Siggel Digialei

February 6, 2020

Our second post from the YAGM Senegal 2019-2020 cohort comes from YAGM Zig (or Ndeye Mariame Ndiaye, as she's known in Senegal).  Zig is living this year in Yeumbeul, a fast-moving suburb of Dakar and serving with our partner Senegalese Lutheran Development Services in the Sports & Leisure Program, the Library Program, and the Galle Nandiral Preschool and Elementary School. In this blog post, Zig shares about a recent funeral for the father of one of her coworkers, and how she was affected by how Senegalese approach death and life together.


Death is inevitable. It somehow feels cyclical. The idea that when someone’s heart stops beating a new one enters in its place. The cycle of life is something that we all have to experience all-be-it joyous and devastating, it is a fact of life and somehow, we have to be ok with the outcome in the end. 


In my life I have experienced death three times. Once, when I nine and my best friend lost her sister and the other times when my great-grandparents recently passed away. These three deaths impacted my life directly. However, this past January, I met death at the door of a friend in Senegal.


Death is weird, because you never know what to say exactly, only that you are sorry for that person’s loss. But, on Sunday I learned to say something in Wolof. Siggel Digialei. Two words that mean that we are with you in your loss. We stand with you in your pain, and we will be here to comfort you through this time. Two words to say to a family when they lose a loved one.


For some reason Siggel Digialei feels more real than ‘I’m sorry for your loss’. Siggel Digalei feels like community. It feels like when you stand up for someone who can’t protect themselves. And in a way it is. Because when a loved one passes away suddenly, you heart is left on the floor, beating slowly, waiting to be put back together. You need a team, a wall of protection, people who can guard off disease and heartbreak and to wrap their hands around your heart and put it back where it once stood strong.  Siggel Digialei.   I felt these words.   When I spoke these sacred words, although fumbling when I said them, seeing others mourn allowed me to understand their weight. 


Mourners gather at the family home.


Seeing a woman who had just lost her husband, crying with disbelief, made me feel helpless.  She didn’t know who I was, but I felt a sense of grace in her presence. As other’s surrounded her in their prayers, their offerings, their memories of her fallen husband, all I could do was sit in silence and take in this special moment.  


I felt the most useless when I noticed my friend Ndeye Marieme with her friends. Tears were welling in her big brown eyes with disbelief that her father was gone. A man that was pivotal in her daily life, now gone. He was no longer there to have conversation with, no longer there to be a father, a grandfather, a brother or a husband. Gone.


Her tears pulled my heart right to the front of my chest. I wanted to cry with her, to let her know that I wanted to take away just the slightest bit of pain she felt. There she sat, thirty feet away from me, surrounded by her friends and family all speaking into existence Siggel Digialei. I wanted to pray over her, but in this moment, in a space that wasn’t about building cultural bridges, but was about her and her family’s loss and grief, I decided to pray silently for this family. A family I knew and continue to learn more from every day.


When I prayed, I prayed for recovery, I prayed for love, and I prayed for understanding. Living in Senegal has taught me when in doubt, pray. Back home I don’t actively think about prayer. I believe this absence of prayer comes from the fact that I am always on the ‘go’. The world somehow seems to fly by me and all I can do is think about what I am doing. Meanwhile, in Senegal, people live into their time. They pray openly and with confidence. People here pray, and when I visited the home of my friends that Sunday, people prayed. Siggel Digialei was there. It was sitting in chairs, it was talking, it was grief and most importantly it was love.


I wish there was a way to take the phrase Siggel Digialei with me back home. Although, I can’t take the phrase per-say, I can take the actions that surround these two beautiful and mysterious words. The idea of being there for families, individuals and loved ones through all circumstances and bringing it back to prayer and walking with people in death and their loss, is something we should do more of as Christians in this world.


Siggel Digialei is the quintessential phrase that sums up what it means to have teranga in Senegal. Terranga is hospitality and Siggel Digialei is being there for others. Both are used in tangent with each other and this place and community continues to challenge me as a Christian and how I need to lean into my beliefs. Siggel Digialei taught me what it means to truly be human when death surrounds you.  In moments of death, we need to be okay with showing emotion and we need to be there for each other through prayer and being present with the people who are mourning.


I think we all need a bit of Siggel Digialei in our everyday lives. We all need to walk with the people of this world like we have an active stake in their life and know that whomever we interact with, we all have an impact. This family that I mourned with has been intentional with me, just as I have been with them. And I hope that we can all be more intentional with our brothers and sisters in this world.


Siggel Digialei.

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Pastor Kristin Engstrom is the Country Coordinator for the Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program in Senegal.  Each year, young adults from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America join her in Senegal, where they serve for one year with our partners in the Lutheran Church of Senegal and Senegalese Lutheran Development Services.  

You can support Pastor Kristin's work by giving through ELCA Global Church Sponsorship.

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