Now that my service is coming to end, I want to share my lessons learned over the course of my 25 months in Senegal.
- Don’t minimize other people- Prior to arrival, I used to think I would need to bring a lot “things” from America. I brought my own pot, a pack of toothbrushes, several bottles of toothpaste, etc. Turns out, things are just slightly different here, but you can get all of those things. They sell Colgate, Oral B, and Aquafresh (yay globalization). People LIVE in Senegal and most of them never leave. They must have personal hygiene products too, I was just too condescending to see it.
- Small things make being faraway feel like home- coca cola is my favorite example. Though they don’t have Tim’s Cascade Jalepeno Chips, they do have coke, sprite, fanta, and minute maid. I would even argue it tastes better here since the sugar is real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. The ability to purchase a flavor and taste I recognize has helped me stay sane. (In fact, I’m drinking a sprite right now).
- American TV is scandalous- living life in a Muslim country, I’ve learned to cover my shoulders, knees, and head. The other day my siblings and I were watching High School Musical 2, which is set in the summer, and unfortunately that meant shorts, tank tops, swimsuits, and though my siblings didn’t care, I did. I have never felt so uncomfortable in being an American. This also extends to non-conventional relationships and sex scenes.
- I still live in excess- my whole life I’ve dealt with so much clutter. Most of it just sits in my room, waiting to be used. To be honest, most of it will get disturbed once a year when I’m looking for something else. How is it possible that I came here with 2 suitcases of stuff (mostly snacks), and I have accumulated a room full of books, notebooks, soap, medical supplies, dishware, clothes, and shoes? I am a consumer, and that’s what I do, consume, and I’m ashamed for it. I want to live more minimally, especially now knowing how little I need to live my everyday life.
- Listening is the most important skill I could ever learn in my life- I catch myself often thinking for others and trying to portray my ideas of right and wrong on other people. This is especially true when it comes to gender development. If I never listened, I would never understand more about why Senegalese people value what they value. How do I work in gender development without understanding the other side? I can’t. How do I successfully enact behavior change without understanding the root cause? This is how problems like the PlayPump happened. No one listened.
- Human bodies are adaptable- I remember thinking, what am I going to do about the heat? How will I sleep or endure sweating through the night? Guess what. I did. I endured it. I’m alive, and even though I sweat all day long and haven’t been dry in months, I don’t feel hot as often anymore. Some days are still insufferable, but others are just fine, even if I spend all day sweating. I also adapted Senegalese methods for staying cool, such as covering my head, showering multiple times a day, and dousing myself with water when I am working in the garden.
- Children need consistency, love, and attention- I disagree with a lot of parenting methods in Senegal, and in any culture it’s what drives the bad behavior in kids. Even though, most children are sweet, I’ve walked through the street and been slapped, hair pulled, and hit with bread by children. Those kids are rude. In Senegal, it’s common to see parents encourage their children to hit/bite whoever isn’t letting them do what they want. I have been bitten by 3 different kids multiple times and no parent has ever disciplined them. But also, in a house of 10 kids, they begin to feel neglected and they long for attention and love, so even taking an hour of my day to visit and hangout with them, I have created positive relationships for them with foreigners and that’s pretty special. In fact, they don’t even see me as a foreigner anymore.
- Not everything needs to be fast-paced like American culture. There’s something you often hear working in development, “africa time.” Right after arrival, we were advised that things move slower here, and we need to respect “africa time.” I have found this to be true, but I think it’s root cause is the climate, which has led people to be run-down and slow moving because it’s hard to maneuver life in 110 degree weather. Over time, that has become a cultural aspect and something we, foreigners call “africa time.” The true test of my patience with this concept is when I organize any event. Last week I had a goodbye party in my community and I told everyone 5pm. It wasn’t until 6:30pm that I had my first guest. I also had a guest show up at 7:30pm. At this point, I just laugh about it, they are just cultural differences.
- No matter where I go in the world, I will always still look like me. No matter the languages I learn to speak, I will always look Asian. On the surface, anywhere in Africa, I will always be a foreigner. In America, I will always carry my Chinese-American identity in my Asian body. By already not looking classically “American,” I can use my experiences to share in cultural exchange.
- There is no place like home. I don’t just mean broad America, I mean home where I grew up, where my family is, and the culture surrounding the PNW. Sharing values and views of the world with people that raised you, think like you, and shared life experiences with you is priceless. I can’t find that anywhere else, but at home. As I have gotten older, my family has become more important to me. I may sound like Belle from Beauty and the Beast, but I still want adventure. I want to continue learning and growing in my experiences of the world. There is such unique value to travel, but family will always be family.
So… that’s a wrap! It’s been bittersweet leaving my life here, but I am more than ready. I head home at the beginning of November, and I can’t wait to dance in the rain, eat fresh vegetables, and enjoy all things American.
Cheers to new chapters and life experiences. If you are curious about my life experiences post-Peace Corps, just send me a message using my comment boxes located around my page. Thanks for reading and I hoped I expanded your horizons and helped you live outside the bubble of your culture and your experiences!