scenario: if family A lives on $10 a day and woman B’s family lives on $1 a day, woman B might be willing to work for a wage well within the budget of a $10 a day family. Having a maid doesn’t mean you’re rich, but it means you’re wealthy when compared to someone else in your city. Maybe a family can’t afford a computer but they can afford a maid. Perhaps culturally maids are a higher priority when a family considers what they want to spend their money on.

Now yes, I know that I am in fact living in a relatively wealthy neighborhood in Dakar. But that’s just the thing: this neighborhood is relatively wealthy. Mermoz is wealthy when compared to other neighborhoods in Dakar, and Dakar is wealthy relative to other cities in Senegal. I would argue that relative wealth, and relative poverty, are the only values that are even relevant in a society. Absolute poverty, often expressed in American dollars as people living on less than $1.25 a day, seems almost entirely irrelevant to me. Although it might shed light on how Senegal as a nation compares to other nations in the world economically, it does nothing to talk about an individual’s daily life.

But even if relative poverty values are more relevant than absolute poverty values, I still find myself asking “What is poverty?” I think the more important questions to ask other than “Are these people poor?” are questions like: can they see a doctor if they want to? Can they go to school if they want to? Are they happy? If the answers to questions like these are “yes”, what does it matter how much money is in their bank account?

I’m not suggesting that the discussion of reducing poverty be taken off the table altogether. Surely reducing poverty will probably lend itself to giving people more access to medical treatment, schools, and happiness. However, what if putting more money in someone’s pocket doesn’t lend itself to better access or health? Maybe the infrastructure or the trained doctors aren’t there. What if more money in someone’s pocket doesn’t mean more access to education, if there isn’t a school within walking distance or the teachers are always on strike because of government corruption? What if money is in fact the root of all evil, and that simply more money won’t lead to more happiness? Have we ever seen that casual line between money and happiness proved?

I’m suggesting instead that we stop worrying so much about economic development, particularly on the individual level. Instead, we should ask questions about how many doctors there are, and how accessible clinics are. Are there adequate schools and supplies and are teachers treated well? Are people happy, do they feel empowered, are they free?

I think we are living in an interesting time in history, a time where there are the greatest wealth disparities in the world but the greatest awareness of what exists for the other half. With today’s media, Americans are aware, or at least think they are aware, of the poverty in Africa. Africans are aware of the wealth in the United States, even if the view gets skewed as it travels through the technology waves. But I think that it’s important to critically think about what poverty is so that when we as a world try to fight it, we build up healthier, smarter, and happier people, not bank accounts. Yes, I am living here comfortably. I think anyone could. But my family’s income and whether or not we have a maid does not define poverty. My family in Dakar is wealthy because we can see a doctor when we need to, go to school when we want to, and smile because we’re happy.


Learning French: passer la nuit à la belle étoile, to spend the night under the stars. (I wish.)


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Aventures à Toubacouta

crashers

In picture: Crashing a birthday party in Toubacouta. We danced in the center: wonderful entertainment. Photo Credit: Alia Jeraj

I spent a long weekend in Toubacouta, a village several hours south of Dakar, and it was definitely the most interesting weekend of my entire life, in a good way. I have 14 journal pages which describe my experiences in decent detail, but most of the things were truly unexplainable. This post won’t go into as much detail as my journal notes did, but if you want to hear more about anything mentioned in this post contact me. I would love to talk more about it all.

On Friday morning we visited a small health post. My favorite part was the maternity ward; we got two see two fresh babies. We also visited two schools, one which was a public French-style school, and one that was a Coranic school, where instruction is in Arabic and the children work towards memorizing the Quran. This experience made me really want to live in a village and work in a school for my internship. The children are beyond disciplined and don’t exhaust me in the same way American children do. After lunch we visited a women’s group which takes out microfinance loans (with saddening 20% interest rates). They use the loan money to invest in products to resell. The day was so interesting, but it would only get more interesting from here.

After diner our group had a private show from a professional dance team outdoors at our hotel. (You can’t imagine a typical hotel. Instead, imagine several small huts scattered around between some trees. We ate under a pavilion next to a pool that seemed absolutely never used.) The dancers danced next to the pool and the dozen of us students sat in a line of chairs to watch. I was, by far, the most entertained that I’ve ever been by watching a performance. It was amazing! The dancers were so energetic and talented and beautiful. There was a guy on stilts and in a costume, a man covered in leaves, several men and a woman who ate fire and rubbed fire on themselves. After the dance, the dancers taught us some moves and danced with us. It was a blast. I was so amped up, my blood throbbing inside me. This intense emotion though suddenly fed anxiety instead of excitement.

