Last night as I was tucked nicely into my mosquito net, drifting off to sleep, I thought of some of the criticism that I have heard about the Peace Corps. This includes from people I know and also just criticism in general. “Why don’t you help people of your own country” is probably one of the top questions I heard after, “Wow, so you’re going to be living in a mud hut and stuff, right?” On the latter point, I actually live in a cement room in a house so I have it slightly nicer than the hut volunteers but I assure you, they do exist. As far as the first question, it’s definitely a valid point. I know that there are plenty of people in America that are impoverished and need help. I have volunteered at various organizations and plan on continuing that trend when I get back to the States. For the most part though, Americans tend to like other Americans. This is not always the case with people from other countries.
The media alone reflects very poorly on Americans. People from other countries unfortunately catch a lot of our trash TV (aka reality TV) and assume that all Americans have…we’ll just say “loose morals.” An issue on top of the trash TV is that the media tends to highlight fanatical maniacs. One of these people highlighted was a pastor (who shall remain nameless, he has received enough publicity) who was organizing International Burn a Qur’an Day. The Qur’an is the holy book of Islam so this was an incredibly offensive movement. I don’t care if you’re religious or not, that’s just something you don’t do. It has shocked me to my core how many Senegalese people (who are 90% Muslim) thought that this man was an accurate representation of Americans. I had to explain that there were far more Americans that were outraged at this man than who supported him but that’s not what the media likes to portray. To avoid this post becoming too political or heavy I’ll end the rant by simply saying; some of us Americans have to do something to change our worldview. After all, the second goal of Peace Corps is to promote better understanding of the American people on the part of the people served. In a world that is becoming increasingly more global, this notion of world peace becomes even more essential. It doesn’t hurt that I am hopefully teaching the people I’m working with sustainable skills to help pull them out of poverty.
Phew, on to other news! You may be wondering what it is I’m doing over here to make us Americans look good. I have now officially been a volunteer for about a month now. As far as what I’m doing to shed a positive light on Americans, I hope that I’m doing at least something. Each day is spent with me trying my hardest to learn a language I’ve never heard. I’m eating, traveling, dressing, bathing and simply living how the Senegalese are. I am also sneaking in mini-America lessons wherever I can. I show videos and pictures of my family and friends back home in order to make Americans more relatable. I show maps of the US and talk about different states and how many times Senegal could fit inside America. I have conversations with Senegalese people about strong American women and the impressive roles women can achieve. I get reactions constantly about how peculiar I am that I don’t really enjoy household duties and that I desire education and a career. They might think I’m strange but at least it has them thinking. Amidst all of this, there are days where I experience what I like to call the high highs and the low lows.
Some of the high highs are when I finally nail every greeting a particular villager happens to throw at me. They are when I spend the long afternoons learning how to prepare Senegalese meals (which is especially entertaining as I mentioned previously, I’m no chef). I enjoy the time at the beach I have with my family. One day a local artisan profusely thanked me for coming to Senegal to help his people. I love the days I am able to fit a run in (this makes it sound like I’m so busy; by fit in I mainly mean work around the rain and /or my own laziness). It’s nice to have conversations with people about the work I may be doing here. Then there are the afternoons when my adorable 3-year old host sister is teaching me Serer (my local language).
But there are also some low lows. Some days I nail the greetings but most of the time I feel unable to properly communicate what I want to say. There are creepy, crawly creatures everywhere. Certain days I feel unbearably lonely and isolated. Other times people often assume I’m a tourist and simply hound me to buy things or make me feel like an ATM. Through it all though, I am ultimately happy. As a lover of culture, I feel incredibly privileged to be completely immersed in such a colorful one. Yes, the low lows aren’t great but the high highs make it all worthwhile.
I know I’ve jumped around a lot but I hope it somewhat made sense where I’m coming from here.
Until next time,