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26 Oct 2009 Metaphor My Life

Two days ago, while struggling to fall asleep (due to the hilarious wolof jokes being told outside my window by ten Senegalese men), I pulled out a stack of Visual Explorer cards, from the Center for Creative Leadership, that I had gotten during training. Visual Explorer is basically a stack of really nice photographs that are card sized. I then asked myself questions, and tried to find out which picture perfectly explained my emotions or ideas about that question. It is surprising how much more you find out about yourself when you make yourself realize why one image or phrase resonates, and another doesn’t. This led me to think about how much of my life is explained like Visual Explorer – in metaphor.

Dakar is Rome to me. They say one of the reasons Rome fell was because of how poor the poor were getting, and how rich the rich were getting. Every day I walk past three women who each have two children. They eat, sleep, and live their lives on the street. They have no steady source of food and no shelter from any of the outside forces. On the other hand as I keep on walking I see Mercedes Benz C-Class cars and BMWs right along side the shabby taxis. Downtown there is the palatial Presidents quarters, and just down the street are local shacks. There are the people who get good health care, like the twelve-year old in my neighborhood with a cast on his broken arm. Then there are those who don’t – the paraplegic we passed at the Marche HLM who didn’t even have a chair to sit on, or the man at Sandaga (the grand market) whose legs were paralyzed so he uses a plastic square with wheels that sits two inches off the ground to roll around, and whom I literally had to jump over as he zoomed underneath me. The disparities just sit in front of you, obvious to any eye, draining to the spirit, and as a current matter-of-fact. So if it were hundreds and hundreds of years earlier, would Dakar have the same fate as the great Rome did?

A bitter jalapeno. That was the phrase that I used to describe a vegetable here that looks like a green tomato. Then there is the Lunnga which looks like a giant black olive, but tastes like a fermented or wine soaked nut. Bissap is green and frothy, with a bitter and smooth taste that reminds me of oak tree leaves ( I ate anything as a child). As I obviously cannot send back hundreds of Lunnga fruit for everyone to taste, I must then try and describe what I have done with the things that many of us may share. Granted, you all may not have had a leaf phase in your youth.

Being in a place with a different language brings up some nifty little problems. First, our backgrounds are completely different. While I may use the right words and phrases to describe something to someone from the west, those same words can carry no weight here, hence lost in translation. Sadly, when trying to describe something, you want to give it due justice, but the simple lack of knowledge stops you from giving it the language it deserves. When speaking in English I relish my adjectives, my phrases, colloquialisms, puns, and oxymorons. Unconsciously and consciously they allow me to see things that may not be necessary in life, but that truly bring the picture into focus. Maybe metaphors are a true measure of fluency?

Some people live their lives in technicolor. Others live life in misery. And still others live in ignorance, bliss, knowledge, etc. While there may not be one way to live life, it has become blatantly obvious to me that almost everyone lives their life in metaphor.

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