A lot of people told me that training was the hardest part, but they were wrong. Initially, I was in awe of being in Nafadji and had a feeling of euphoria experiencing everything new, and then reality hit hard. Yesterday was probably my hardest day mentally in Senegal so far. I realized that I’m truly in this tiny village for 2 years, and it’s terrifying. How do I do this? What am I doing here?
Being the only English speaker in a 20k radius feels very isolating. I have been feeling lonely, which is funny since I’m rarely alone here. During the day, I’m usually surrounded by people talking at me in Malinke. Unfortunately, I don’t feel any of these people can relate to me right now. Pictures from home fill the walls of my hut, and I miss home so much it hurts. Being in this village has also given me a lot more time to reflect and digest what I’m really doing. During training, I rarely had downtime, and there were always activities to occupy my thoughts. In Nafadji, my days have no structure to them, and I’m constantly surrounded by a language I haven’t mastered yet.
The no structure part of this job was appealing in theory, but since I can’t speak the language very well yet, it makes me feel useless a lot of the time. The goal for the first couple months at site is to integrate and get a better grasp on the language and culture of the village. I’ll also be doing a community based survey in a few weeks. So my job is to integrate…what does that mean? I sit under a tree near the forage a lot which enables me to greet most of the village as they walk by. I’ve helped my host sisters prepare meals, and I frequently help groups of women crack peanuts under a tree. Going from having my days very structured to this feels bizarre and unnatural. Yesterday I felt so frustrated with the language and with the feeling that I’m not accomplishing anything during the day. What I need to remember is that I can’t implement projects if I don’t understand how the community works and if I don’t have relationships with members of the community. Instead of thinking of the big picture of change, I need to shrink it and focus on daily goals. It’s a hard adjustment to make, but I’m trying to make sense of it.
Yesterday I let myself really feel the weight of this journey and of everything that has changed in my life. I left all my friends and family behind for 2 years to be here, and it feels really hard right now. The feeling of isolation and discomfort is incredibly challenging. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but I just hope living here gets easier with time. Sometimes I think I’m crazy for being here, and I guess you probably do have to be a little crazy to do the Peace Corps. It’s just hard to remember why I’m here when I’m sitting under a tree doing nothing, and I need to take things in smaller chunks with smaller goals to achieve for now.
It’s good to know that homesickness is universal though. My namesake, Aissata Dumbha, is my older host sister, and she lives in Spain with her family. The other day, my other host sisters were preparing millet for Aissata’s husband to bring back to Spain with him because Aissata missed having Mono (millet porridge) for breakfast. I laughed because Mono is the last thing I want to eat in the morning, and I would kill for my pumpkin granola and soy milk. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one missing home.
So it’s incredibly hard right now, and I’m looking forward to when I feel more comfortable and less homesick here. Sometimes I feel like I’m in some sort of social experiment. Drop an American in a hut in the middle of nowhere and see what happens. As frustrated as I feel right now, something in me still knows that this is where I’m supposed to be. This is supposed to be difficult. Right now, I’m breaking it down and taking it day by day. Dondin, dondin (little by little). It’ll be worth it in the end.