Expectations to Revelations

Samuel Normington - Senegal


November 12, 2013

Ignorance has a funny way of working itself into our lives until it is so tightly knit that the unraveling of it seems wrong and impossible. As do expectations, and the saying “expect the unexpected” doesn’t quite cover it all. The hardest thing is to prepare for the obvious, to be ready for something so simple and normal to make the biggest impact.

Before getting here I had accepted the fact that I would be disconnected from my world, I wouldn’t have WiFi any more than once a month and I would, for the most part, be utterly alone in a foreign world. I was excited and ready to embrace my freedom! Instead, I can very easily have connection to the internet with a 37 second walk. And as much as I had been looking forward to being able to escape the ‘modern’ world I realize now that even with easy access to WiFi I still am free of it. I feel no need to check my Twitter or Instagram, all I want to do is check email and Facebook from time to time to get updates but even that isn’t necessary, I always have access to snail mail!

I figured I would get unbelievably wrecked by the sun. False. I am either inside next to a fan or sitting in the shade during the hours that it is ferociously hot. And I don’t only do that because I am a foreigner, the locals don’t do anything from 1-4 except rest, cook, and eat. The early mornings and evenings are quite lovely to walk around in as well as play with the kids, although I have no idea where they store all of their energy.

Next up, the fact that I wouldn’t make a real significant difference. I visited Gueoul for a week in September and I spoke about 6 words of Wolof. So every day felt the same and I don’t particularly remember much of that week. I arrived again on October 6th and after 3 days I have not had a break, the kids somehow remember just about everything that I did during my week visit and beg me to do it again. The things seems rather trivial to me like making paper airplanes, secret handshakes, singing Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, playing football for 2 minutes at a time, playing ukulele for 4 minutes a day, taking a few pictures or pretending that I have forgotten the body parts in Wolof although I clearly displayed my mastery of their names less than 30 seconds ago. Exaggerated movements while doing the simplest things seem to make everyone laugh here, such as throwing my arms in the air and exclaiming “LOXOS!” (arms in Wolof). Everything I do is exciting and foreign to them – perhaps even more foreign then they are to me.

I cried tears of joy (ironically in Wolof to cry is Joyy) as I looked at the stars the other night, I wandered out the front gate of our compound for the first time during my stay here so far and saw how little lights there were. In the middle of my compound was a light that kept everything slightly illuminated. This hid the stars from me, they looked to be the same number as the number I could see in the States. Tonight I stepped into the shadows away from the light and was stunned. I found myself with my head locked backwards staring straight up, I didn’t know where to look. Everything was beautiful and although I know nothing about stars wherever I looked in the sky I knew that the stars were different from each other. And not from the little common sense I continue to hold on to or my minimal education, they somehow looked it. They were all individuals working together to form a masterful piece of art, a beautiful web of related things coming together to form the most magnificent thing in the world. Or out of this world to be precise.

I have never been very religious but a part of me has always longed to be. Here I hear “God is good” everyday and “Inch’allah” and “Alhamdulilah” are now common words in my vocabulary but does that change anything? Does my blind faith that the words coming out of my mouth are somehow more true while I live here than they ever were in the States. I find myself genuinely saying “Alhamdulilah!” when something good happens, and yet I still don’t pray everyday, or 5 times a day. Does my acceptance of God here make him more real in my life or am I an idiot for assuming that he likes me after I ignored him while I was in the States? Questions about spirituality swirl around me like never before.

I’m living in poverty. I guess to a certain extent I thought it would be worse… but I suppose I am with a family that is marginally better off than many other families. My father said the other day, “It is good, you come from the US, you live in poverty…” “noo…” I said. He continued, “JoJo was the same, she visited Gueoul in 1990 and now she loves it. She can now see many things. You will too, see many more things in the universe.” I was stunned, in America something like this experience is seen as a good experience similar to what he just described, but did he truly believe that it was a good thing? Shouldn’t he hate me then? If I waltz on over to his country because I’m rich enough to get a plane ticket, and then hang out here for 7 months so the rest of my life can be better? I had kept telling myself that I wasn’t here solely for my benefit, But was I? Whether I knew it when I decided to come here maybe I am not here for any other reasons than to unlock a whole new world for myself.

Nothing is as expected. I was expecting vast hardships that would take months to overcome and minutes to come to a wild new realization that would change my life for the better. Call it ignorance or stupidity, the point is that I was wrong. My thoughts have been obliterated. I get to start from scratch. I choose to check Facebook if I want to. I am not obliged to do so. I can do tiny things with my siblings that mean the world to them and change everything. They go through the monumental revelations that I so keenly anticipated. Seeing a picture of a boat sailing on the water, or a seal, or black people dancing at my school in the videos I have saved on my phone. They see an entire world that they had no chance to have seen before. I am the key, the doorway, the door, the portal to another universe. They are the key, the hinges, the door frame, the gateway, the passage to a new view on the world, I know what exists in the world from where I grew up and what I was introduced to throughout the years. Now I can see everything in a different light. I am a camera, whilst they are an equally important part, they are a different lens.

Samuel Normington