If you have ever visited the Whole Foods on Broad Street in the past couple of years, Mamoudou Balde has been in the café corner working on his next track, grabbing a beer, or greeting his friends behind the counter. I first met Mamoudou at Whole Foods, and from his unique style to knowing just about everyone in the store, I knew he lived life to the fullest.

Mamoudou is from Senegal Africa, and his love for music has taken him from creating his first rap group, RMC, at age 9 to travelling to Europe and now Durham, North Carolina.

From recording sessions at two in the morning to unplanned trips to his friend’s farm, most moments with Mamoudou are spontaneous. He naturally makes conversation with new people and enjoys being outside and basking in the sunlight. Sitting on a bench or looking up at a tree, Mamoudou quietly thinks on his life. From his joyful personality, it is hard to know that he recently lost two band members who were like family. For Mamoudou, living and enjoying the present is key. He was constantly able to laugh and find fun during our time together while also allowing me to sit by him as he reflected on his life.

Right before Duke closed down for the COVID-19 pandemic, I was able to say my goodbyes to Mamoudou. I am very grateful for my time with Mamoudou, someone who taught me the importance of spontaneity and finding solace in myself.

With the “new normal” of uncertainties under the pandemic, I found that my sisters and I escaped to the outdoors to find solace – much like Mamoudou did in our time together. Since returning home, I have turned my lens to photograph my family as we adjust to these unprecedented times. While my family is able to find joy in one another through moments of goofiness and music, reality hits when we make masks in the living room and have to deal with finances. I find true freedom from the in the wanderings outdoors as my sisters and I hop on our bikes and explore further into the beauty of nature around us that grounds us in the present.