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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

America is nice.

Greetings from Minnesota!  My sister Becky (real sister, not host sister) is gettin’ hitched this weekend, so I came home for the nuptials.  It is wonderful to be back.  Although I enjoy my village most of the time, I was ready for a vacation.  Village was wearing at me and I could feel myself starting to snap.  Three weeks in America is just what I need to recalibrate and prepare my mind and body for my second year in Senegal.

I’ve been listening to Spotify, eating poptarts, watching Hulu and Netflix, drinking beer, and going for walks with my grandma.  It’s springtime, green and gorgeous.  There’s unlimited delicious food to eat, everyone has electricity, and I can take a hot shower anytime I want.  My little sister has taken to shoving me and rolling her eyes every time I say, “America is nice”…but I can’t stop saying it.  It’s true.  America is nice!

I was nervous about coming back here.  I thought I’d have some reverse culture shock, since I’ve changed since I left a year ago.  I thought I might have trouble talking to people.  After all, I don’t know any current events from the past year, and I’m aware that typical Americans don’t have a frame of reference for my work in Senegal, so they tune out quickly when I try talking about it.  I was worried about being able to make conversation. Luckily, I haven’t had any problems.  It’s like I never left.  I’m so happy here.  America is nice.

A few months ago, I asked a PCV who went home for the holidays what the hardest part of being back home for her vacation was.  She said, “Coming back here” (to Senegal).  I thought it was a little melodramatic.  I love Senegal, and I didn’t think it was hard to leave America last March, when my service began.  Now, however, I totally see where she was coming from.  I don’t want to go back.  I still have two weeks left here, but I know I’ll be crying at the airport on May 7th. America is just so nice.

I thought it might be helpful to FutureBarb, crying at the airport, to start thinking now about things I really love about Teyel.  America is nice, but Senegal is nice, too, and I have another year left there.  This blog is dedicated to the good things about my village home.

So, without further ado, here are four things I love about Teyel:

 1) Forgiveness.  Oddly enough, my 2-years in Senegal is the longest I’ve spent in one place since I graduated college.  For the past several years I’ve been a tumbleweed, rambling from place to place.  When friends screwed me over, when family disappointed me, when I broke up with boys, it was easy to break ties.  In cities, there are always new people to hang out with.  That is not the case in my vil.  In Teyel, you can get into a screaming fight with the neighbor that annoys the crap out of you, then you can either a) get over it or b) hold a grudge and still see her several times a day until forever.  Since (b) is not a real option, you’re stuck with (a).  The first time I lost my temper in village, I was mortified.  The next day, I didn’t want to leave my hut.  “This is it,” I thought.  “I’ve ruined my service.  It’s over.  No one will want to work with me anymore, no one will talk to me now, my family’s going to hate me, it’s done.”  Instead, when I finally got up the courage to leave my hut, no one said a word other than “good morning.”  

There’s a flip side.  When it’s me that screws up, I love that everyone forgives me.  However, when others screw up, I hate being expected to shrug and pretend it never happened.  A couple weeks ago, one of my sisters said that her friend in a nearby village was going to name her baby after me.  My sister said that I had to buy a new complet to wear to the dennabo and that I had to buy the baby a big gift.  When I showed up to the dennabo, new complet and all, the baby was named Ngillane, not Kadiatou, and definitely not Barbara.  I was livid – not because I really wanted another tokara, but because I hated being lied to.  I found that I couldn’t get over it without a formal apology.  I had to ask for an apology several times before I finally got one, and until I got it, I couldn’t control my anger.  I looked at my lying sister and my blood boiled.

Now, a month later, I’m over it, and I’m not mad at all.  If I wouldn’t have gotten my apology, I still would have gotten over it by now.  Getting mad about the past does not change the present.  Telling people I’m mad at them just burns important bridges that I can’t traverse the village without.  I only have a handful of people I can work with here, and if I write off all of them, I’m out of a job. In year two, I’m going to make more of an effort to truly forgive and forget.  If I do get mad, I’m going to have to control my temper and fake it until I make it. Real people are messy, and if you want to have a relationship with a messy person, you have to accept them as they are.  You can either allow them to be fallible humans, or you can expect the perfection that will never come.

2) Truly green living.  I love that nothing (nothing) is wasted in village.  Those that know me well know how frugal I am, even in America – I’m the type that cuts the moldy bit off a piece of cheese and eats the rest regardless – so it’s no surprise that I love village frugality.  No food is ever thrown away here.  Leftovers (if there are any) are eaten by children as an afternoon snack, or, if all the kids are full, are eaten by a goat…or a dog…or a donkey.  All “garbage” here is recycled.  A discarded flip flop gets cut up to make wheels for a homemade racecar toy.  A plastic coke bottle is refilled with juice, which is sold, drank, and given back to the juice maker endlessly.  Breakfast sandwiches come wrapped in old Arabic newspapers, bought by the bundle in a nearby market.  Eggshells from the hard-boiled eggs sold by breakfast vendors are gobbled up by grateful goats.  Some volunteers throw their garbage in their latrines because it bothers them seeing their garbage show up all over village – not I, not I.  I love seeing my garbage get recycled. It sounds bad to say that kids play with garbage here, but they do, and it’s actually not bad.  Kids will have fun with anything they’re given. 

3) Disappointment is handled really well.  Every time someone talks about the future in my village, they say inchallah or si Allah jabbi – both mean “if God agrees”.  When I say I’ll do something, but then don’t actually do it, it’s not a problem.  If I say I’m going to be back in village on Tuesday, but then I hit some travel snags and can’t actually get back until Wednesday, no one gets mad at me.  If I tell a farmer that I’d love to help him with a live fencing project, but then get sidetracked by other work and never actually follow up on it, that’s fine.  Everyone understands that the future is uncertain and that sometimes things don’t work out.  I’m not blamed for being late to a meeting or for not calling when I said I would.  There’s a flip side, though.  When I drop the ball, I love that no one blames me.  When others drop the ball, however, it’s infuriating that they explain it away with a shrug.  I have had people ditch meetings that they promised they’d come to, then later I find out that they were just sitting drinking tea in their family’s compound all afternoon.  I’m getting better at differentiating between the “yes” that actually means “yes” and the “yes” that means “I have no intention of actually doing that, but I’m agreeing with you to end this conversation,” but I still get fooled every now and then.

4) Everything is jam tan.  I like that this culture doesn’t sweat the small stuff.  As long as you’re alive, everything is jam tan (Peace Only.)  No one stays mad for long, and everyone seems happy and grateful for what they have.  There’s a flipside to this one, too.  I called my brother yesterday for the first time since I left on vacation. 

“Hello!”
“Hello!”
“How is Teyel?”
“Peace only.”
“How is the family?”
“Peace only.”
“How is the heat?”
“Peace only.”
“How is √Ďankatan?”
“Peace only.”
*pause*
“√Ďankatan died.”
“He died?”
“Yes.  He died.”
“Oh.”
*pause*
"How is America?"
"Peace only."
 
My American brain would have liked my brother to call me immediately after my dog passed, to mourn with me and to say that he was very sad, to allow me to cry and feel my feelings – but the culture is to instead move on and insist that everything’s fine.  It sucks that my dog died…it REALLY sucks…but at least my family’s still OK.  The well still has water and everyone is still clothed and fed.  If you insist several times that you’re jam tan, if you actively count your blessings instead of your curses, you might start to believe you really are fortunate.

Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to everyone who has taken the time to hang out with me during my vacation.  I'm having a great time!

Love, Kadiatou