After the performance, Alia and Hannah and I walked back to Hut 14. When we walked in the door, Alia calmly asked, “What are these bugs doing on my bed?” Just a moment later, I screamed. Then we all did. In our room there were hundreds of bugs. Earwigs. Google image search earwigs and you will see the exact bug that was there, pinchers and all. They were covering the ceiling, all over our mosquito nets, our beds, our pillows. There was probably twenty in my backpack, ten on just a single skirt I had sitting out. Computer, toothbrush, they were everywhere. I ran out calling for Waly. Soon after, Waly, the hotel manager, and a couple other hotel workers were over. They were pretty surprised too, but started getting to work cleaning out the hut. There was no other room for us to take.

After spending close to two hours cleaning, the room looked pretty nice. However, after just five or so minutes, the bugs were back. They were crawling in as quickly as ever, and by the time I was ready to crawl in bed, (it was quite late now), there were several more on the side of my mattress. Honestly, I probably would have been fine going to sleep, even with a few around my bed, but I just kept imagining the worst likely: waking up in the middle of the night and having them everywhere again. All over my mosquito net, falling from the ceiling crack where they were entering still, a parade. Even in the morning, how would be leave our beds? It wasn’t going to work.

Eventually, after seeing that there wasn’t going to be a way to rid Hut 14 of the infestation, Waly (bless his heart) offered us his room. His hut was smaller, but after another thirty or so minutes, we finally had it set up to sleep us three. I’m not sure where Waly slept, but I know it wasn’t in our hut. Not even he was going to put up with those bugs. After all this, Alia and I went to buy some beer for us three. Even though the kitchen was closed, the manager agreed to unlock it and get some. We tipped him well.

We drank our beer slowly and journaled about our crazy day. We let our heart rates settle and our mind formulate coherent thoughts and reflections on the day. Finally we were exhausted, and I’ve never slept better.

That was Friday. Saturday was probably just as exciting, though thankfully ended a little differently. We started the morning by taking a little wooden boat through the mangroves. Let me tell you, I was in utter bliss. For a couple hours I had not a single care in the world. I could have stayed there for days, if not forever. Some of the other students on the boat requested that I stop dragging my feet in the water, but the water was warm and beautiful and I just had to. We were going slowly enough, and there were several strong men on the boat, so it was safe Mom, (and I know if you had been there we would be doing that exact thing together). Later we visited a community radio and a community garden. The community garden was almost as beautiful as the mangroves. The garden itself was organized, healthy, and serene. In fact, I haven’t felt I was in a more perfectly peaceful place since being in Senegal. They were growing all sorts of things there, and it was extremely expansive with a couple large wells. We ate mini tomatoes off the plant, and there were also onions and cabbage and several things I didn’t ask to have identified. Even more beautiful than the physical garden was the community behind it. I’m decently knowledgeable about how the community garden works there, who is in charge of what and how it works, so if you’re interested in hearing more I can tell you.

That night we attended a Senegalese traditional wrestling event. I honestly won’t even try to explain this one. Even pictures couldn’t come close to capturing the experience which was unlike anything that exists in the United States. Combine a steady drum beat and loud singers and hundreds of spectators in a circle among some trees and tall strong Senegalese wrestlers fighting wearing next to nothing and everyone dancing and drama breaking out and prize money and… it was a lot.

The day ended as peacefully as it began. The whole time in Toubacouta we had four Senegalese male students attend the events with us. Some of us students requested that these guys help us find a perfect place to stargaze. They walked us to a cement dock in the middle of nowhere. I’m one hundred percent positive that it was the most beautiful starry sky I’ve ever seen. In a small African village, without much light, without much pollution, without much noise at all, and during the season without many mosquitos… it was perfect. If I spend my first forever in the mangroves I’ll spend my second forever under that sky.

Those were the highlights of the trip. Of course I could mention more monkey interaction and eating ice cream and having deep conversations and playing with babies. But this weekend was only a day ago, and already today I’ve already experienced more things worthy of a blog update. Life for me here never stops and it never slows down, (the biggest irony with the Senegalese slow pace of life). On the contrary, each day it gets more interesting. The learning never ends.

Learning Wolof: kepp coye, earwig (literally translates as ‘penis pincher’… yes.)


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Ambassamor – Spreading love all over

Je suis arrivé à Paris !

Some people have asked me, “Why ‘ambassamor’?” It’s my username on several websites and social media outlets. It’s also in the URL for this blog.

“Amor” means love. “Amor” is love in Latin and Spanish. “Amour” is love in French.

An ambassador, a liaison, represents one country in another. When I travel and live abroad, I may, whether I want to or not, be the representation of the United States, young female Americans, Christians, to the people there.

To me, an ambassamor is someone who strives to, above all, show love. As an “ambassador” I might represent Americans, but as an ambassamor, I aim to be a loving one. The love I receive in my family, in my friend circles, in Christ – I want it to radiate from me and touch the lives of others.

My dream career in middle school was to be an ambassador. No matter what my future holds, however, I’ll always strive to be an ambassamor.

Learning French: “Le Sénégal t’attend avec impatience.” (Said to me last night by a Senegalese friend.) “Senegal waits for you with impatience.”