Happiness and Indoor Plumbing

Allie Wallace - Senegal


January 9, 2013

A few weeks ago, as I was chopping onions with my adult host sister, she said something out of the blue that caught me by surprise.

“At the end of the month, we’re going to finish the house.”

“Wait, it’s not finished?” I asked, confused. Sure, the majority of the rooms are unpainted, the exterior is raw cinderblock and we don’t have the walled-in courtyard/patio area in front of the house that most of our neighbors have, but the family’s been living here. I just accepted the fact that our house was not as luxurious as some others and assumed that was that. But this is Senegal, and where construction starts and stops as money comes and goes, completion vs. livability of a house is not so black-and-white.

Fast forward to today. Just after breakfast, a troop of construction workers descended on the house. Some connected a hose to the spigot and began making bricks with sand and cement. Others came bearing plumbing and started chipping up concrete to put a showerhead in the outhouse (no more bucket showers for this kid!) There are toilet seats and a stainless steel sink sitting in the hallway, waiting to be installed. There are plans to make a courtyard, to get a more secure front door, to paint, to buy a table to eat and do homework at. And at the rate these guys are working, it’ll be a whole new house in no time.

Honestly, I’m glad these improvements weren’t here when I arrived. Right now, the family and I are like kids at Christmas, but if all these things were here before I was, I would have taken them all for granted. I learned to be content with my “unfinished” house, so my “finished” one will seem all the more grand in comparison. Even after the updates, this place won’t be as cushy as the typical American home, but when you’re used to running back and forth to the outdoor spigot while cooking, it’s amazing how lavish a simple kitchen sink feels.

Allie Wallace