"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore" ~Andre Gide
I am not a risk-taker by nature. Most people looking at my life from the outside would say that's a ludicrous statement. I am, after all, in Senegal, Africa, having agreed to follow my husband here because he is the explorer in this relationship and I am the often reluctant, fearful follower. Where he sees beauty and potential in the open flow of living something unknown, I imagine the thickness, the dark what-ifs that we may not have control over. I suppose somewhere between us lies a balance that allows him to reign in his blind excitement and permits me to slowly explore my unwarranted fears. I trust Richard, his instincts and his talents, and so I almost always acquiesce to the bigger decisions in our lives, like coming here. I credit myself with at least recognizing the value of being led out of my comfort zone from time to time. It's the smaller, seemingly insignificant choices that always pose the bigger problem for me, the ones that are my decision alone, that don't effect anyone else. I tend to be the one who sits and watches, who stays behind (because someone has to), who reads a book and watches the fun out of the corner of my eye.
At the beginning of this week, we took a short trip to the Sine-Saloum Delta along the Saloum River, which is Senegal's only functioning area of protected waterways. We accompanied a family of eight--French friends of ours who have a vacation home not far from ours and who had visited this area before. The 4-hour drive took us through a changing landscape of arid bushland to a river surrounded by tropical forest and dotted with small, mostly unpopulated islands. Along the way, we passed flat-land salt paddies that stretched to the horizon, their white crystals collecting around the edges of the marsh basins. We decided to take the sand route that ran parallel to the cattle-laden "highway" after an hour long obstacle course of vertebrae-crushing potholes. For the kids, skidding through the sand in our 4-wheel drive Landcruiser was better than any amusement park ride. Monkeys skittered among the low bushes and, apart from a few intermittent cars, we were alone for most of the time, the other members of our caravan having passed us long ago in their modern minivan. Every hour or so, we would start to see women walking along the side of the road, indicating that we were approaching a village. As we slowly drove through these densely populated areas, the children would run to the side of the road to wave and smile at us, jumping up and down, sometimes dancing, shouting "toubab, toubab" (a non-derogatory word meaning simply "white people".) Sunny and Jamie would lean out the window, their arms stretching towards the children, sometimes grasping small fingers for a moment as we passed by. We stopped for fresh clementines, bread and Baobab fruit, otherwise know as "monkey bread", which naturally heals and prevents all sorts of stomach ailments. When we arrived in the village of Toubakouta, it was mid-day and very hot. We shed most of our clothes, keeping only what kept us decently covered and waited for the pirogue boat which would take us to Keur Bamboung, the island that would host us at its eco-lodge. After loading the boat with provisions and overnight bags, the half-hour ride to the island along the Saloum river left our group silent. We meandered through crystal waters framed by miles of lushly green mangroves as dolphins accompanied the wake of the boat. Once on the island, a donkey cart was loaded with our belongings and our tired children, while the adults and older children set off on foot for a two-mile hike to the other side of the island where the camp sat. We were welcomed at the main lodge with cold drinks and then led to our round huts made of earth bricks and thatched windows and ceilings. There are six in total, each perched on the precipice overlooking the river and equipped with a water tank, solar powered lights and surprisingly comfortable beds. Nothing to do, no sounds save the occasional human voice, tropical birds and monkeys. As Richard and the kids rested, I sat outside taking in the views and reading a book. I heard laughter coming from the river basin and decided to explore. Our friends had changed into their bathing suits and were down below splashing in the river. Because it was low tide, there was an area of open water and then a large part of the basin was exposed. I watched as they swam across the river to the delta and began to walk among the birds and close to the mangroves. On a whim, I ran back to our hut, stripped and threw my bathing suit on, then ran down the path, descended the rickety stairs to the water to join them. By the time I got there, they had all swum back and were laying on the beach, panting out their enthusiasm. Oh, I thought to myself, I missed it. Maybe next time. As they climbed the stairs and their voices faded, I walked into the water to wet my feet. I couldn't see the bottom. The air was starting to chill. I was tired. I was alone. My book was waiting. It was just as well. I looked across to the wide expanse on the other side. Was it near or was it far? The flat bottom of the river bubbling up visibly, birds hovering, some picking their way along the massive flats, mangroves swaying at the edge of the distant shore. Then I looked back down at my feet in the water. I inched in a little further. Sun descending. A small current swirling. Something darting between my ankles. Feet in the water isn't much, I thought. A small shiver. And I dove.