Late Wednesday night/Early Thursday morning I was standing in a checkout line at a major supercenter chain. In Orem, Utah. Just off Exit 269 on I-15. Across from UVU. I was on my way back to my apartment and picked up a few groceries so I wouldn’t starve in the morning. I had arrived from Senegal Sunday afternoon and spent a few days in New York City before returning to Provo.
The cashier greeted me and started scanning my things. Now, she might have had a super long day, and it was close to 1am, but she was complaining about her job.
Everyone has bad days at work, and maybe the timing wasn’t ideal for this particular interaction between the cashier and me, because I had just come from Senegal, where 50% of the population is unemployed, and this young lady has a job in AMERICA during a RECESSION.
I wanted to tell her to get a little perspective.
Instead, I reassured her she had only 10 minutes left on her shift and wished her a good night.
We landed at 0550 on Sunday, May 1. The humidity immediately surrounded us, but I was eager to get off the plane. In great haste, I descended the metal roller staircase then walked toward the shuttle before I realized I forgot my duffel bag. I turned around and let a guy wearing an airport vest know that I forgot my bag.
-J’ai oublié mon sac.
-Quel siège? Quel côté?
-Le droit. Trente-sept.
So, I followed him back onto the plane, retrieved my bag and jumped on a shuttle bus from the tarmac to the gate. I kept close to some people I recognized as my classmates. The terminal felt crowded that morning. The full flight dispensed a swarm of people – some happy to be home, others respectfully curious – into a hot, dark, old airport that was named after the first president of Sénégal, Léopold Senghor.
We picked up our luggage from the lone, sluggish carousel. Chatter surrounded us. French and not French. We passed through the border. Customs was a little too easy.
We waited outside. I wasn’t sure for what, or whom. I wore my backpack and held my duffel bag and suitcase tightly. I had noticed that random men were taking people’s luggage, and that didn’t seem right.
Not all of us were on this flight. Others in the class were coming from the East coast or Europe. They would be arriving at other times. We wondered aloud about the girl who had arrived the night before and was told in our prep class two weeks earlier to find her own way to the hotel. That didn’t seem right.
After a while, our group started walking toward somewhere. Our uncertain chemin seemed to lead toward an old, white Blue Bird school bus. We loaded our luggage and boarded the bus. The engine started and a consistent, high-pitched beep pierced our ears. We soon learned that it would never stop. The bus driver wore a scarf. And then there was another guy. Madame Thompson introduced him as a son of Aminata Sow Fall, and he is probably one of the most attractive guys I have ever met.
Along the way, we were passed 1.5-liter bottles of water. I didn’t really talk. I thought about how I’d brush my teeth and getting along with my roommate and the food and my ability to sleep. I wondered about the culture and the lectures and my anxiety about speaking a language I struggled with. All I knew was that I was with a group of fellow students in a foreign and fascinating country full of people I was a little scared of and with a culture I was eager to discover. We were on a beeping school bus with a surprisingly trusty engine, and our eyes followed much of the passing scenery. We observed old buildings and walking women balancing things on their heads. We noticed the coast hosting the early exercisers who raced the rising sun. We were an obvious displacement, and I felt like an anachronism. But we were headed into the belly of a city of a country of a continent of a world begging to be more fully understood, asking for proper perspective.
We were going to school.