By Hannah Johnson
Hannah is a Young Adult in Global Mission (YAGM) from our synod.
First YAGM Retreat
My first YAGM retreat took place November 19-25 in Saint Louis, Senegal (French pronunciation), which is in Northwest Senegal along the Atlantic coast. It served as a great opportunity to reconnect with friends, reflect on our experiences, see more of Senegal, and experience some American holiday traditions. The largest reflection activity was creating triptychs of our life in Senegal, discussing our relationships with our host families, our experiences at our site placements, and our perspective on our experience up to that point.
We had the opportunity to experience American holiday traditions through cooking Thanksgiving dinner and working through devotions focused on important Advent themes. Some of these themes included lament, faith fatigue, the importance of community when waiting, and how God works through small people and small places to accomplish large things. As part of the retreat we spent some time thinking about how those themes relate to us and the people with whom we engage here in Senegal. I enjoyed doing the devotionals, as the Advent season is relatively new to me and thinking about how it relates to Senegal gave me goals and a new perspective with which to work during the season.
Other activities in which we partook during the retreat included visiting the Langue de Barbarie National Park, where a lot of birds migrate to during the winter and taking a tour of Saint Louis.
The first retreat took place during the week of Thanksgiving. This meant that we had the opportunity to experience the holiday as a group. A couple weeks before the retreat we were all asked to come up with a dish to make for dinner. We were encouraged to put a Senegalese twist on the traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Ingredients were brought from Dakar, purchased in downtown St. Louis the day before when we went to visit, or purchased at the local market or buutiks (corner stores) in the town where we were staying. We were somewhat limited in the ingredients that were available, but I believe that working within those constraints helped to create the Senegalese twist on the meal.
Thanksgiving morning, we created hand turkeys, went out to purchase last minute ingredients, and then got to cooking. The dishes that were part of the meal included kabobs, mulled bissap (hibiscus flower) juice, bissap sauce (I made that), salad, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes, and apple crumble. I really enjoyed getting to experience Thanksgiving as a YAGM cohort, because it likely would have been passed over otherwise, it brought a bit of home to Senegal, and it was an excellent group bonding activity.
My Christmas Eve was split between two towns and two families; my host family in Yeumbeul and my coworker and friend Elmir’s family located a few towns over in Guediawaye. My morning started off relatively slow, getting to sleep in to fully enjoy the break and recover from a nasty stomach virus I had the day before. However, after the slow start to the day it was busy and moved fast.
After breakfast, I went with my host mom and youngest host brother to the market to purchase Christmas presents for my family and drinks to bring over to Elmir’s house. We then went to the school where Elmir and I figured out the details for getting to her house later. After lunch, I went back to the school and got in a car with my supervisor and went to Elmir’s house. At her house, I hung out with her family for a while and then got ready and went to her church for the children’s service. I found that going to the children’s service was nice, because the French was easier to understand, and it was more informal. After church we returned to her house, met more of her family, and watched Christmas movies until dinner was ready. The dinner was special, with her serving both chicken and pork (chicken is more expensive here than the typical protein options of beef or fish and pork is hard to come by as my area is mostly Muslim). After dinner, some of Elmir’s friends came over and we hung out late into the night.
I spent most of Christmas at Elmir’s house. My day began with breakfast and then Christmas morning service at the Catholic church. I went with Elmir’s husband and kids. Her kids were feeling wiggly, so I ended up sitting by myself in order to see what was going on during the service. They went outside so the kids could move around. After church, it was a pretty relaxing day spent watching music videos and American movies dubbed into French, listening to Elmir’s extended family get into political debates, and enjoying a good lunch. After lunch, I went over to Elmir’s mom’s apartment with her brother-in-law and her kids and we hung out there for a couple hours. By the time we got back to Elmir’s house, it was late and I decided that I would return to Yeumbeul so that I could go to the cyber café to Skype my family back home. After I returned home from the cyber café, I gave my host family their Christmas presents and we had a relatively normal night as they do not celebrate Christmas. It was difficult being away from home for Christmas, but the kindness of Elmir and the love and care I feel in my host family made it so that I could still enjoy the holiday halfway across the world.
My host aunt had a baby girl on December 30. Her name is Anna Fama Gueye. She is very cute and doesn’t do much right now except eat and sleep.
My host sister, Awa, moved in with us mid-November and is here while she studies for the bac, the test that comes the last year of Senegalese high school and is a cumulation of everything you have studied since you were in elementary school.
My host uncle, Papa Sah, moved in with us at the beginning of December and is looking for a job in Dakar.
I started working with Wolonte, a bank and microcredit agency located within the community center, at the beginning of December to replace my old placement at PEVF. Right now I am learning how to run the bank window and go to the market once a week to collect money due on the loans given from Wolonte.