One practice that fellows are encouraged to adopt on their bridge year is one of gratitude. Each day, writing down three moments we’ve found gratitude, training our brains to scan the world for positives. It’s a practice that I’ve really latched on to, and grown to love: especially in the difficult first few months of my homestay.
My gratitudes range—an especially delicious bowl of nanketan, a cool breeze while I’m working in the fields, understanding a full (albeit simple) exchange in Pulaar, a kind stranger helping me draw water from the well. Every week, it’s gotten easier to find gratitudes each day. But since the very beginning of my time in Segou, what has consistently dominated my daily list of gratitudes, and never failed to make me happy to be here, are my physical surroundings.
My home in the United States is beautiful, but in a very quiet way—only really breathtaking if you know the right trails to take you to the right views. But here, I don’t have to go further than my bathroom to be amazed by the beauty of my temporary home: the striking red cliffs in the mountain adjacent to my village, the grand baobab trees, the lush, overflowing greens of the rainy season which have since dried, becoming beautiful yellow grasslands. I am consistently in awe of where I am: the dusty red roads in contrast with the blue sky, palm trees silhouetted by remarkable sunsets. It’s almost surreal– often, I feel as if I’m living inside a nature documentary or a picture in a textbook.
I’m privileged enough that throughout my life I’ve had (and will continue to have) plenty of opportunities to witness instances of breathtaking beauty like this— vacations and travels to national parks, the seashore, little pieces of my beautiful country and planet. But all that is in mostly in passing, never spending much more than a week in any one place. There is always a sense of urgency on those trips, to see as much as possible, soaking it up with the understanding that I will be leaving shortly, and am unlikely to return anytime soon (if at all).
But now, I have the opportunity to really settle into my surroundings, to savor them. It’s such a strange and wonderful blessing to perform all the banal tasks of daily life while surrounded by such dramatic beauty. Ordinary things like eating lunch, washing my hair, biking to a friend’s house, or walking to work have become extraordinary. On a bad day, they are enough to renew my excitement and love for the path I’ve taken—a blessing bigger than I could’ve ever asked for.