Saturday, January 7, 2012

Adjusting All Over Again

After three incredible weeks in America, I’m back in Senegal.  I always seem to struggle with adjusting quickly to new environments, and this time was no different.  It takes me a while to move from one place to the next.

While sitting at the Dakar airport, waiting to begin my 30-hour journey home, I felt sad about leaving Senegal behind.  I was nervous about entering the US again since it really does feel like another world.  My first flight was from Dakar to Brussels, and as soon as I stepped off the plane, I saw a big green Starbucks sign, and a huge smile spread across my face.  I was back.  With 6 hours to kill at the airport, I sipped my soy latte and devoured a chocolate muffin as I watched movies on my laptop.  As the journey wore on, I started growing more and more excited to see my family on the other end.  In my final flight from Philadelphia to Seattle, I couldn’t wait to get there! 

As I took the escalator down to baggage claim, my mom, dad, grandma, and sister were waiting at the bottom with a balloon and flowers.  We all hugged for a long time, and it felt so amazing to actually see them in person.  As I walked into my house, I was greeted by my energetic dog, Joey, and my grandma had thai soup and fried rice waiting for me inside.   That night, I slept like a baby on what felt like the most comfortable mattress in the world.  After 10 months of sleeping on foam, I was in heaven. 

The first few days at home, I really felt the weight of the difference in cultures.  Walking into QFC, our local grocery store, I was confronted with so many options.  At one point, I stood in the middle of the produce section and thought about the little orange and banana sellers in the market in Kedougou.  I went with my mom to the pet store to get dog food, and I was amazed at the options: bison, venison, chicken, pork, turkey, beef.   These dogs were eating better than I do in my village!  People asked me if I felt guilty for all the excess we have in America, but honestly, guilt wasn’t the emotion I was feeling.  I don’t feel guilty that my villagers can’t buy Cheez-Its in Nafadji.  Although there are not as many options, the people in my village seem perfectly content.  I think it is because I grew up with so many choices that I miss things about the US.  I think living in Nafadji has made me realize how unnecessary many things I find at the supermarket are, but it doesn’t stop me from craving them every now and then.

After a few days, I was back in my old routine and felt completely at home.  I was going to yoga with my mom, running along my old route, watching movies with my family, and going out in the evenings with my friends.  It was so incredible to be able to spend time with all my friends and family again.  From taking a pole dancing class to going to a Korean bathhouse to dancing at my favorite club, my friends and I had some fun adventures over break.  I got used to feeling clean, wearing makeup, dressing in nice clothes, and upping my caffeine intake.  My body finally adjusted to the cold, and I was enjoying wearing my purple wool coat again.  Baking cookies, singing songs, cross-country skiing, drinking hot cocoa.  Being home for the holidays was magical, and I was not ready to go back to Senegal. 

My vacation passed too quickly, and I couldn’t imagine leaving everyone all over again.  After finally catching up with the people closest to me, I didn’t want to leave them for a year and a half.  Lots of tears were shed, and walking into the SeaTac airport to board a plane again made me unbearably sad.  I struggled a lot on my flights back to Dakar, because I wasn’t ready to come back yet.  I had adjusted to being home and didn’t want to readjust again.  It felt like waking up in the middle of a wonderful dream and not being able to fall back to sleep.  But deep down, I always knew I’d go back to Senegal.  Even when I kept saying over and over how much I wanted to stay at home, I knew I wouldn’t. 

I didn’t expect to feel as sad as I felt to leave home again.  I thought I had already gone through that and was done adjusting.  Maybe it was the sleep deprivation of my long flights and layovers, but I felt very emotional.  I didn’t know how to do it again.  Before coming home, I could look forward to my vacation when I had hard days, but now it was as though someone had hit the reset button and I had 16 months to wait.  On my flights, I was trying to stay as positive as I could and focus on the things I liked about Senegal, but I kept replaying the fun times I had had at home.  Luckily, I had been through this before and knew that time would make it easier.  As sad as I was, I knew that coming back was something I needed to do and that I would be happy again in Nafadji.

After arriving in Dakar, I felt the warmth as I got off the plane, and the long, chaotic lines at customs reminded me that I was back in the land of inefficiency.  Homesick and nostalgic, I’m just taking it day by day and setting small goals.  I’m in Dakar for a few more days and then will be headed to a conference in Thies.  In a week and a half, I’ll be headed back down to Kedougou.  I’m very excited to be back in my region, because it feels much homier than Dakar.  I’ll be coming back to Nafadji with lots of gifts for my friends and family, and I’m excited to give them the photo album I made them.  One thing that I’ve been looking forward to the past few weeks is seeing Sira.  Whenever I’ve been gone for a while and return to Nafadji, she runs up to me, jumps in my arms, and gives me a huge hug.  I can’t wait!

So while going through this emotional rollercoaster all over again, I asked myself whether or not it was worth it for me to have gone home for the holidays.  It feels like it was a setback since I feel so homesick now.  I’m still glad I did it though.  As hard as it was to come back, it was nice to catch up with friends and family.  I was amazed at how much can change in just 10 months.  When I come back in a year and a half, who knows what will be going on!  As we were driving to the airport and I was telling my mom how hard it was for me to leave, she pointed out that it’s going to be much harder for me to leave Nafadji next year.  I know I’ll be back to the US again, but after my time in Senegal, I’m not sure when I’ll be back again.  So I should enjoy my time in my village while I can!

With all the tears recently, I thought I’d share one of my favorite quotes:

"I would not exchange the laughter of my heart for the fortunes of the multitudes; nor would I be content with converting my tears, invited by my agonized self, into calm. It is my fervent hope that my whole life on this earth will ever be tears and laughter."
- Kahlil Gibran

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season!  For those of you I was able to spend time with over the holidays, it was so great to see you!  Keep in touch through email, because I love hearing from you!  Happy 2012!


  1. Wow. You really have touched us all at home and we miss you so much already. We share a lot of the same feelings as we shift back from hugs to only hearing your voice. But these posts always bring a smile and reassure us that you are one of those amazingly strong people who can put aside their own comforts to help make the world a better place.

  2. Once again, you've moved me with your words and I miss you so much. We love you and think of you every day. xoxox Mom

  3. I LOVE that quote and I think what you are doing is amazing. So few people choose to do what you are doing. You write about it beautifully. Chin up!

  4. I'm guessing (and hoping)that the bonds you made in Nafadji are so strong that you'll readjust quickly, especially when you see Sira! I am glad I was one of the lucky ones to spend a little time with you.

  5. You're so lucky to have parents who are so supportive and are there for you to give you a different perspective when you feel so drowned in your own. Your mom saying you're going to miss Nafadji when you leave was exactly right! I'm glad you had such a great time at home! I'm also so proud of the journey you are on and so inspired by your choices to be there! I hope you got that hug from Sira! xo Happy new year!

  6. Thanks everyone! It's gotten a lot easier to be back and I just got into Kedougou this morning. In a couple days I'll be headed back to Nafadji. I feel very lucky to have such an amazing support system back at home!

    And Anna, send me an update on what you've been up to! We haven't talked in forever! I hope you had a great time over the holidays!

  7. Hey Marielle--I read this post and loved it so much I read it over, aloud, to Anja, who had to reach for a hanky midway thru. It is a very true and moving entry. Thanks for sharing it. xox/Kevin