I was sitting on our roof the other day, thinking about all that has become normal and home to me. My daily soundtrack has become the sounds of chanting over the mosque speakers amid the incessant bleating of goats, bahing of sheep, crying of children, and scolding of mothers. We sleep on our roof under a mosquite net, locking the kitchen door nightly to keep the cats from clambering in. Every morning we eat with Salamata who makes Paul an omelette sandwich and me a bean and mayonnaise sandwich. I hold her chubby infant son Samba, Paul’s namesake, who is swaddled in so many layers that he can’t move; Paul makes fish faces at him as he giggles, his cheeks widening to reveal gums without teeth. We eat lunch each day with Fati, a wonderful woman originally from the Casamance region of Senegal with a slight insomnia problem. She learned Pulaar after moving here, now speaking somewhere near 4 languages: Diola, Wolof, French, and Pulaar.
I’m trying to think about how it will be to move back to the States. Paul and I had our COS (close-of-service) conference in January where we said good-bye to many friends who live in southern Senegal. Our COS date has been set for the 25th of March, a date that is not far away. We’re trying to tie-up projects and learning to say good-bye to Senegal. I’m not trying to romanticize this experience. But I love that strangers let me pick up their babies, that I can catch a ride out of town anywhere along the road by hitch-hiking, that strangers invite me to share their lunch and tea, and that I can joke with anyone about eating beans and life.
I don’t want to romanticize this experience; there is little romantic about it. I sometimes forget that the smell of burning trash lingers daily in the air; I walk through thorny sand littered with cow dung and the legs of goats hacked off, dragged from the butcher near my house. The wife of the sandwich seller is in a small dark concrete room, pulling rags over her two children to protect them from the coldest months of Senegal. Talibe, who are clearly malnourished, stand outside our breakfast stand, waiting for me to hand them the last third of my sandwich and hoping today will be a day when they bring back enough money to their marabout to escape a beating. The children taunt us, throwing rocks at our front door when we refuse to answer. I have been tested to the edge of what I know as patience, choosing which situations are worth fighting over and which ones aren’t. I have learned more about my gender and racial identity in this country, where some people mimic karate and yell “ching-chong” at me or laugh when I ask if they think a woman could be president.
I am not romanticizing Senegal, but I do know that I will miss it. I will miss the friendships I have formed, especially those with fellow PCVs. I will miss the daily joking around with people, the sounds of Pulaar, the babies who smell so fresh with baby powder. I will miss greeting my neighbors, repeatedly saying “peace only”, I will miss the woman who sits selling eggs at the croissement of the route nationale and giggles as she tells me that “a blanket is enough only to warm one ear, but a husband can warm both ears”.
This experience is one that I cannot put fully into words. I’m trying to digest it and package it into a succinct slice for people at home. All I know is that I do not want to forget what I have learned here about life, people, development, myself, my marriage, success and failure. I hope that my life here translates into an understanding that I carry home with me.