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Where There Be Dragons

Catching up with Ibby Newland '21 as she shares her experiences in Florence, Valencia, and now Senegal during her adventurous gap year.

Class of 2021 alumna, Isabelle (Ibby) Newland, has been very busy exploring a wide range of interests during her gap year this year. 

She spent September through November at the Accademia d'Arte in Florence, taking classes in painting, sculpting, and the Italian language. Here are photos of a couple of the projects she completed while she was there:

Still Life

Bust of her sister, Mimi

After Florence, Ibby volunteered for a month at Rebombori Cultural, an arts center in Valencia, designing and implementing art and theater workshops for children. 

She has been in Senegal since February 11th with the immersive travel organization, Where There Be Dragons, which offers genuine life experiences through its programs throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the United States. 

"I had originally planned on joining the Morocco Semester – I visited there a couple of years ago with my family and loved it. When the trip was canceled, I decided I wasn't ready to give up on Where There Be Dragons and its unique travel philosophy. I want(ed) to learn to be a traveler and not just a tourist, to meet and talk to and live with people whose lives took a different shape from my own. And I wanted to do this in a context different from the one I had been exposed to for the past four-plus years, which was predominantly Eurocentric."

We are delighted to share one of Ibby's reflections of her time in Senegal:


We are now in Kedougou after an 11-or-so hour van-journey, and I’d like to take a moment to look back on our homestay in Diakhanour.

It was a hard homestay for me, and it was hard in some ways that I am ashamed to admit. It was hard to wake up at 7:15 am (or 6:15 am if the donkey who lived outside my bedroom was feeling particularly vocal) and go haul well water to the bathrooms for use throughout the day. It was hard to be spoken at in Wolof or Sérére, sometimes out of lack of alternative, sometimes didactically, but also sometimes in jest. It was hard to sit in the kitchen watching ash particles dance in the air and feeling totally extraneous, unable to mimic the casual dexterity embodied by my host-sister Julie and host-mother Marta. It was hard to feel constantly on guard, under scrutiny. Hard to feel completely useless. Hard to feel alone.

But among the worry and exhaustion and uncertainty, there were people and moments that restored peace, made me smile.

There was my uncle, Tomas (I believe), who fed peanuts and rice to the resident parrot (a shifty, slow-moving character), played with the dog, and teased the neighborhood children. Who asked me every morning if I had dreamt anything the night before (amnga gent?), but never dreamt anything himself (dara, dara). Who told me once at dusk, gazing out at the mango tree, that what was important in life was to have joy in my heart.

There was the night I played in the courtyard with my little neighbors Alban and Oumi and Camisa, some version of duck-duck-goose that involved sandal clapping and rhythmic intonation and much shrieking. And going to buy bread with them later—bouncing down the sandy street to the boutique gleefully chanting “mburu,” a low breathless rumble, stooping to hoist Alban or Camisa to their feet when they collapsed into the sand to wriggle about like little worms, still crying “mburu!”

And, one day, after lunch: resting against the concrete doorframe leading into the kitchen. Senegalese couscous was steaming on the coal stove in the corner, filling the kitchen with a sweet, earthy scent, cut slightly by the tang of coal. Flies swung lazily through the hot, still air. Mariama sat on a plastic barrel, eating from a metal bowl the rice which I saw Julie put aside each meal—extra to have on-hand in case hungry neighbors dropped by? She had taken off her wig and cradled it in her lap, a gesture that felt trusting and casual. I loved her eyes—they were large and warm and brown, slightly crossed, so that they carried always a gently mournful expression.

Vergine came by, dressed all in soft white. Mariama, deftly spitting fish bones into her hand and flicking them to the floor, greeted her with “Kay lëkk!”. Come eat! Vergine declined. Marta sat down next to Mariama with her own bowl, and a good-humored squabble ensued as Mariama tried to give Marta the rest of the fish, Marta adamantly pushing it back into her friend’s bowl. Julie leaned against the counter and talked to Vergine over the hubbub.

Adriano entered the kitchen and wove his way through the small crowd assembled, coming to prepare ataya for the construction workers who were undertaking a big project in the courtyard. Water dashed onto the floor as he tried to fill the kettle: a commotion. Mariama exclaimed and dabbed up the water with a hand, patted her own head. Patted Marta’s. Patted mine. Why? I asked.

“Pour avoir beacoup d’argent.” To have lots of money.

One more memory (it’s late and I have to go prepare for our first day of trekking tomorrow): a night Julie and I were relaxing on a mattress in the room adjacent to the kitchen. The light was golden and mellow. Marta sat on the couch with a large plastic basin, cutting okra (kañje) into rounds, pulling the knife through the vegetable and towards her thumb in swift motions. Kodu reclined in a corner, still glamorous in her long mint-colored dress after a dinner with friends. Bode rested on an upturned bucket, talking to Marta as her little daughter Aminata stumbled wide-eyed around the room. Alban dashed from adult to adult, sometimes coming over to play with me and a giant stuffed teddy bear, who I pretended was trying to eat him (bëggnaa lëkk Alban!). I was full and warm and half-asleep, content to be passive, let the voices and smells and the soft light inundate me.

Until next time.

Ba ci kanam.


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