Passports shown, visa paid for, passport shown, fingers prints given, passport stamped, passport shown, proof of hotel reservations shown, details of return flight shared, details of occupation shared (“Teacher? Teacher of what? To whom? Where? That sounds good, do you like it?”) passport checked, queue joined, passport checked again… My first piece of advice to parents arriving to visit their child volunteering overseas with Project Trust is don’t rush to put your passport away!
My second is don’t even attempt to leave the airport without your child’s supervision. Remember that sweet innocent you packed off seven months ago? Do as they say.
I blame myself for our daughter finding out about Project Trust but after that I take no responsibility. I suggested she had a look in the gap year room before we left the 6th form progress evening and she never looked back. She chose Project Trust straight away and she researched and organised it all.
Looking back the Selection course should have prepared us for what we were going to find at Dakar airport. The journey to Coll was meticulously planned by committee with times, connections and routes between Glasgow stations discussed and rehearsed in Google Street Plan. The return journey plans were abandoned and decisions were made on the hoof – she was already not the dependent we sent to Scotland.
Just before Christmas I had run out of people who wanted to listen to my stories of having a daughter in Senegal. Fortunately I exchanged numbers with the mum of my daughter’s volunteering partner, Charlotte. Charlotte’s mum and I kept in touch by text and phone when we were in need of reassurance. We agreed to meet at Birmingham Christmas market so we could chat unhindered about our girls. Within an hour of meeting we were in a travel agent’s looking at flights. Two weeks later we met again with our husbands, siblings and iPads, flights were booked and the Bushovic family (Bushen + Vuckovic) was born!
We had wondered about the wisdom of allowing two teenagers who haven’t seen a hot shower for seven months to choose and book our hotels, but although they were a bit overwhelmed by taps and toilets that flush the girls clearly also learned the value of money and they picked well.
I’m not going to try to describe everything we saw and did; this is a recollection of visiting our daughter not a travel guide to Senegal. But it is a wonderful place, it really is.
Seven British people all together in Senegal do attract a certain amount of attention. One of the joys of the visit was seeing the huge pleasure on people’s faces when the girls surprised them by speaking to them in Wolof, exchanging their Senegalese names (Charlotte is known as Coumba, Beth as Aita). After a particularly vigorous round of haggling one lady told us, with great pride: “These are Senegalese girls now!”
Our itinerary included a couple of days in the town the girls are living and working in. We were so warmly welcomed by the Wones, the family the girls are living with, and very well and generously fed. After dinner the Bushovic men were presented with handmade shirts as gifts and Karen and I were given beautiful colourful lengths of fabric. The tailor arrived…measured us up…and returned the next day with our very own boubous. I love mine, and yes, I do wear it at home.
Previous volunteers’ families had visited the Wones, but never together – it was Amadou who named us the Bushovics. I guess volunteer partnerships can’t always be perfect, but for us seeing the very close relationship our girls had formed was as hilarious as it was reassuring.
Beth and Charlotte lived in Senegal. It was their home. They weren’t visitors; they were part of the community. They made friends, had a tailor, a coffee vendor and a taxi driver. They became Aita and Coumba Wone.