Fast forward to today, I am five hours ahead and an ocean away from all that is familiar. But somehow I knew it would be like this in Senegal, West Africa. I’ve listened and watched as NABJ’s seven fellows hit the ground running with their international reporting and photojournalism assignments. It’s been grueling and they haven’t gotten much sleep. We wake at the crack of dawn, travel great distances and return when it’s dark. Through it all, they are a unique, funny, eclectic, talented, passionate group of journalists who are drinking in every experience for all that it’s worth. At times I feel a little like a mother hen to them: separate the myth from reality about Africa, I commanded. Secretly, I was thinking of the challenge my friend always issues, “tell me something I don’t know.”
I didn’t know I would be so proud of them this early in the experience. I didn’t know their photographs would take me back to that single second experience like a message in a bottle that you could read over and over again, and it still feels brand new. I didn’t know their writing would have me talking back to the computer like a noisy audience member in the movie theater. You know the type, ‘yeah that’s right, you tell it like it is. That’s exactly the way it happened!’ I didn’t know that some of the passages would have me laughing out loud (Cindy!) remembering how it was -- when that funny thing happened.
I did know to expect the unexpected, we are in West Africa after all. The unexpected happened on our first stop in a little village called Nguigalakh Wolof. We met the farmers who are revamping soil that has been wasted by drought. The men explained how some of the tree species are coming back, and that in turn is promoting grass growth to feed the livestock.
It was then that I noticed her.
Her name is Dneye Ngom. She stood among a group of striking women of perfect posture who proudly proclaimed that they work side-by-side with the men. Ngom was introduced as the Chair of the women’s association, a respected position in the village. She was dressed in colorful flowing fabric. I was introduced as the President of the National Association of Black Journalists. She’s president over men and women, Bob Butler chimed in! Hearing that, another woman in the crowd shouted with glee and threw her hands in the air. I leaned in to greet with a handshake when Dneye Ngom broke into in dance. I danced with her for a few seconds when someone said “she’s proud of you she is celebrating your achievement.”
And then she firmly grabbed my wrist and placed a bracelet on it. It was a beautiful half circle of weaved brass and silver. Ojinika Obiekwe, from WPIX in New York, whispered, “give her something of yours.” I had nothing but my earrings. I took them off and put them in her ears. She gave me an approving nod that told me I just learned something I didn’t know about the sisterhood in Africa. Then we danced.