journal entry #004 – crappy month does not equal crappy experience

“Perhaps the ache of homesickness was a fair price to pay for having so many good people in her life.” – Becky Chambers, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

As the sunlight gleams through my metal bedroom window, I lay under my mosquito net and listen to the life outside of it. I come to the realization that anyone who thinks that the countryside is quite, has never lived in it. The sound of crickets and unidentifiable buzzing is enough to drive a person to insanity. I feel my body sink further into my foam mattress, my back hitting the wood supporting my weight and unexpected waves of both anger and sadness wash over me. I want to go home. I reach out for Yeti, the stuffed monster I told myself I didn’t need but ended up grabbing on my way out of the house back in August, and press his soft belly as hard as I can into my face. Holding my breath until I couldn’t anymore, a muffled scream is released, I allow myself to feel the vibrations ripple through my being. All the pent up frustration that I thought I had gotten rid of when I scribbled them into my journal come out. Almost instantly, I sense it in my bones; October was going to be awful. Spoiler alert: it was terrible.

I read on a past fellow’s blog that October was going to be the worse month while abroad and I believe it. There is no way that I can get any lower than what I was in October or maybe I can, I always seem surprise myself. Hope not though, I wouldn’t be able to stand myself for the next five months if the sadness that reclaimed it’s old home in my chest stayed there for any longer. I’m working on getting a lawyer to evict the little squatter and his friend, Loneliness. They both gotta go.

Allowing myself to feel homesickness was like opening Pandora’s Box. The unquenchable yearning of wanting to return home was too big, too loud to ignore. Let me say it again, October was terrible, point blank period. In October, I found myself staying up all night, waiting for when it would be the appropriate time to call my friends. Not caring how much it would cost me, just wanting to hear their voices in a form that wasn’t the same videos I had watched over, and over, and over. Wanting to know that the people I was missing weren’t fragments of my imagination, as bizarre as that sounds, I wanted to know that they were real, and they are. I am so blessed and lucky to have found some of the most supporting group of people anyone could have every asked for, I don’t deserve them. 

I think, part of what made October so hard, was the fact that program launch was over. We entered Training Block 1 and would lack the safety net of ‘catch and release’. Not having that any more, or as consistently, forces me to come face to face with the person that I am outside of all of the distractions, outside of the “Going, going” mentality that I have. I’m resisting my own growth for the sake of my own comfort. I am no longer dipped in honey like I am back home, rather I am covered in sand and am exposed to my own sobering humanity. I am, in a way, forced to deal with myself in a way that I haven’t had to before and I don’t know how to go about that and until very recently, wasn’t willing to learn how to deal with it. I’ve always turned my pain and experiences into art, into something worthwhile, into something beautiful. Here, they don’t want to be beautiful. Here, they are gritty and rough around the edges and unpolished. There isn’t always beauty in pain or beauty in growing. Growing is painful, growing is dirty work, growing means trying to burry yourself even though you know you’re a seed. Knowing that you will sprout from even the darkest places in your heart and accepting that as truth.
As always, I promise things aren’t as bad as I sometimes make them seem. My melodramatic habits die hard, I’m a woman who lives in extremes, what can I say? I really, really love Senegal. To prove it, here are three things I’m grateful for (a nifty little habit I started at Global Launch when I decided that my journal and I were going to be best buddies this year).

1. The community bowl.
I don’t come from an environment were my family all sits down to have dinner together, we’re all far too busy for that. So, it’s a nice change of pace to know that every day, at around the same time, not only will I be having a meal with my family, but we’ll all be eating out of the same bowl. My handling has gotten better and while I still can’t make perfect balls of food, I’ve figured out a method of getting the rice to stick together and get most of it in my mouth. I no longer leave the bowl when I’m frustrated from not being able to get food in my mouth but rather when my belly is full.

2. My siblings and cousins.
Back home, I am dead smack in the middle of two boys; my brother Jorge, who is eight years my senior and Julian, who is eight years my junior. Here, I am… older but not the oldest. I have two older sister, three younger sisters, the youngest of the bunch, my little brother Adam (who is the same age as Julian, iconic, really) and then an uncountable amount of younger cousins who live and play on my compound. I learn so much from them and they’re super patient with me and I am eternally grateful for them and their love. I knew they loved me when I came back from a day trip from Thiès and was met with screams of “Coumba! Coumba!”, “Mi doro keenda!” (I missed you!) and “Lepito, lepito!!” (Up, up!) and little arms wrapping around my legs.

3.  Caroline (Program Intern / Almuni / Mama Duck / Coolest Bean)
I was searching the gratitude sections of my journal for things to write about, I realized that Caroline’s shown up a few times since getting to here, so I guess I must feel grateful for her, huh? Caroline kinda feels like that older sister that watches you have a meltdown, and instead of telling you to suck it up, she helps you unpack your feelings in the most subtle way that you don’t even realize she’s doing it. Her timing is impeccable. It’s hard to find people like that. Not speaking from experience or anything. She also give the absolute best hugs, is hysterical and incredibly easy to talk to. I’m really, really glad she’s here with us and she makes Senegal feel good and in some weird way, safe. I wish she could stay forever. I should tell her how much I love and appreciate her more often. I’ll make a note of it.

Again, promise, despite what I may say on the phone, I’m not on the brink of flying home. Matter of fact, I think I appreciate home more because of all this, appreciate the people I call home more and am coming to terms that being homesick is just the price to pay for having a really, really good life back home. A life that didn’t seem all that good while I was there. I guess it’s true what they say about not knowing what you have until you don’t have it anymore.

Siempre Tuya, 
Stephanie Sánchez-Aguilar

P.S I don’t think I ever mentioned it before this… but Coumba is my Senegalese name. 

P.P.S I know this was more of a ramble and a little all over the place but I promised myself that I would keep these entries as honest as possible and honesty doesn’t always mean cohesive or linear. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta write out your word vomit so other people can kinda see how your mind works and bounces from one thing to another and how it’s all strangely connected.

**photo from the show Broad City on Comedy Central.