Longing for Discomfort
Senegal seems so far away now. That's probably because it is. I'm now a little less than 4500 miles from Dakar, the capital of Senegal; just a little farther than I can walk. Yet I realized I never quite described the country of Senegal to you. I described life in the village, the once-in-a-lifetime experience that I couldn't fully appreciate until it was over. I described missing the Final Four and the little aspects of American life that go unfulfilled living in Africa. Yet failed to tell you about the country of Senegal. So now, sitting in Ronit's sister's apartment in Chicago, a week after my homecoming to the United States, I'm struggling to recall the details of the western most country in Africa.
To get into the mindset, I must make myself uncomfortable.
In preparation, I haven't showered in three days and I have turned up
the heat in the apartment to an unbearable 105 degrees. I have turned
the radio to a foreign language station that is spouting incomprehensible
gibberish. I have an unbelievable amount of hair on my face and the top
of my head and I have eaten some food washed with questionable water,
so that my stomach is now making sounds of a percolating coffee maker.
Ahhhh, it is all coming back to me now.
Ronit was a fabulous guide throughout the country. After spending three years in Senegal and then being away for three years, her Pular (one of the local languages) was impressive, to say the least. She speaks beautifully, with the sing-songy quality of the locals. She even mastered the back-of-the-throat clicking sound, which translates to "OK." Without her language skills, we would have been truly lost. I wouldn't have lasted a day by myself. French being the colonial language, English speakers are few and far between, and when you find one, he or she is inevitably trying to sell you something. I don't think I would have been able to get a meal if Ronit wasn't with me. And yet, with her there speaking a local language, we were invited to many delicious meals. The Senegalese were always shocked and impressed to see a white person speaking their language. Whenever Ronit opened her mouth, she lit up the faces of those that did understand her simply by speaking their language.
One thing I noticed about Senegal, unfortunately,
is the pollution. Senegal is a dirty country, plain and simple. Some of
the waste management solutions implemented in Senegal revolve around throwing
garbage in the street and having cars run over the plastic bags to help
them biodegrade. There are piles of trash in the cities, which grow larger
every day, until the piles are burned, sending toxic smoke into the air.
On windy days, the dust kicks up, and the sky has a brown haze that would
keep the children of Los Angeles from doing outdoor physical education.
The cars all spew out thick, black clouds from their exhaust pipes. In
all of the local languages, there is no word for "emissions control"
or "low-emission vehicle." I looked in every dictionary I could
I also could find no word for snow. Yet there are seven different words for hot. Ronit often recalls her pamphlet from Peace Corps, which described her region as "one of the hottest inhabited places on Earth." Temperatures often soar into the triple digits, prompting locals to say, with incontrovertible logic, "The sun is hot." Yes, that is very true. The sun is hot.
but the music
the music in Senegal can lift your soul to the highest
heights. With its fast pace rhythm and melodic harmonies, the music of
West Africa makes you want to move your feet. You might be familiar with
Senegal's #1 music man, Youssou N'Dour. He's the one singing the high-pitched
gibberish towards the end of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes."
It's not actually gibberish, Youssou is singing in Wolof, one of Senegal's
national languages. We would often hear Youssou's hypnotic music blaring
from music stores in the market or pounding through speakers in an uncomfortable
shared taxi. Most of the music in Senegal left me in a great mood and
wanting to hear more.
So now, as I sit in Chicago, I have a strange longing
for the colorful discomfort, the dangerous transportation, the filthy
pollution and the strange languages of Senegal. I do miss the tasty spices
of the local cuisine and the feeling of euphoria stemming from listening
to West African music. And while I am loving the convenience of walking
into an air-conditioned grocery store to buy ANYTHING I want, there is
always a certain magic in exploring new territory that comes while being
abroad. Though Senegal is a difficult place to travel, it was the experience
of traveling that I really enjoyed more than anything else. I also loved
meeting Ronit's Senegalese family and all of her friends. Living in her
Peace Corps world was an amazingly rewarding experience that few people
ever get the chance to witness; I was overjoyed at the chance to be a
part of that world. But since I'm back, I may as well open a window and
take a shower.
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