Bridge Years are Actually Exactly like Guitar Hero

Delaney McKinley - Senegal


January 18, 2017

Have you ever played Guitar Hero?

I have, and I’m really bad at it. Really, really pathetically bad. Even on the easiest level, I somehow miss 98% of the beats and always find myself just a couple beats behind. My brother, the musical mastermind in the family, perfected every song within a month of having the game, and despite my fair understanding of music, Guitar Hero has yet to make sense to me. All you do is press buttons on a fake guitar. THAT’S IT. Why do I get so frustrated by this seemingly simple thing?

You may be wondering why I’m complaining about my lack of competency on this trivial task, but, after talking to a friend, I’ve realized that living abroad often brings the same frustration that Guitar Hero brought me. Always a few beats behind, often frustrated, and overall confused as to why this thing that so many other people can do, is so difficult for you. Even the character looking defeated at the end of the song, if you don’t do very well, is an accurate depiction of what life can be like.

Luckily for me, I’ve advanced past the novice level in living in Mboro, but I have still no where near mastered it. I chose to wait to write this blog post until I felt I was past the “I never have any clue what’s going on” phase, because I wanted this to shine a good light on my experience, which was not easy to do when I often found myself frustrated. I have gotten to the point where I am embracing the stumbles and the victories.

As many of you know, I spent a month in Senegal, and then was sent home due to some medical issues, and then I got to come back to Senegal! I have been back for a bit over a month, but I can already see how much has changed for me, even in such a short amount of time. Before leaving, I had only lived in Mboro for one week, which isn’t enough time to grasp more than a few concepts in a new culture. I thought it would be, though, so upon returning, when I still had no idea what was going on, I still found myself frustrated. I don’t think I could count the total number of cultural differences that I would get tripped by.

To name a few:

They speak a different language here. (Two languages, to be more accurate.)

It is completely acceptable for a lady selling vegetables at the market to tell you that you have a big booty. People here are very blunt.

It is also completely acceptable for men to propose to you. This is usually a joke, but still, it is a fairly intense difference.

People will yell “toubab, kaay!”, which pretty much translates to “white person, come here!”

If you go to another town, it is expected that you bring the family back a gift.

Never grab things with your left hand.

Some people will try to charge way more than the actual price, just because they assume that we’re tourists and don’t know any better.

We eat out of one bowl. I never realized how much I cherished having my own bowl.

There are probably hundreds more, but in the interest of not boring you with lists, I’ll move on. These all seem like things that would cause me to stumble only a little bit, but, when it’s one thing after another, I would become overwhelmed, and couldn’t catch up until the end of the day. Much like in Guitar Hero, where you would think that missing one beat wouldn’t matter, but soon, the snowball effect kicks in and you have no idea what part of the song you’re on anymore.

It wasn’t until Training Seminar 1, where I got to see all the other Senegal fellows, that I started being okay with not understanding as much as I thought I should. I thought I wasn’t understanding so many things because I was so behind after missing a month. It became a viscous cycle of not getting something, being frustrated, and then not getting the next thing because of my frustration. It was easy for me to look around at everyone else in my community and become mad at myself for being so behind. Of course they’re “better” at being part of the community than I am, they’ve been doing it their whole lives. When I realized other fellows were still missing beats, too, I also realized that I wasn’t just messing up because of my lack of skill, but rather because trying to learn so many new things at once is challenging, (much more challenging than Guitar Hero). I stopped getting frustrated, and I started learning so much more.

Maybe by the end of the year, I’ll have become more of an expert in the culture that I’ve lived in for the past 5 months, but, for now, I’m still learning, and I’m completely okay with that! I’m thrilled to still be learning.

You know the one thing that’s not always the same between Guitar Hero and bridge years? The defeated look on the character. I’m still terrible at so many things, but at the end of the day, I’m proud of myself for trying. I own my failures. My character would not be sulking, she’d be doing the dance that looks like she just made the Super Bowl winning touchdown.

I end my day feeling victorious, not defeated.

Delaney McKinley