Have you ever seen the movie, “What to Expect when You’re Expecting”? Well if not, watch it. I love that movie, and if you are feeling extra generous today, feel free to send this film to Africa…but I digress.
There is a part of the movie where Jlo and her hubby fly to Africa looking glamorous in their clean fashionable clothes as they step out of a bush plane into the gune (bush) of Africa. It is a beautiful moment when they pick up their new African baby, clean and quiet. There is only one issue with this part of the movie. They totally forgot to add the part where they sit on a sweltering bus for 5 hours, enter the bush city where they proceed to get sandwiched onto an even hotter gelly gelly that proceeds farther into the bush on the “main road” which is actually a dirt highway fit to make anyone with a full bladder or explosive African diarrhea have an accident. Then, after an hour of off-roading, THEN they reached their destination where they can pick up their screaming, malnourished adopted child. Ok, maybe that was closer to my experience than Hollywood’s.
Let me clarify. This past week, I went to visit my permanent site. The one I’ll be living in for the next two years of my life. Sarahules are known for two things. One, we are the eating culture. God knew that I belonged in this culture…poor Camille on the other hand is not a grown man eater like me. We make fun of bird eaters like her (muahahah). For once I’m on the eating winning team. The second, more unfortunate aspect of Sarahule land is that they are placed deep in country. So, guess where I am living. Ding ding ding. Deep in country.
They call it the upper river region (URR). It’s got a pretty cool city called Basse, totally melting heat, a tight knit community of PCVs (I am quickly understanding why), and sweltering heat. Did I mention the heat?
Let’s just get the real talk right out of the way. My permanent site is going to take some getting used to. Try to imagine entering the African bush into a concrete jungle/maze of 5000 people and 300+ compounds. I couldn’t tell you which way is up or down at this point. It is absolutely huge compared to my training village.
Another change is my family. I’ll be living with 12 people, 6 of which are grown women, 1 man (my host father), and 5 young children. This dynamic is very different from my current family of a mom, dad, grandma, and children ranging from one year to older teens. Somehow, the “bush sarahule” as my language teacher calls it, is actually much different than the sarahule that I have been practicing. Wonderful.
Three days in my site was, to say nicely, overwhelming. I met so many people, fumbled through covlorsarions with prominent figures of the village, it was about 20 degrees hotter than up country (mind you we are moving into the “cold season”) and was asked more than once why my language skills were so poor compared to the previous volunteer. Well, because I’ve been here for a month.
Then came the self pity. I cried. Man did I cry. The first night that I was there I cried my first real cry since I’ve been here. Later on, I found out that I was not alone in this reaction. Who knows why I was having a melt down though. Was it the inability to understand 80% of the words said to me, the constant talk from the ENTIRE VILLAGE about their love for the previous volunteer and how wonderful at everything that she was, the first feeling of “isolation”, the reality that I will have to say goodbye to my training village family, the fact that I was PMSing and it was 10000 degrees? Take your pick.
Then, the three days were over and I could reflect. I am so dumb. Really. What was my real issue? My comfort. That was my issue. Let me rewind to the reality of my site visit. I traveled 6 hours into the country with a Gambian by the name of Isumaila Sidebeh who came to pick me up as a community representative and my first village friend. He was so happy to have me there and to be my guide. You know who else was happy that I was there? The whole village. Thirty plus women retrieved me from Isumaila’s compound that first day chanting my name, proceeding with drums, song, dance and hugs, parading me through the winding streets to my compound where my family graciously greeted this stranger into their home.
Oh, and my new home? It’s pretty sick. My hut is twice the size of the one I am in currently. The latrine has a little lounge area that is small but sufficiently lounge-able. In the middle of my compound we have a well. RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF MY COMPOUND! Laundry is about to get SO MUCH easier. Every meal from my family was delicious, and no offense to my current host family, but they fed me more than “corn sand water with fish essence”, the dish that I’ve been eating every day for a month and a half…not that I’m complaining…(yes I am. I can’t pretend that I like it, I’m human).
The village has an expanding school, a clinic, a soccer field, a community garden and a community that is passionate about becoming better and more progressive in almost every aspect of health, education, and agriculture. As for the constant referencing of the past volunteer? Am I so self centered? They were only showing their appreciation! The fact that they loved her so much should rev me up that they will also accept me with open arms! Not to mention that the URR is small, so my PC neighbors are a long bike ride ( I might as well take up BMX) or gelly gelly away, including Camille.
This is one of the hardest, most demanding things that I’ve ever done. The reality of living in a third world country hit me hard this past week, and I feel no shame in saying that. Not to mention the pressure of a village relying on me. I was born in America, but even the Gambians tell me how hard life is here. However, I have had many more good days than bad. The people are so very welcoming and the culture is beautiful. It’s important to acknowledge Africa as it is, not the Hollywood version, because this unique and earnest culture is really hungry for development and a better life. It is also good to acknowledge “the suck” that I may feel and the fact that this journey is going to be hard. Not every day will be perfect and I’m not going to pretend that my service here is.
This post is actually supposed to be encouraging, believe it or not. I swear. I promise I’m ok, you guys! My glorious site mate reminded me of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 as we reflected on the past week.
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. While we do not look at the things which are seen, but the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Yes. I do have the best site mate ever.
What is my comfort in the scheme of this journey? Hard days make us strong, and with each storm, God shines through and, without fail, gives me waves of peace and assurance. So I might be caked in dirt and sweat for the next two years? I have a feeling that it’ll be worth it.