Well, it has been about a month since I wrote anything in here so I figured it’s high time for a new post. The reason for the lack of information sharing is that I have been quite busy and it’s hard to find the time. Also, every time that I sit down to write this, I draw a blank with where to begin exactly so bear with me if it’s slightly scattered and/or short. I guess I should start with my current frame of mind and what I’ve been thinking about lately. I feel pretty good overall, especially in comparison to where I was mentally this time last year. There actually is not even a comparison. I am much happier, fulfilled, and just at peace this year. I am very grateful that I stuck this experience out until this point. There were SO many times that I wanted to quit, to “early terminate” as we call it here, to go home. I was asked almost daily as I was crying to my parents or feeling upset here why I didn’t just come home. I didn’t necessarily see that as the easy way out.
In retrospect, I’m not sure which took more courage. I give volunteers who early terminate a lot of credit. It is not an easy thing to do. You may or may not face negative feedback from family and friends but you will certainly feel an amount of dissatisfaction from yourself that you couldn’t or wouldn’t finish. It takes a lot of guts to acknowledge that something of this magnitude wasn’t right for you and to withdraw yourself from the commitment. I know that I largely stuck it out here due to my own stubborn nature and also due to the support/encouragement from other volunteers and some people back home. I guess, long story short here, that I finally feel that what I have done here meant something. This is referring to both the success of my recent projects as well as me finally having a greater appreciation for Senegal and for myself.
Speaking of that appreciation for Senegal, I’ve been thinking lately about the things that Americans do that would totally freak out Senegalese and I think I have a pretty good list going:
- First of all, keeping goats on leashes. As a pet. I saw this while I was home in June and it freaked me out also. Goats are food here. Not pets.
- The idea of pets in general is odd to most Senegalese. Keeping, feeding, taking to the vet, and nurturing an animal for a reason other than eating it or using it to tow stuff around? Preposterous.
- Keeping kids on leashes (I think most of us can agree that’s messed up). Or just even keeping a close eye on children. Here, the children run wild. I see 2 and 3 year olds running around unsupervised all the time and it's perfectly normal here.
- Tanning beds. I can't even imagine the reaction. What, just what?
- All you can eat buffets. I think that even patron (well-off, rich, swanky) Senegalese would be shocked at all that gluttony. I, on the other hand, can’t wait to get home and get me some of that.
- Mountains. Real mountains. The grandeur is hard to understand when you aren't standing at the foot of them.
- Snow, and along those lines, seasons. Senegalese freak out and bust out the parkas when it's in the 70s here so snow... I can't even imagine.
- Baby carriers. In cars, on people's bodies, wherever. Here the baby is strapped on the back and that's it. I did see a woman one time with a baby carrier and it was incredibly out of place here.
- Along the baby line... Maternity leave. You literally see a woman who maybe gave birth a week ago, out in the field, hacking away at a tree, with her week old infant tied on her back.
- Vacuums, washing machine, dishwasher, lawn mower, really any of those modern day conveniences that make our lives so much easier. Some of the more well-off Senegalese have these things (except maybe a lawn mower) but most people would be in awe of them.
- Plastic surgery. Collagen, people getting surgically enhanced to look like an effing cat, tig ole bitties (that are perky... Whaaaa), butt implants (they might like that one as a big ass is a sought after commodity here), and any other creepy thing people are doing these days.
- Anti-aging techniques. This kind of ties in with plastic surgery. I feel that here people really embrace aging and see it as a sign of respect and prosperity that you have lived that long.
- Tattoos. I actually have seen maybe one or two Senegalese with tattoos (typically quite small and not the greatest quality) but compared to some of the western world who are covered head to toe, those are nothing. Even my small mountain range on my back confuses a lot of Senegalese. They don't understand why it won't just rub off and trust me, they've tried.
- Our complete lack of acknowledgement towards other humans would really upset most Senegalese. Everywhere you go here, you greet the people. In the street, getting onto a bus, walking into a store, entering a restaurant, and a million other places. I have even been told bismillah (welcome) by people standing in line for a bathroom. They would feel very unwelcome in most western countries.
I'm sure these don't only apply to Senegalese and I'm not trying to generalize. These are simply what I've noticed after living here for a year and a half. I also don't want this to turn into another, "be grateful what you have post, we have so much," but it's hard for that not to happen. Most of the time I'm looking around thinking about this kind of stuff and I obviously can't help comparing the two very different lifestyles that I've experienced. Also, isn’t it that time of year again that we are supposed to be grateful about things?
Until the next time then,