Monday, June 30, 2014

Life in Senegal, Four Years In

Summer in Senegal has officially arrived. Though it doesn't dip much below 70 degrees all year, this season is still quite distinct. The dry heat descends on Dakar, gusts of sand and dust dirty the floors, and too soon humidity infiltrates the air, mold sprouting in closets and cupboards. The trash on the side of the road, the unfinished construction, the peeling paint... it is all more arresting against this backdrop. Tropical storms will soon paralyze the city for hours at a time, muddy the roads, and bring chaos to poorly planned neighborhoods.

With the heat come unexplained power outages, unexpected water cuts, and too many cockroaches. It also makes it vey difficult to live without an air conditioned (#expatproblems... my version of #firstworldproblems). The upside? The ocean is warm and I'd be happy to spend all my days at the beach! And... that's about it. (Or, I can refer to this Top Ten list to comfort myself.)

Recently, I've been reflecting on life in Senegal almost four years in - August 10th will mark the official anniversary! Many people ask me if I see myself living here forever, and I'm not shy with my answer: No, I don't. But I do know I will have a lifelong connection to this country, visiting regularly and maybe returning to live here for some time later in life.

I think back on the days leading up to my first departure in 2008 after studying abroad for the semester; I sobbed uncontrollably for days on end while my host family looked on with a mixture of horror and curiosity. Convinced I would never return to Senegal, I was filled with such tangible despair. I wish I could adequately describe the depth of wholeness I felt in belonging somewhere outside of my own culture, and the fear I had of losing this connection.

Then I cringe at the thought that now I may be perceived as one of those weirdo expats who can only find her place as an outsider, as other, an outcast in her own country. I certainly don't feel that way about myself, but I have lived here for four years. Cue the identity crisis! I like to think I am just very adaptable - plus I was conditioned to be this way given that both my parents have been/are expats and my identity was split between continents from the very beginning.

Though my departure is by no means imminent, it is on our minds, a distant forecast, very (very) slowly approaching. I am one of those weirdos who embraces change; I live on planning the future, or my home decor ;) It panics me to think of all the parallel lives I am missing out on... living in a major American city in my twenties, exploring new European cities - Madrid, London, Paris (for a second try), or travel to other regions. There are so many lives I long to live!

Apparently, summertime in Senegal has a way of triggering reflection, wanderlust, and nostalgia, even for things I haven't experienced yet. It's a trend.

All this reflecting also had me thinking on cultural quirks in Senegal that still surprise me after four years. But given my inability to stay concise, I will share those tomorrow, lest this become a true novel!

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