Please note that the opinions reflected on this blog are solely MY opinion. They do not reflect the Peace Corps or the US Government in any way.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Take that, Mayans!

Well. It’s officially January 2013 and we’re all still here! The world didn’t end after all. The funny thing is how little attention I paid to that nonsense until Senegalese people started asking me about it. I should have realized they are a suspicious bunch in general but the fact that even people in my small village had heard about this had me slightly on edge that fateful day. But, alas, here we all are.

After the apocalyptic scare (silly Mayans) I was able to kick back and enjoy the holidays. Christmas Eve and Day were spent with my good friends from my training group simply enjoying one another. I have always thought Christmas was incredibly commercialized and materialistic and that thought was further confirmed this holiday season. There was no enormous, lavishly decorated Christmas tree surrounded by hundreds of presents that no one really needs. There was no mad dash to the mall and ensuing stampede to find that perfect gift. There was, simply put, love. Christmas Eve was full of laughs, great food and each other’s company. Downtown Dakar (where we spent most of our time) was even decorated with beautiful lights. Christmas Day was spent playing a round of white elephant (I came away with a blow-up santa, score!) and exchanging our secret Santa gifts. We put a $10 limit on purchases and yet each was heartfelt and perfect for the recipient. I personally received a beautiful scarf and candle for my room. The rest of the day was spent in anticipation of my parents and sister visiting!

Time with the Griswolds, I mean the Goellers, commenced a day after Christmas as 3 haggled and jet- lagged Americans made their way through the airport in Dakar. The first challenge was my poor dad being hassled and charged way more for assistance with his luggage than he should have been. This was shortly followed by my mom realizing that she had left an entire suitcase full of goodies for me behind (she felt so awful). This was momentarily devastating but the moment passed quickly when I realized how incredibly excited I was to finally have my family around me again! Those of you who read this blog probably also are friends with me on Facebook so I won’t go into too much painstaking detail about their visit as I documented every moment with about 4819043 photos. The short version is that the time with my family was unbelievable. I was treated to fantastic comforts such as hot showers, nice meals, soft, clean (okay, good smelling, I do wash my stuff believe it or not but it never gets that Tide smell) towels, carpet, refrigerated drinks, wireless internet, air-conditioning, etc... Quick side note, you don’t realize how much you really miss stuff like that until you go so long without it. We met a fantastic German family on our voyages and spent a fair amount of time with them. Something Sara (the woman of the family) said to me really struck me. She mentioned how excited she was to get home and just have a really long, hot shower. This is completely understandable and I realized that I do that exact same thing. Instead of thinking, “Hmm there are people who don’t even have hot water, perhaps I should really limit my consumption;” we end up thinking, “Oh boy this is nice, how I’ve missed it, and I’m never getting out!” This issue of over-indulgence after experiencing impoverished situations is something I’ve discussed several times with fellow volunteers and we’re still not sure what can be done about it.

Okay, side note over. These things were great but even better than all of that luxury was the resiliency and ability of my family to throw themselves into such new, uncomfortable situations and also just having them here. The feeling of being around all of them again is indescribable. I’m sure anyone who has gone a significant amount of time being away from their family can understand what I’m talking about. There’s a feeling you get that is purely unique to family. It’s that feeling of warmth, comfort, familiarity, and being where you belong, home. As great as it was having them here, it really just hit me again how much I truly missed them. Highlights of the visit definitely included my dad’s bizarre humor. Literally every person that we met loved him and couldn't get enough of him, even though no one really understood each other completely. My cute sister playing with my host family and trying her best to learn greetings so that she could communicate with people in my village. I think my mom was completely shocked at first just actually physically seeing where and how I live (which is more than understandable) but ultimately she was such a trooper and her and my father were more than generous with my family, other volunteers, and friends in my village.

New Year’s Eve was rather strange but ultimately the best New Year’s that I've ever had. We were served an amazing dinner of barracuda (yup, you read that right, it was surprisingly good, just had to look out for the teeth) lobster, and other treats. After dinner there was plenty of authentic Senegalese entertainment such as women singing, wrestling, witch doctors and a dance circle to boot! The evening wrapped up with midnight rolling around and everyone kissing our cheeks and wishing us Bonne Annee and Bonne Sante (Happy Year and Good Health). Their trip finished up with some gorgeous beach days and a tearful departure the night of January 3rd. Shout-out to my parents (and Jack) for a big THANK YOU again for everything.

Now that my family has come and gone it’s hard to say exactly how I’m feeling about my decision to be here. In the past few days since they have left I’ve been thinking a lot about the complexity of human emotions. Sitting in front of my house watching the chickens (yeah, I get bored a lot here), I began to experience a strange emotion… I was sort of jealous of them. Here I am, sitting around constantly analyzing every little thing, critiquing myself and my decisions, and basically putting loads of pressure on myself wondering what I’m truly doing here in Senegal; and then there are the chickens, perfectly content if they just have something to eat and a place to crap. Perhaps I should learn something from them.

Among my standard worries regarding life decisions I was experiencing another round of Peace Corps guilt. This is a phenomenon any volunteer is familiar with and it’s time I explained it a little bit.  You see, most of us are constantly worrying about things such as:

  • Am I spending enough time in site?
  • Those of us that live in a house with family are always wondering am I present enough in my family? What do they really think of me? Is there more I can be doing to help them?
  • Am I studying the language enough? (Probably not…)
  • Then there are those lovely feelings of self-doubt, are my project ideas good enough? Why don’t I have more project ideas? Shouldn't people constantly be approaching me with ideas? Why is no one approaching me? Am I not approachable? Why am I here?
This Peace Corps guilt is so powerful it even often extends to the families of volunteers. They are so worried that their child is in such a strange situation that they feel almost crippled by it. There is an immense amount of energy, money and time spent in trying to make the volunteer feel comforted and comfortable when ultimately all any parent truly wants to say is, “Come home.”

I guess lately I’m just wrestling with the part of myself that wants to go home. Yup, that part of me is alive and kicking. I know that ultimately I would get back to Utah and be happy with family, friends, comforts, good food, etc. for about a month. Then I think I would most likely freak out, wonder why I had left my dream and fret about what in the hell I was going to do next. For long as I can remember I wanted to join the Peace Corps and make a difference. This is why I can’t throw in the towel; at least, not quite yet. In my heart, I know that I can try harder. But at the same time I need to cut myself some slack. I have been told by many people that simply being here and showing that Americans care are fulfilling the first two goals of Peace Corps. Now I just need to dig deeper into my community and find out where I can truly help them. In the meantime, I’m going to focus on quieting my mind and finding contentment here. Just like the chickens seem to do so well.

Until next time,


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