November 9th, 2014
Before embarking on this bridge year, I was excited to live in a different country and immerse myself in a different culture. These were reasonably simple steps to take… I just hadn’t realized what a world of learning I was opening myself up to.
I thought culture is lettoo (getting my hair braided) for Tabaski. In the process, I experienced the womenfolk’s aversion to having my hair braided and learned that Senegalese women are willing to spend over USD 200 for a wig of natural hair like mine! I started to discover Senegalese aesthetic ideals.
I thought culture is being able to speak Wolof. In the process, I learned that in the Wolof language, there is no word for “sad”, reflecting a society that sees no necessity in such a word. Instead, I learned the importance they hold in a word like massa which loosely translates to “I feel with you.” I started to better understand the adaptations Senegalese have made over time in their attitude towards life.
I thought culture is ceebu jen (rice and fish), yassa (rice and onion sauce) and mafé (rice and peanut sauce). In the process, I experienced what it means to eat sitting around a bowl, aware of my interconnection with the people around me, sensitive to the give-and-take of each other’s needs and wants. I started to discover the Senegalese nature of family and communal living.
I thought culture was the language spoken, the clothes worn, the food eaten, and the festivities celebrated. Now I’m realizing culture is an essence, a manifestation of societal philosophical ideals in all aspects of life. Culture is after-effects of the past and dreams of the future fusing into a present, crackling with vitality that needs to be felt by every fibre of the being.
I have wondered why I’m investing this year so far away from home, when there is so much of Malaysia I have yet to fully grasp, and so many ways I want to contribute to my community.
Would you believe me if I told you I’m growing attached to Senegalese culture with only deepening appreciation for every other culture that has impacted me at some point in my life?
Here’s the thing: Boundaries are overrated. Labels are even more ridiculous.
Why do we need to confine ourselves to being an introvert or an extrovert, artistic or not, leader or follower, calm or crazy, masculine or feminine?
I’m embracing the big picture and the little details, the tangible and the intangible, the conscious and the subconscious, the grey area, the ironies, and the idiosyncrasies. I’m embracing my capacity to feel motivated, frustrated, contented, homesick, grateful, and amazed all at the same time.
This may be the most inconclusive piece of writing I’ve ever produced, but it is a celebration of the realizations that have unleashed a waterfall of questions. And this is what I’m compelled to leave you with: We are a part of a phenomenon that is happening and is incredible, if we have the courage to accept its immensity and complexity, and then celebrate it.