It always starts out this way. You are hot. Very, very hot. You are crowded in a vehicle that is stuck in Dakar traffic. If only you could get a breeze. Any type of breeze to relieve the suffocating wet heat that comes a day after the rains. It is overcrowded in this vintage bus with worn-cloth seats. Six people to every four seats. Sweat. Dripping. You didn’t know you could sweat that much. You swear you are done. Done with Senegal. Done with Africa. The minute you get home you will book your ticket back to the States, where you can enjoy air conditioning, functional roads and ice cold drinks every 10 feet. You love Senegal, but you’ve had it. Game over. Why did you think this story would be interesting? You do the math: maybe, maybe you will get paid about $4/hour when all is said is done for the work you have put into this story. That is of course provided some editor halfway around the world sitting in his comfortable cubicle and sipping an iced latte deems the story worthy of his readers. If not, you’ve got a bunch of pretty pictures, some soundbytes, a story that has no home and possibly malaria.
Then somehow, magically, you start to get comfortable with the uncomfortable-ness of it all. You don’t forget you are hot, you just carry it around with you as if it were part of your equipment. You drink less than normal, so that you don’t have to use unsightly facilities, but you drink just enough to stay coherent. You might not like the food, but it’s too hot to eat anyway. You get your camera out and shoot. You get your Zoom out and record sound. You get your video camera out and roll.
People let you into their lives. They show you their worship sites, they explain to you why it means so much to them. Because of your camera, they tell you things you would otherwise never get to know. And sometimes, because of your camera, they do not tell you a damn thing. That’s ok. You remember why you started to tell this story in the first place.
And then, two days later when you come back from the pilgrimage, you are more in love with life, more in love with telling stories, than ever before.