It’s incredible what one can get used to.
I woke up this morning to a baby cockroach crawling over my hand. While this wasn’t the ideal way to wake up, I barely reacted. I was honestly more concerned that the power had just gone out so I no longer had a fan blowing on me. In contrast, when I was living in San Diego a little over a year ago, my apartment had a brief, small-scale cockroach infestation and as a result I was too scared to to go anywhere near the kitchen at night.
A couple of weeks ago, I was taking a mini car (a small bus) to Velingara which is the nearest ‘big’ city (about 40,000 people). Despite the fact that Velingara is only 30k from my site, it usually takes over an hour to get there. Partly because the road is about equal parts road and potholes (at some points chauffeurs choose to drive off-road because it is easier than trying to dodge all the potholes) and also because mini cars are never considered full until there are people sitting on the roof and hanging off the back, so they stop at every town along the way to pick more people up. This particular day, there was a storm brewing. I myself probably wouldn’t have been out if I hadn’t had meeting to go to in Velingara. When the rain started, we just pulled over and waited out the worst of it, lasting probably an hour and a half or so. My former American self probably would have been confused by this (“Why are we stopping? Why can’t we drive through the rain? Will I be late for my meeting?”) But I’ve been here long enough to know that questions like these rarely get satisfactory answers in Senegal. So I just leaned my head against the window and closed my eyes for a little.
Almost 8 months ago, when I was scouring the internet for last minute insights into Peace Corps Senegal, I remember a common warning being that people don’t use toilet paper in Senegal. “You wipe with your… hand?” I remember thinking, nervously. But now, it seems silly to me that I ever really worried about that.
These are the types of things – bugs, unpredictable transportation, lack of Western amenities – that many people think will be hard about the Peace Corps. And yes, there was definitely an adjustment period. But for me, the real challenges are not so tangible. I have gotten used to sharing space with a wide variety of bugs, waiting endless hours for public transportation, and the fact that my toilet is a hole in the ground. But will I ever get used to feeling guilty about my privileged position in this world? Or to feeling disconnected from people at home, in terms of distance, perspective, and experience? Or to the idea that after living in Senegal for over two years and building such strong relationships with people here I will go home and not know if or when I will ever return?
And of course, there are inevitable questions about the future. I’ve often heard people say that the adjustment back to American culture is harder than the initial adjustment to Senegal was. The States can be a lonely place. Will I be able to adjust to not spending several hours day just sitting, talking , and sharing tea with family? Will I be offended when people don’t acknowledge my presence or greet me? Will it be hard to not sit outside under a stunning sky full of stars every night?
I know that the answer to all these questions is yes. I feel fortunate that the Senegalese lifestyle is slow enough to allow lots of time for reflection. Hopefully, I can make peace with all of these adjustments, seeda seeda (little by little).