Variety is the spice of life, right? In Senegal, I’m not so sure this is the case, and that appears to be just the way many people like it. There are around 4 or 5 meals that constitute the Senegalese diet. They eat these same 4 or 5 meals throughout their entire lives and seem to continue to enjoy them. There is no large supermarket to ponder over lunch/dinner options for hours. There are usually no options except for whatever is grown in your area or imported. There are 4 or 5 professions that everyone knows about and aspires to be. Teachers, fishermen (in my area due to our proximity to the coast), policemen, housewives, and sometimes I even hear doctors. There's usually not years of soul-searching, pondering over these careers. If a Senegalese person does well in their science classes, they'll probably pursue a career in healthcare, because it just makes sense. Senegalese people are considered fortunate and incredibly talented if they graduate high school with their BAC, our equivalent of the GED. This test seems WAY harder than what our graduation requirements constitute, plus these kids also probably already speak at least 3 languages by now.
The point I’m getting to here is that there are less choices in almost every aspect of life. While some of this lack of choice may make life more complicated, mostly this simplifies life here. I think that I am beginning to see Senegal in the positive light that I want to remember it in. The peace of mind that comes with fewer choices is easy to spot here. I often speak about the hardships I have faced but this experience has given me more than I ever expected. Life doesn’t always have to be the serious, scary, fast-paced, and complicated situation that many Americans and those living in a more developed country see it as.
Many famous philosophers and historical figures have discussed the notion of “1st world problems,” or “privileged problems.” Now, we’ve all seen the funny videos where first world problems are “issues” such as a hot tub being too hot, a house that’s so big you need 2 wireless routers, etc.
(See this video for a great ad campaign) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/05/first-world-problems-read-by-third-world-kids-ad-campaing_n_1943648.html?ir=World.)
But I am here to say that privileged problems can definitely be a real and scary thing. Privileged problems come often from having too much time on our hands and too many options at our disposal. If you don't have to hike 10 miles for enough water to bathe in that night, that can free up some thinking time. Once your basic needs for survival are taken care of (food, shelter, water, clothing, etc.), you end up having more time to ponder the other needs in your life. These are things such as a fulfilling career, a loving companion, and material things (a fancy house, car, clothes, etc.). While it’s wonderful that many of us have freedom in deciding these areas, it also adds substantial amounts of stress, anxiety and depression to our lives. The anxiety level is palpable in the US. People are constantly chasing the next slew of “things” and losing sight of enjoying the beauty of nature, relationships, and other human interactions.
I’m not saying I would prefer no choices or that these extra needs are not equally important. I'm also not saying that there aren't problems for many people acquiring these basic needs in developed countries either. I’m only saying that I wish that sometimes we could just take a step back, get some perspective and appreciate all that we really do have. Even just having the opportunity to live in the United States and the freedom to chase after whatever dream we may have is something I for one will always be immensely grateful for.
Anyway, as my time has pretty much come to an end here in Joal, I find myself feeling very… weird. This whole “leaving Senegal behind possibly forever thing” is kind of resulting in me having a surreal, out-of-body experience. I feel as if I’m watching myself pack up some of my stuff, give away most of my stuff, and say goodbye to my friends and family who’ve been in my life for the past two years. I can’t believe it’s actually happening. I don’t think I’ll believe it until I am on that plane out of here, for good, not just for vacation. This is something I’ve wanted for so long and now that it’s finally here, I don’t really know how to feel or what to think. As previously mentioned, I just feel weird.
Although I do feel like I’m finally receiving the validation from Senegalese that I’ve craved for so long. For every hard goodbye, an accompanying tearful and heartfelt thank you has followed. People I didn’t even know that well have been praising me for my projects, thanking me for what I did to help their country and been overwhelmingly sad to see me go. It’s not as if I thought that my projects and relationships here meant nothing, I just didn't realize the extent of their meaning and I feel deeply validated and truly touched.
Even though I wanted to go home for most of it, I will always treasure this experience and I am so grateful that my stubborn nature forced me to stick it out. I feel like I have changed and grown in more ways than I could have if I had just been working in the states. I’ve learned to really cherish the relationships I have and to focus on what’s important in life. Coming back to the earlier discussion of privileged problems, if I have my basic needs fulfilled, I’m going to try to do my best to not freak out so much about the other stuff and also to reach out and help those who are working on fulfilling their basic needs.
I have a couple more weeks in Dakar, celebrating and tying up loose ends. After that, America, I’m comin’ at ya and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Until the next time,