When I first arrived in my new family, all I had to go off of were first impressions. In my head I tried to decide how I would describe these people who I would live with for the next six months, both to myself and to others. So that is what I did, I described them with words and examples of what I already knew. A mix of Mrs. Weasley and Cinderella’s step mother, jolly like Santa and his elves but a little less organized, overbearing, honestly naïve, structured, socially concerned, overtly open, all different impressions of different people.
Going into my first weekly meeting with Rachel, I figured that these descriptions would at least give her a view of what I was seeing, or at least what I thought I was seeing. That was not the case though, for I was given a quick reminder of something that I knew but didn’t contextualize: all of my views are those of the west, of what I have known for the few eighteen years of my life. My mental models are unmistakably American, which I know, but it is easily sectionalized.
For example, here everyone holds hands but it carries no implication save friendship. Clearly this is something specifically different than my culture where hand holding carries romantic implications. From here, I can make it a mental point not to judge this, not to think of anything but that which I am learning. My purpose can be to sit and absorb, much as a sponge does. A problem lies in the things where at once I am obviously affected by my past knowledge, yet am unaware of it. Feelings are deeply rooted things; they are unconsciously and instinctually built within us. All reactions and judgments have their basis in our feelings in some way or another.
While awareness that my descriptions were western was an easy cognitive rectification on my part, I realize that my real challenge lies in adapting how I feel in response to the new culture, not only how I think. What I first thought of as overbearing, was just a good show in how to be a good senegalise parent. As I first thought this through, it took away my feeling of resentment, and left wonder. I am still wondering and discovering, for now in this moment I don’t know how I feel or even how I am supposed to feel. Using a classic western example, I think of myself as Legos. I started out bits and pieces, was made into a spaceship maybe, and have been broken down again. Only right now, I am building with no premonition of the final product. A castle? Wagon? The White House? The one thing I know is that it is not what I began as.