Ariel Vardy - Senegal

April 23, 2013

Me? I’m nothing remarkable.

Are you going to thank me for “roughing it” out in the “middle of nowhere”? No need. Are you going to wonder whether I almost died of hunger, or disease? Please don’t. Are you going to get your mind blown about the idea of living without electricity and indoor plumbing? Nah, save it for later.

When I left behind the luxuries of western life, that wasn’t the end of my luxury, I just found a new sense of the term. Where I used to cherish driving a car to school on cold days, now it’s cherishing the neighbor who lent me a horse and cart during the morning hours before the sun gets too hot. In a place without fancy restaurants, is the total indulgence of eating fresh free harvested honey until the natural sugar content gives me a stomach ache. While we’ve got no supermarket out here in Pelel, you’re equally missing the even bigger supply of daily commodities that are free to take in the wide forests.

It’s really easy to imagine the desolate and moneyless Africa that has defaulted into our minds, but the poor have a different face when their culture and community is opulent and laden with tradition and natural remedy. “Poverty”, when used to describe a small village, is oxymoronic. Riches are mined in intrapersonal relationship, free farmed food, freedom within culture, and a sense of togetherness. Did you know that there is no word in Pulaar for sad? I came to Africa be shocked— to see brutal and harsh realities, and be thankful and wise about how I was given more. This can be put more eloquently in a quote I found and adopted this last summer— “less than 1 percent of all Americans have ever come face to face with the more than 6 billion people living on less than one dollar a day; how do you think that affects our behavior?”

I have become part of the one percent. I come face to face with my family, my neighbors, and my friends every day of the week. And how do you think this affects my behavior? You know, maybe it doesn’t, maybe it wasn’t shocking. Shock would degrade and devalue the legitimacy of these people’s lives, and honestly, maybe offend them. These people are all emotionally of middle class, they have food security, and a sense of fulfillment in their lives. Westerner dependency on machines has gotten so strong, one could not imagine their life without them. Well, that modernity comes with unwanted side effects a villager could not imagine living with— depression, anxiety attacks, extreme debt, stress, a lack of fulfillment in life, suicide rates, ect. Where western culture found monetary success in capitalism, small villages found social success in communism (not the economic philosophy, but just the extreme stress of community). Subtlety in culture comes with being human and changes in content, but not in volume between cultures. Where ever you go you will find emotional and physical health risks, vices, and sickness, though they’ll have different names. Indulgent activities, recreation, safety, and paths to a sense of convenience will have a unique presence as well. So really, where does the difficulty lie? In living in an undeveloped setting, or in not appreciating the direction your setting has developed?

Ariel Vardy