Saturday, February 26, 2011


Well, here I am, back in Senegal. It's been a wild few days. I spent about a week and a half in Los Angeles helping my mom move, eating Mexican food, and listening to Car Talk every morning. Not bad, I'd say. I'm a little zonked from unpacking and moving, but my mom had it much worse than I did.

I came back here just in time for the annual West African Invitational Softball Tournament, appropriately abbreviated to WAIST. If you missed my description of the tournament last year, you can find it here. Just be warned, I was going through this phase of not feeling happy with American comfort culture, and if you're an ex-pat living in Dakar, there's a good chance I will have accidentally insulted you in that post. I'm sorry.

Once WAIST was over, it was time for our Close of Service Conference. That's right, sports fans. The Spring Stage of 2009 has been here for two years, and it's time for some of us to go home. This conference was about making the transition back to American life, going to job interviews, stuff like that. Since I had already made the decision to stay in Senegal for a third year, I zoned out for parts of it. But being reunited with the group of people I came to country with two years ago was fun, and talking to them about their plans made me realize that the Peace Corps Volunteers I've met here are some of the most amazing individuals I know. If I don't get my act together, I'll probably be working for one of them some day. But you know what? That wouldn't be so bad.

Anyway, as usual, I started out by talking about something other than what I actually want to talk about.

I went home to LA to help out my mom. It wasn't an easy decision. There's a lot on my plate just now. On top of the work stuff, I'm also transitioning into my third-year role and saying goodbye to my village and host family, which is turning out to be much more difficult than I anticipated. But for some reason, it seemed like a decision I had to make. I was exactly where I had to be, doing exactly what I had to be doing.

What confused me, though, was that when another family situation came up at the very beginning of my time here in Senegal, I elected not to go home. Peace Corps would have put me on the first plane out, but I decided to stay. Just in case you're not already uncomfortable with how personal this blog post is getting, here's a post about that day. I felt at that time like I had to wake up every morning and make the commitment to Senegal and Peace Corps work again, and that every night I would go to bed not knowing whether I'd be ready to recommit the next morning. Now, I can commit to not just another day, but a whole year. In fact, I feel like these past two years and this next one have shaped the path I'll be taking for the rest of my life.

Something in me has changed these last two years. I guess I knew this much would happen when I signed up for this ridiculous adventure, but now I'm beginning to figure it out much more precisely. Two years ago, I stayed in Senegal when I should have gone home to my family. Two weeks ago, I went home to my family. I think I know why.

If you've read my blog before, you know I love the way family works here in Senegal. Everyone in my village is related to everyone else, usually literally, but at the very least through some sort of economic or social arrangement. There's no such thing as isolation, because to isolate yourself would be to die. We have so little here that everything must be shared. There is so much work to be done simply to keep us all alive that everyone must lend a hand. Every time, as is the custom here, you greet an acquaintance with their first and last names, every time you ask after their family members, every time you ask how their fields are doing, you are in fact affirming a vital connection with that person, and through them with an entire community that extends far beyond the borders of the village. I guess this is sort of a greatest hits type of post, because I want to point you to this post if you're interested in reading more about family and interconnectedness in Senegal. Ugh, when did I get so self-referential? But seriously, I don't know if I could say it better than I already did in that post.

After living here for two years, my concept of family has been redefined. I'm not even really talking about my family in particular here. It's not just about my mom and my dad. It's about who you need. It's about who you always have to say yes to, even if you don't feel ready or are scared about what saying yes means. It's about my fellow Volunteers -- the work, the parties, the shared experiences. It's about my friends back home, and how I used to wish I could carry pocket-sized versions of them around with me. It's about a network of people who, in spite of what I feared when I came here, I can never really lose.

I wish I had learned this years ago, but I'm thankful I get it now. And I'm pretty sure that coming all the way out here to this tiny village in Senegal was the only way I could figure it out. I left my family and came here to find a new one. I was looking for comrades, for people who cared about the same type of work that I did, people who wanted adventure and challenges and who never felt comfortable with Good Enough. Our reach may always exceed our grasp, but we will never, ever stop reaching. What I found was what my real family -- those related to me in the States, the people here in this village in Senegal whom I have come to love, and even my friends on both sides of the ocean -- means to me. It's everything.

The sentiment is the opposite of something Eve says to Adam in Book XII of Paradise Lost as they prepare to leave the Garden of Eden:

"...but now lead on;
In me
is no delay; without thee here to stay,
Is to go hence unwilling; thou to me

Art all things under Heaven
, all places thou...."

It's lines 614 to 617, just in case you're one of those people.

She's saying to Adam, you, to me, are all places. Eve doesn't need Paradise, she needs Adam. For me, I guess it's the opposite. In all places, I find you, a family. My family. I just didn't know it until I came here. Which I guess means I'm home, and always will be, no matter where I find myself.

Love, and more love, and guts,



  1. Nice post. It was great to see you in Pasadena. "Wherever you go, there you are."

  2. A pleasure and joy to see you in your mom's new digs. I continue to be impressed by your insights and the breadth of your compassion.

    Be well throughout Year Three!

  3. All that self-referencing is just preparing you for a future in academia.

  4. How lucky you are to have the ability to put such quality thoughts into words---so the rest of us can let them sink into our bone;. Have a great third year.

    Al Perrin (a friend of your Mom's)