Thursday, May 14, 2009

One of those weird Senegal moments.

The title of this blog post is a little on the vague side, but you might not even be aware of that yet. After all, lots of weird things have happened to me in Senegal. This very afternoon, as I was sitting here typing today's previous blog entry, there was a knock at the door of the Kaolack regional house. Believe it or not, the Jehovah's Witnesses were calling for us. Seriously. They made it all the way to Senegal. Here were these Senegalese men and women, neatly dressed in an awkward mixture of western and traditional clothing, knocking discreetly at the door. No bikes or suits here, but the general feeling came through. Strange, indeed.

Anyway, that's not really the moment I'm referring to. A few days ago, when I was a week and a half into my first village stint, I was agitated, unhappy, and nervous. I had trouble settling down to one task or activity: I sat down with a neighbor to chat, and then left. I went to pick around the edges of the pepiniere, since there's always work to be done with dirt. No dice. I took a bucket bath, and it was totally unsatisfying. The sun was sinking and the day was almost over, and I was still bouncing around from one corner of my hut to the other, from one part of my family compound to another. As I sat in the kitchen hut, watching dinner being prepared ("Aissa's cooking dinner!" "No, I'm just watching." "Hooray, Aissa's cooking dinner!!" "Mmm hmmm."), I had a definitive moment of anguish, a final crescendo and crash. I thought suddenly of all the work ahead, all the daunting tasks, whether small (the weekly market in Guinguineo) or large (the preparation to be done against the threat of the oncoming rainy season and the inevitable presence of malaria-bearing mosquitoes). How, I wondered desperately, was I ever going to get all this done, or even manage to get out of bed on any given morning, when I was so far away from everything I love? My friends and family, the familiar scenes and situations, all of it seemed infinitely remote. How could I ever conjure up the strength, the courage, the guts to get the job done?

What could I do? I didn't have enough phone credit left to call or send a text message to anyone in the States for reassurance, and even if I had there was no guarantee that it would go through. I could try talking about it to my new adoptive family, but this thought only made me a little crazier because I realized the extent to which my Wolof is still limited: I can say I like something or someone or some place, I can that say something tastes good, and I can say that my stomach hurts. But I didn't know how to say "I love" in Wolof.

Within a minute of asking myself the question -- how will I ever have the strength to do this, when I am so far from what I love? -- I had the answer. I was sitting there in the hot, cramped hut that serves as kitchen in my compound, between an open fire with a heavy pot on it and a woman I had known for days, who was busily chopping onions in her hand. Outside my host-brother was coming in from a day in the fields, the youngest children were playing with whatever make-shift toys they had managed to find (bottle caps, sticks, bits of plastic from God knows where), and my host-mom watched passively. I could barely talk with any of these people, my new "family," or anyone in the village for that matter, my new "home." But I realized suddenly that this whole being-a-Volunteer thing was going to work because I was going to find love here. Senegal, this village of Ndiago, is going to break my heart. These men and women, now strangers, are going to become the center of my life. I will want to teach, to help, to protect them all. When I can pull it off, it'll feel great. And when I can't, it'll tear me apart inside.

The moment I realized this, I was calmed. Now that I know what's ahead, I can face it. It's not going to be pretty, but it's going to be all right.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful and wise thoughts, Jessie. When I told a world-traveling colleague about your adventure he said, "She'll never forget it."