So, I’ve made my triumphant return to Senegal after two and a half weeks of vacation and was welcomed back with not one, but four care packages from you all, my faithful readers. It appears my “one-year slump” post worked wonders. I appreciate the packages as well as all the kind words I received in response to my post. Your support means the world to me and I can’t even begin to express how far it goes in helping lift me up when I’m having a rough moment, day, or even week. After being away for so long, sometimes it’s hard for me to picture my life in the States, but it’s so comforting to know that those I left behind are still thinking of me.
And now, the obligatory vacation post (complete with pictures, of course). I had a whirlwind of a vacation where I visited several places in Turkey and hopped over to a Greek island for a few days as well. In some ways, vacation was what I expected — it was nice to escape the heat for a while, to eat something besides rice for every meal, to take hot showers and a much-needed break from the frustrations of working in Senegal — but in other ways I was surprised at my own feelings. I missed Senegal more than I thought I would, and despite the definite increase in my standard of living, found myself realizing that there are many things in Senegal that, having lived here for so long, I now take for granted.
But first, the fun stuff. I was traveling with my good friend Lexi and we also met up with some other Senegal PCVs along the way. We spent several days in Istanbul, which was quite the impressive city. At over 14 million people, it’s the largest city I’ve ever been to and brought with it a good amount culture shock after over a year in the West African bush. Playgrounds, strollers, and parks would catch my attention a lot, for example. The old mosques and palaces were stunning, and just walking around the city proved to be quite the cultural experience. It’s the only city that spans two continents, and it was fascinating to see the European and Asian influences.
After Istanbul, we traveled to Pamukkale, which means “cotton castle” in Turkish. If you look at the pictures, you can see why. This place was unreal. You can walk up the travertines (which were formed by minerals in the flowing water) to the top where there are hot springs as well as ancient ruins and some picturesque views.
Next, we went to Oludeniz, which is a beach town that was a bit too touristy for our liking. However, we spent our time hiking a portion of the Lycian Way, which is a 540 kilometer path along the coast. It was absolutely beautiful.
Finally we went down to Bodrum, which is another beach town in the far south of Turkey where we caught a ferry to the Greek island of Kos. We spent a few relaxing days in Kos visiting more hot springs, vineyards, and beaches. Then it was back to Istanbul for our flight to Dakar.
Like I mentioned, there was a lot the surprised me about this trip. Most of all was my homesickness — for both of my current homes. Ever since I came to Senegal, I have wondered why I haven’t been more homesick for the States. I realized on this trip that it’s because Senegal and the States are so completely different — there’s not many reminders of my former life. But in Turkey, there were a lot. Even the sight of a strip mall or a Burger King was likely to give me a pang of nostalgia, despite the fact that neither of those are things I enjoy.
But perhaps even more surprising was my missing Senegal. In some ways I think it took leaving for me to realize how completely comfortable I am here. I take for granted how much I now know about this country. I can navigate public transportation with ease, I understand the culture, I know how much things should cost, I know how to ask people if they speak Pulaar in three different languages (and if it turns out they don’t, usually they’ll find me someone that does).
All in all, I lead a pretty charmed life here in Senegal. I’m paid enough that I never have to worry about running out of money (unless I take too many Dakar trips). I was given enough cultural and language training that I can comfortably navigate life here. And Senegalese terranga (hospitality) is perhaps the defining aspect of this culture. Being exposed to a foreign, more expensive, and less overtly friendly culture made me more grateful for what I have. After two and a half weeks, I was so ready to come back. That’s a beautiful thing, don’t you think?