30 September, 2012


I screamed an obscenity as loud as I could at the rolling field of peanuts and nothing spread out next to me.  A bit dramatic but it was a long time coming. I’d just flown sideways off my bike into some millet and prolonged exposure was starting to burn my arms and the space between my nose and upper lip, just those two places. I don’t know. My ear phone had gotten pulled out during the fall, my biggest pet peeve. It didn't matter, no music was playing anyway. Not since the Pantera album I was listening to had ended soon after I decided to back track instead of continue down an unfamiliar road. The reason I was biking down a road I knew was wrong is that if you keep going you’ll usually find somewhere. A village to ask directions at. I couldn't have been that far off but it seemed I was on the bush path to nowhere. Visions crept up of biking for 30 more minutes over that rocky, crevassed road only to end up at a big seasonal lake. Nowhere. The planted  fields were untended and transitioning into uncultivated land; only forest. This indicated that I was getting farther from where people are willing to go, and people travel several kilometers for available field space. The phone was dead, the water was finished; it was time to back track.

I knew I’d find my way eventually but I was sick of biking; the roads were awful from a rainy season of torrential down pours, which had seemingly ended abruptly. I truly hoped they hadn’t though, for the sake of a good harvest. And I did make it home. And it felt good. Brothers, sisters, and cousins welcomed me, chanted my name, announced my arrival, and I had just left that morning. After bathing and cleaning my many scrapes from the day, I chatted with my family. We sat in a circle and de-stemmed a medicinal plant, leydour, to be dried and sold. My host mother's call to gather around for dinner was very welcome, and familiar.

Chere with mboum sauce. A fine millet, corn, or sorghum ‘cous cous’ with peanut butter and green leaf sauce over top. This is the dish I equate with Home, as in my home here. It is the pasta and sauce to my real home in Brooklyn. My host mom’s chere is just like my dad’s sauce in that none other tastes the same, or as damn good.

I’ve had over a year here in Senegal. The mid-point of my service is coming up in November and instead of moving forward I feel as though I may have gone around in a circle. But I must have learned something right? Yeah, A LOT. I had to have achieved something and made a positive contribution, right? Well, yeah, I've fostered the learning of a few important things. Then why do I feel like I’m exactly where I started?

Upon arrival here as a Peace Corps trainee, and during my first few months of service, I purposely deconstructed myself and tried to rebuild as the ideal PCV. Fearless, constantly positive, approval seeking, proactively minded, an expert and an educator. I threw myself into various work projects to feel out my abilities and interests (a valuable and fulfilling way to start service). I've felt stressed, lonely, contented, achieved, useless, bored, thirsty, completely discouraged, and incredibly inspired (sometimes all at the same time). All of this for a year and I came out exactly the same person I started as. I still miss my family and people I love at home and still wonder if I should have left them, I still worry about doing a good job and feel under-appreciated here, and I still despise poverty and its causes and would like to build a life dedicated to the amending of social wrongs. I’m still the hopeful cynic I started as. People say Peace Corps service is life changing so I guess I thought it would change me noticeably, but I am happy that is hasn't. Just yet.

Many things are the same as they were in the beginning (i.e.: getting lost in the bush on my decrepit bicycle) and there’s still a lot to learn (i.e.: the rainy season roads to my village).  I don’t think I went in a circle though, but I didn't move straight forward either. I think I followed a path many things desire to follow, I went in a spiral. I followed around the curve so I may well be close to where I started, in mind set and attitude, but not for lack of progress. Simply for the natural path of growth.