I had planned on doing a formal presentation by May 15th for my capstone project but things have not exactly gone underway yet due to unforseen hiccups coming into play last minute, so here is the first half of my informal capstone presentation. Chronologically speaking, this is my second half. The first half was a photo album that I posted on my Facebook, where I publicly invited everyone who has me added as a friend on there, to view the photos I took during my time abroad in Senegal. I found this to be an effective means of sharing my story without diving too deep into detail, because a picture is worth millions of words and I can choose which photos I want to share and which ones I don't.
Now that the logistical introduction is over, I want to share the meat of what this blog post, probably my last one ever, will be. I'm more than willing to bet that by now, every Fellow has felt a variety of highs and lows. The numbers of how many good times you've been having vs how many bad times you've been having doesn't matter, because we're back in the reality of things. For 8 months we knew a reality different than the ones we come from, and we adapted and thrived in those realities. For me, being in Senegal was about getting better, learning all the things about myself that need correction and improvement, and most importantly, being in Senegal was about listening. It was about learning to shut up and give someone else the chance to speak, learning to ask questions instead of relate things to myself all the time.
The summer before I left for Senegal, I was confused and upset with who I was. So, when I went to Stanford for Global Launch, my name was Manu. Being on this gap year meant I got to completely reinvent myself in whatever light I saw fit, because no one knew me like they do back home. And so, I took up a different (not new) identity for 8 months and underwent an immense amount of changes due to an irreversible amount of pressure, only to end up fighting for the chance to be known as Manu once I got back to my reality in Massachusetts, my reality as Manny. I am finding it hard to adapt to the changes in my environment, much harder than I did going to Senegal, but not because of any external reasons like access to internet or the train; simply because I have changed so much, the environment I know as home has stayed the exact same and now that I am back here in this space, there is boatloads of pressure being applied to my mental as far as how I should be acting, what I should be thinking, where I should be going, what I should be doing and on and on and on. I don't want to make it sound like I live in a constant state of people yelling at me to change because that's not the case. I think about it more along the lines of; "Okay, we've heard you share a few stories and seen a few pictures and we are happy to have you back, but now what? Shouldn't you be ____? Or don't you want to _____?" And if no one is directly asking me these questions it doesn't matter because they're still in my head. The changes I went through in Senegal felt like the end-all-be-all changes, like the final destination after a long and hard-fought journey, but they were just the beginning, the first revision of the rough draft. I've still got a lot of work to do, and the way I know so is based on how my environment has reacted to having me. I have been in my home environment for a month now and have not felt like any progress is being made; it feels like I never left, like I didn't go through the drastic changes I did, like I didn't leave a part of myself in Taiba Ndiaye. I know that I need to actively remind myself that those changes did happen, that I did leave a part of myself in Taiba and that I did escape the comfort zone of my home, because this pressure I am feeling from everything right now is good for me. It is pushing me to becoming a better person, a better boyfriend, a better son, a better brother, a better friend; just like the pressure I felt in Senegal.
I feel like thanking anyone who took the time to read this, so if you're reading this sentence, please I beg you to reach out to me and tell me that you did so. In this past year, I met so many wonderful people, people whose stories could have been blueprints for a superhero's backstory, whose attitudes and values taught me lessons I could have never learned elsewhere, whose conviction and strength floored me, so I'd be delighted to hear that you thought my story was worth reading. To any of the Fellows who read this, (or don't), I just want to say thank you. Somehow, someway, you helped me become a better person. Whether it was a conversation over tea at midnight in the dining hall at Camp Harmon or a brief interaction in the food line or a dirty look that you shot me after I overstepped boundaries, I learned so much from this stellar group of individuals this past year and I won't ever forget it.