The extrinsic string of notes pulled me out of a dream — a harrowing melody carried upon the stillness of a sleeping city. Outside our window, I heard our guard shift from his chair to the ground in response to fajr (the early morning call to prayer).
It seemed within minutes, everyone in Dakar was awake. The dull hum of cars zipping along the N1 highway caught my ears as the business class made their way to open offices and stores. Next, the shuffling feet of their workers came, crunching the gravelly sand along the streets of our neighborhood. And finally, the sound of my own coffee maker gurgling to life as it brewed some much needed caffeine.
It was only 6 am but I was already running late — a result of oversleeping my 5 am wake up call (the one that told me to get out of bed and write a blog). At the time, motivation to sleep destroyed motivation to wake up and create any logical sense out of the words jumbling around in my brain. If I had attempted to write a blog, it probably would have looked something like this:
Coffee. Sleep… want. Want coffee. Coffee more. Need more coffee for teach. TEACH! Gulp the coffee you bumbling blonde, you’re late for your first day of school!
Gone are the days of rolling into the office at 9, taking bathroom breaks whenever (including those when I just felt the need to reapply mascara), hour-long lunch breaks, happy hours, energy to go to the gym after work…
But gone also are the days of impossible deadlines, an aching back and wrists and neck from desk sitting, trying to please clients, straining eyes at computer screens for 10+ hours, feeling the need to even wear mascara… and knowing what the heck I’m doing in my job.
Because now, I’m supposed to be a teacher.
Gabriel and I have never been the adorable couple who sends out polished Christmas cards with coordinated outfits and the latest PC holiday greeting. In fact, if we ever accidentally end up too coordinated or (heaven forbid) matching, one of us will gladly volunteer to change. Myers and Briggs tell us it’s because of the individualistic tendencies within our personality types. I simply attribute it to the fact that any attempt at a polished Christmas card would end up on a Best of Pinterest Fails board.
To me, working together as teachers at the same school is one step away from wearing matching sweaters on a Christmas card. And there is plenty of room for failure within this scenario.
For starters, Gabriel has taught for 10+ years on four continents. I’ve taught ESL for one year in Japan. Gabriel’s classrooms have always looked chaotic to me. My classrooms look sterile to him. He is fluent in teacher lingo while I find myself scrambling for context clues in meetings when teacher words pop up. He loves to offer ideas and collaborate. I hate asking for or getting help (so you can put that at the top of your prayer list).
At 7 am it came time to start our hike to school. To me, walking together with our book bags to the school where we both teach is only a half step away from wearing matching sweaters on a Christmas card.
Like most mornings, I felt as though we were walking through the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast…
Bonjour! Bonjour Bonjour!
There goes the baker with his tray like always — the same old bread and rolls to sell…
Greetings to Senegalese people are very important. We have to leave for school early so we have enough time to say bonjour and a quick ça va? to every neighbor we pass along our bustling street (including our new friend who sells excellent grande baguettes).
And it was while we were walking along our bustling street singing bonjour to all that the back to school anxiety hit its climax.
What are we doing here? I’m not a teacher. Gabriel has never taught 5th Grade. West Africa was never on our radar. We don’t speak French. I don’t know much about the school’s culture. I don’t know anything about the kids or their backgrounds. How am I supposed to make an impact?
As though he heard the thoughts going through my head, Gabriel looked over at me with a calmness that eased my somersaulting stomach.
“Remember what they told us earlier this week — don’t let untruths cause you to lose hope.”
It had been said one morning during staff training. And it had hit me hard. I realized at the time that I had been viewing our world through a lens of untruths. Those lies told me that 1) because I did not have prior experience doing a job, I was not prepared for it. And 2) because we were not originally placed in West Africa, there wasn't a calling for us to be here.
“I don’t feel prepared. This wasn’t on our 5-year plan. Or 10-year plan. We don’t even have those types of plans! But if we did, me becoming a teacher wouldn’t have been on it.”
“Sarah, just because we did not originally plan to be here does not mean that God didn’t plan for us to be here.”
I paused. The rebuttal rolling around in my head sounded weak, even to myself. Yet I couldn’t stop it from spilling out of my mouth.
“But I feel so unqualified. I don’t have your teaching experience.”
“You don’t. You have your own unique experiences to bring to the classroom.”
“Just because I know how to write doesn’t mean I know how to teach it.”
For a moment, I thought I had won the debate. But Gabriel was too fast.
“You know how to tell stories.”
“But the teaching part…”
“Each country we visit and each place we live has a different story. Each story teaches me something important – something I hope to teach the students in my classroom. You know and I know that the places we go are not just items we're checking off of a list.”
“You have more stories than me.”
“The number of your stories isn’t so small anymore.”
I meditated on the wisdom of his words as we arrived at Dakar Academy’s gate. After exchanging a round of bonjour and ça va with the friendly guard, we stepped onto our new campus. Children milled about the grounds, chattering and laughing and playing with one another in heightened excitement at the new school year. Secondary students sat in the shade of trees, catching up on their friends’ summer adventures. Parents picked up class schedules and teachers greeted one another as they made their way to classrooms.
Despite not seeing any familiar faces, an overpowering sense of belonging and peace swept over me. I knew Gabriel was right – just because we hadn’t planned to be here didn’t mean there wasn’t a plan for us to be here from the beginning. Contentment filled me and I threw up a prayer of thanksgiving for God's goodness in bringing us to Dakar Academy.
As we parted ways — me to secondary and Gabriel to elementary — we squeezed each other’s hand.