Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! As you know, I left Senegal two weeks ago, but this is my final blog post until our in-class celebration (!!!). I wanted to spend this week’s post reflecting on my semester as a whole, as a sort of goodbye to Senegal and Dakar. The first part of this post will be a longer piece of writing, and I’ll use the rest of the post to share some of my favorite photos from the last 5 months.
The day I left Dakar, I spent an hour doing a meditative reflection at my favorite spot overlooking the ocean. After sitting and thinking quietly to myself for the full 60 minutes, I focused my energy towards writing down what I thought would have a lasting impact on me once I return to the States. I don’t believe that one’s life has to be ‘changed’ for better or for worse after visiting another country, but I do believe that we are impacted and also impact upon the places we visit, regardless of how long we are there or what we are doing. Here are a few things from that list:
- Aesthetics. Beauty is an incredibly subjective thing – this means that what we as people decide is ‘beautiful’ is not only based on personal preference, but is also very affected by what we are taught to see as having value from things like our parents, the media (TV, advertisements, magazines), and the culture we live in. Some Senegalese ideals of what is considered beautiful, valuable, and desirable are different from those of what we might typically see in Oregon. Living in a culture where my skin tone, clothing, hair, mannerisms, and general way of living in the world are often different from those of the people around me helped me to have a wider perspective than what I have been taught to see as being ‘beautiful’.
- Patience. Senegalese culture, much like many other cultures around the world (e.g. Spain, where I currently am typing this), generally has a different concept of time than most places do in the U.S. What we might consider to be ‘late’, i.e. 15 to 30 minutes late, would not necessarily merit an apology in Dakar. This is not better or worse than cultures that generally stick to a tighter time schedule, but it is an adjustment for someone who is used to things happening on time. The time difference mixed with the struggle of speaking different languages, not knowing the transport systems well, and other unforeseen mishaps could turn what would be a half-hour meeting in Portland into a full-day affair in Dakar. Patience is a lovely virtue – when you have the ability (and flexibility in your schedule) to let things go and enjoy the ride, humor and charm can be found in places you wouldn’t normally expect.
- Sharing. As I mentioned in the food post, it was startling to me how much I had taken the concept of sharing things for granted until I spent time in Dakar! My experience in the U.S. has been that there is a constant feeling that there is ‘not enough to go around’; not enough money, food, time, things. This leads to a sense of urgency and the idea that if someone else has something, that means there is none left for you. This is so silly to me. I hope to bring the habit of always sharing my food, time, conversation, objects with other people when I can back with me to my life in Portland.
- Acknowledgement. At first, the constant greeting of everyone all day long felt exhausting to me in Senegal. I didn’t understand why it was necessary to say hello to someone you didn’t know very well, just to continue a conversation using the same questions and responses every time. What I came to understand for myself is that the importance was not always the content of the conversation, but rather the fact that you recognized another human being and acknowledged their presence in the space. Sometimes, people don’t need a long conversation about deep topics – they just need to feel seen and heard. Not everyone wants or needs to be recognized and acknowledged in the same ways, but the simple act of saying hello can go a long way in making a person feel appreciated.
- Humility. I know it’s cheesy, but I think that, (within the bound of reason), life is just too short to get hung up on feeling embarrassed. There were so many moments living in a foreign country where I said or did the wrong thing, inevitably ending in being laughed at by a local person who could so clearly see my cultural faux-pas (missteps). Don’t take yourself too seriously; never be too shy to dance.
Tomorrow is my last day abroad before getting on a plane back to the U.S. I’m sure that when I come in to visit, I’ll have a few more insights and reflections after experiences being back in the States. I’m feeling scared about coming home after being away for 10 months, especially for ‘reverse culture shock’ (the shock of experiencing your home country after living abroad) and for feeling overwhelmed with seeing so many people I have missed so much.
My biggest hope for this blog project was to inspire you all to think with a more open and curious mind about Senegal, West Africa, and Africa in general (which you have more than proved to me with your amazing country reports!), and to encourage you all to feel excited about travelling in your future. What language would you like to try and learn? Where do you most want to visit in the world? I want to hear everything.
I’ll save the thank yous and goodbyes for next week. For now, here’s a short highlight reel of my semester in Senegal. ❤
Ba ayubés bii di ñew, insh’allah! (See you next week, God willing!)