Thursday, August 27, 2009

Senegal calling

Yesterday evening I was on my way home from the dog park with Montana when my phone rang. I glanced at the number and thought it said 202, the area code for DC. Thinking it might be a coworker with a late-night problem, I answered. But it turns out it actually said 221, the country code for Senegal.

It was Momar, a friend of mine that I haven't talked to in over three years. We were close friends when I was living in Senegal, but when I moved back to the U.S. he started telling me how he liked me, he wanted to be with me, etc., and it got to the point where I cut off contact because I couldn't deal with it anymore. I didn't think I would ever hear from him again.

In fact, I didn't think I'd hear from any of my Senegalese friends again. I had two close friends there, plus my boyfriend. My boyfriend and I broke up when I moved back to the U.S.--actually, technically a few weeks before then, when he got a job in another city and moved away, but our relationship continued, on and off, during those last few weeks. When I got back to the U.S. I didn't call him right away and he was offended. When I did call, the conversation was strained and the connection was choppy. We never talked again.

My other close friend from my time there was illiterate, making it impossible to communicate via letters and emails. We did talk on the phone once or twice, but he had a soft voice and limited French skills, and as my Wolof skills slipped (they are now totally gone), it became nearly impossible to understand each other. Plus, he had no money and I was a poor student, so we couldn't really afford to call.

And as for my host family--well, the first one and I didn't talk, after some miscommunication and culture misunderstandings, they sort of kicked me out of the house and I sort of chose to leave. And that happened so late in the semester, and I was so sick with scurvy and mono by the time I moved to my new host family, that I never really bonded with them enough to stay in touch. Plus, the uncle of the new host family hit on me, and watched me through my bedroom window at night, and that was creepy.

So, yeah. The only friends I have left from my time in Senegal are Americans I met who were also studying abroad. And I was absolutely shocked when I answered my phone last night and realized it was Momar. I didn't even know he had my phone number, since I had changed it after I graduated college and moved to DC. Turns out, he had called my parents' house trying to talk to me, and managed to explain to my dad in his limited English who he was and why he was calling, and my dad gave him my number.

Also, he knew that I was married, through a friend of a friend of a friend. So the whole "I like you and want to be with you" awkwardness was gone. We just... chatted. The connection wasn't great but it was a lovely conversation. My French flooded right back to me, thank god, because recently I've started worrying that I don't use it enough to retain it. Momar even commented, unprompted, that I haven't lost any of my French abilities.

It felt like a conversation I'd have with a brother, really. He asked about my husband, what he was like and if he treated me well. He asked how we liked Colorado and if we planned to have kids. He told me about his latest girlfriend, and about how business is going at the store he was opening right when I left Senegal. We exchanged email addresses and promised to chat on MSN soon. We friended each other on Facebook. It was nice.

And it made me feel a lot better about my time in Senegal. I guess I never really felt relaxed about how things ended with those three people, my three close friends there.

I still feel bad about my ex-boyfriend, because he was so offended and things between us ended, in some ways, so abruptly. I imagine that he doesn't have positive feelings toward me now, and I wish that weren't the case, because I have positive feelings toward him and mostly good memories of our relationship. At one point about a year after I'd gotten back from Senegal, I even tried to call him to clear the air, but his number had been disconnected. And now... well, now there would be no point. It's just been too long. Though I do hear through the grapevine that he's married with a daughter, so that's good.

I guess I just worried that even though I didn't feel this way about the situation, my falling out of touch with those three people left them feeling the way a lot of people there feel when Americans leave the country--like I had just been using them to pass the time, like they hadn't meant as much to me as I had to them, like I had just up and left them and gone back to my cushy life in my own country without giving them a second thought.

So hearing from Momar, hearing that he even remembered me four years down the line, that he bothered to spend the time and money to call, just to catch up--was a huge relief. It felt nice. It felt peaceful. It felt right. I feel like we've come full circle. And I'm really glad about that.


  1. That's really cool.

    That's actually how we got re-aquainted with our French friend -- he knew my husband when they were little as part of an exchange program and when my husband had to got to Paris a few years back (before going with me, I KNOW!), he looked him up. Fortunately, our French friend had spent many years in Australia, so he knew English and we've been reaquainted ever since. :)

  2. That's really nice that you got to talk to an old friend without any awkwardness. I doubt your ex would be awkward with you either, time usually erases those feelings, but I can see why it doesn't matter anymore.

  3. Really fun to hear from a blast from the past! I'm jealous of your fluent French - I suppose living in a French speaking country would have helped me take it to the next level.

  4. There is a family that just moved in downstairs in my building, he is Senegalese and she spent time there in the Peace Corp, every time I see them I think of you.


  5. What a fun, nice call! I am happy it was not awkward.

    I have a friend who calls me from Rome. She is 73, and German. So... our conversations are interesting. But I am always happy she called! :)

  6. Your story reminds me of the pang of guilt I get every time I think of our gatekeeper Babakar. We tried to keep in touch with him and send his family money but it just got harder and harder. We didn't know how to reliably get ahold of them and just kind of...stopped. I always always felt guilty about it though because of all the people we met while in Senegal, he was the only one who gave us a going away present (and on his measly salary) and said he'd never forget us. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry. And go back and try to track him down. I totally know how you feel.

  7. As intrusive as Facebook can been when you befriend people you're really not friends with ... the one thing I love about it is that I have reconnected with some people I lost touch with so long ago. No matter where you are in life now, you shared a moment in time with these people ... and so, it's nice when I am updated on their whereabouts now. I think it's even more special you were able to share that call. Yay for reunions!

  8. There is something that feels SO GOOD about catching up with old friends. Now, if I could only learn to balance that feeling with the equally important ability to gracefully let go of connections, with sadness or guilt...I suspect my life would be perfect.

  9. I think having those kinds of mixed feelings is pretty common after unusual and new experiences. But I think they're really normal and in some ways really highlight the amount of growing and changing we do in those situations. I'm really glad talking to your old friend helped you feel better about your experience in general.

  10. I just spoke to an old friend for the first time in ages. What a relief it is.

  11. I'm glad that his phone call made you feel better.