Adjustment

Diego Ramos-Meyer - Senegal


May 19, 2015

I‰Ûªm sure every Fellow (that wasn‰Ûªt sleeping) can remember the presentation on Culture Shock‰ã¢ that Andy, team leader from Ecuador, gave one of the final days of Pre-Departure Training. A graph of the process of immersion on the board, an upside-down parabola. The honeymoon phase of cultural awe and giddiness, the slow but relentless awkward situations/mistakes leading to a descent into the rock bottom: ‰ÛÏI WANT TO GO HOME!‰Û You are home for the next 6 months, silly! But, on the right-hand side of that parabola, next to an arrow leading up to infinity, was the word Adjustment. (Cue the choir of angels). In my assurance of my adaptation skills, I assumed I would jump across the gap from honeymoon to Adjustment in a matter of weeks. That I would become a true Senegalese man, would love every aspect of the culture. Every group check-in at Dakar was filled with tales of tears, homesickness, or outrage at treatment of children/animals from the other fellows. But I remained confident I was fine, I was interacting with a brand new group of people, that they had simply been raised with different values but I would learn and become one with them. Now it‰Ûªs evening, I‰Ûªm sitting in a plastic chair in the sand facing my brother of a few hours and ten of his friends, absorbing an onslaught of loud noises and laughter aimed at me. I‰Ûªm used to being made fun of, but I usually understand the joke! It‰Ûªs my birthday, have a bounce in my step, am excited to share the news. I mention the importance of the day to family. They look unimpressed, ask me where my presents for them are. What?!?!? You guys got it all backwards! All of a sudden, I‰Ûªm surrounded by familiar voices, my parents! And high school friends are there, speaking a language I can understand, smiling. John Coltrane‰Ûªs sax is flowing through the room, we have grilled pork, and steak, and chicken, and mushrooms, and zucchini. We take our seats, I serve myself, cut a piece and right before tasting it‰Û_ BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Silence the alarm clock. Slide underneath the mosquito net, detach it from its creatively placed pegs. Stumble out of the steel front door after half-audible greetings to the family. Stroll past half a block of sand to buy the same breakfast as yesterday, and the day before, and the month before that. But soon the sounds start to take shape as words, actions and behavior become predictable, faces begin to have names associated with them. I understand my job, I know how to properly eat a bowl of thieboudiene (rice and fish), and these people who sleep in the rooms nearby take a semblance of family. Just asking my sister what time dinner will be took all of my patience and brainpower. But when those sentences, in a language completely foreign a short time before, roll out of my mouth in smooth Wolof, the satisfaction is unmatched by any stupid joke I can tell in English. In February, my lovely parents decided to visit me and get an idea of where I had spent the last 6 months of my life. The ability to handle hordes of aggressive Senegalese drivers to arrange taxi rides, order food, barter with locals at street-side stands for art, and be a (halfway-competent) guide for two weeks felt like the ultimate culmination of my growth and understanding of Wolof culture. As time progresses and the ups and downs of immersion dissolve into routine, daily life. The first few drops of ice-cold water on your head never becomes pleasant, but after a while you learn that the rest of the shower is better the faster you get wet. And sometimes getting soaked on a hot, dry, day in the Senegalese sand hits the spot. I can‰Ûªt make my skin as dark as my little brothers and sisters‰Ûª, I still can‰Ûªt understand everything my Wolof friends say to me, and after 2 months of no toilet paper I gave up and am doing the deed like my American forefathers. But now I can say that I have experienced a culture very unlike my own, and that I lived, ate, and breathed it until I lost the name Toubab, and earned the name Madicke.

Diego Ramos-Meyer