ONE YEAR AGO: AN EBOLA THAT DIDN'T EXIST

  1. Where were you one year ago? I was in Senegal.
  2. I landed in Dakar with @maira.
  3. I had just finished up 10 weeks of study abroad in Paris.
  4. Not quite ready to list about Paris. Someday! It's a part of my life that I'll probably never stop talking/crying about.
  5. I had studied African Civilizations in Paris. It was ten weeks of learning about colonization, commodity culture, overt racism in French law, etc.
  6. The trip to Senegal was the end of the program -- a way to experience the non-Eurocentric history we had read books and written essays about.
  7. It had been a ten hour flight, most of which was spent gushing over Air France. I watched Chef and Game of Thrones instead of sleeping because I'm a child.
  8. We arrived at a tiny Dakar airport and immediately noticed the signs warning us of Ebola.
  9. The original group of people who had planned to come to Senegal had been fourteen in June 2014.
  10. As the news of Ebola spread, however, our friends dropped out one by one.
  11. The eight of us thought it was kinda funny, at first. The signs telling us to wash our hands and the temperature checks at security seemed like things to Snapchat about.
  12. That would change drastically.
  13. We were met by a turquoise bus. It would be our ground transport for the entire trip. It was perfect.
  14. We arrived at our hotel. In our excitement, we made grand plans to stay up all night, swim in the pool, eat Senegalese food, etc. Instead, we fell asleep. We are college students.
  15. The next few days, we learned about Senegalese values and met our host families. We went on trips to Sandaga Market, drove to Saint Louis, Senegal to visit one of the largest slave ports, gazed up at the controversial African Renaissance Monument.
  16. There were incredulous moments, like the time we were terrorized by a beakless pelican on these shores.
  17. Then there were the other moments where we paced through the House of Slaves, remembering those who were here before us. It was chilling to see through the infamous "Door of No Return."
  18. But it's important to take a step back.
  19. Senegal is a vibrant nation. Its tourism is one of the most lucrative and well-developed in the continent. Apart from a booming fish industry, its telecom industry is widely expanding.
  20. Senegal is also home to some of the kindest, most caring people I have met.
  21. There were so many times when a stranger would walk me home, gently nodding while I stumbled over my limited French. Many times, all I could muster up were "Merci beaucoup"s.
  22. There were so many times when my host family would give me huge meals with the best meat. They would ration off the rest to the family. I still think about this with a heavy heart.
  23. Remembering the slave trade and the hardship in Senegal's history is vital, by all means. But to define a country by antiquated tropes is an insult to the people who live there now.
  24. Perhaps this was what was most painful about this experience.
  25. Every time we went to a market, we were bombarded by men and women all but begging for our attention.
  26. Every time we went to a restaurant, the relief and gratefulness of the owners was clearly visible on their faces.
  27. Every time we walked through the streets, we were acutely aware that we were the only tourists there.
  28. There was no Ebola in Senegal. There never was. The ONE case reported was from a man in a different West African country.
  29. But that didn't matter, because to so many of us, all of Africa is the same.
  30. To so many of us, the idea of Ebola wasn't only scary because of its deadliness, but because the giant land mass of "Africa" was too third world, too uncivilized to contain it.
  31. To so many of us, including my own friends, my parents, my fellow classmates, all of Africa was a risk that our privileged, technologically advanced lives were not willing to take.
  32. Many of us are willing to stand up for Africa when we see blatant racism, when we hear overtly "uneducated" comments.
  33. But fewer of us are willing, or even aware, of how those same uneducated prejudices live on within us when our privileged lives might have to be inconvenienced.
  34. I'm not sure who I am angry at.
  35. I'm angry at the media for propagating harmful stereotypes, whether they realized it or not.
  36. I'm angry at those who were afraid of Ebola for the wrong reasons. Those who were so concerned with the fearless doctors coming back to the U.S. instead of the tragic consequences in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
  37. I'm angry at my parents who, for three months, begged and threatened me to not go to Senegal. I'm angry that my health was their only concern. I'm angry that I'll probably be the same way with my own children.
  38. Mostly, I'm angry at myself.
  39. I am angry that I can be so self-righteous in the comfort of my healthy, prosperous country.
  40. I am angry that I got to stay in hotels for part of the trip. I am angry that I made comments about cold showers. I am angry that my privilege often got in the way, too.
  41. I am angry that the people of West Africa are suffering because of our biases.
  42. I am angry that the owner of a restaurant told us we were her first customers in two weeks.
  43. I am angry that a country so dependent on tourism is still, to this day, hurting because we decided Africa is unsafe.
  44. One year ago, I went to Senegal. One year later, I'm still struggling.