My life here in Senegal has been full of extremes— extreme moments, people, and emotions— each battling to pull me over to their end of the spectrum.
When I ride my bike through town, people often yell “toubab, okan kado”— “white person, offer me a gift”— leaving me feeling a bit ostracized and agitated. Within a few minutes though, someone invariably shouts “Adama!”(my local name), or asks me if I’m spending my day in peace, or invites me to eat lunch with them.
I have moments of intense presentness when I forget about everything and everyone except for what’s happening right in front of me. And I have moments when I’m so absorbed in thought that I wouldn’t notice if a gorilla playing a saxophone walked by.
I was once walking to a nearby boutique to buy onions and seasoning packages to cook lunch when I heard the wails of a group of women crying and the beat of a popular Pulaar song. After following the sounds for a few minutes, I arrived at their sources: a funeral, and a few compounds over, a baby naming ceremony.
There are times when I talk to strangers and they compliment me on my Pulaar; they ask where I learned and call me a “real Pulaar person.” And there are times when I stumble on my words or misunderstand a question and they laugh and say I don’t speak Pulaar at all.
Sometimes when I walk into a family compound the toddlers immediately begin crying and run over to their mothers’ legs to hide from the big bad white person. Other times, the toddlers walk right up to me, excited to greet me with a handshake and smile.
The weather, too, plays out in high drama. Seasons seem to change over night. Water levels in wells dropped by multiple meters within days of the last rain, and Monday’s cool breezes became Wednesday’s puffs of hot air.
These contrasting experiences, though perhaps more noticeable or harsh here, are not unique to my time in Senegal. I’m sure my life, and yours, will continue to be full of them long after I leave here. If you were to zoom in on a line graph with an x-axis of time and a y-axis of happiness or meaningfulness or any other positive quality of human life, you’d see jagged spikes, or maybe swooping curves, with peaks pointing up and down. But what’s important is what you see when you zoom out. By embracing all aspects of every adventure, by living the extremes and then learning from them, you’ll hopefully see a line, however jagged or curvy it may be, on an upward trajectory.