My Rocky Stream of Consciousness

Elston Tortuga - Senegal


November 24, 2014

Writing used to come easily to me. It does now too; my swiftly improving cursive speaks for itself, but the polished creative writing and analytical essays I used to turn out for Lit & Comp feel out of reach. I suppose the ease resulted from a lacking of qualms when it came to embellishing; stories and details would materialize as necessary, filling the gaps. While I do still subscribe to Tim O’Brien’s sentiment that fiction is often the only way to impart truth, I feel this enormous responsibility to impart the exact truth of this year, my truth of Senegal. I don’t want to perpetuate the single story of this continent so tragically often misconstrued as a singular country.

It is for this reason that my last blog was so painfully editorial. I spent weeks procrastinating on writing it, judging my thoughts as too complex and half-baked to send into cyberspace. Six weeks in, finally sitting down to write, I found myself backspacing through a full page of blog and starting over. Once I had a couple pages of what I deemed workable, I spent hours manipulating the paragraphs, reorganizing disjointed thoughts until I had created a patchwork Frankenstein of a blog – something lacking any resemblance of flow, and despite careful engineering, producing a jolting account of my life in Senegal.

In truth, the last few months have been a jumble. My mind is expanding rapidly, tangibly, as I learn new words in Wolof, sentence structures in French, and most importantly, ways of life. I’ve cried and laughed and doubted and loved more in these last months than I have in my entire life.

Before leaving, people told me this year would change my life. I brushed the sentiment off, qualifying that I wasn’t doing anything outlandish – I’m only living in another country, not even for very long. Now, I know they were right. Nothing will ever be the same. And that scares, but also exhilarates me.

Nothing will ever be the same. Part of that comes from being in West Africa – I’m adjusting to a radically new pace of life; everything from the grocery store (here, my mom runs our local grocery store. It’s a metal table with fish and vegetables and spices atop it) to gender roles (this is a complex point, to put it mildly) are different. I’ve shaken hands with poverty and struggled working within an education system that seems to put discipline ahead of teaching. I’ve mastered the Turkish toilet, and no longer find a use for toilet paper. Major wins, right?

But another part comes from living on my own, carving a life for myself in a place where I obviously don’t belong. I’m so used to measuring myself by the metrics of my peers, but in Ngueniene (my village) I have no peers. I’m learning to be comfortable with my own progress. It’s okay when I fail. I’m still struggling to be okay when I succeed, afraid to fulfill my maximum potential. At the beginning, there was no comfort zone to suck myself back into – everything was alien, from the language to my own mother. That didn’t feel so good at the time, but it forced me to surpass language barriers and create a home in a most unlikely place. Of course, the ever-present smile on my host mom’s face and welcoming arms of my host siblings helped.

So there it is. A no-holds-barred, stream of consciousness glimpse of where I’m at, where I’ve been.

Until next time,

Elston

(or rather, Coumba Falle Niane)

P.S.

Without internet, and TV being more of a French lesson than entertainment, books have assumed a major role in my life. Some strongly recommended reads from the past months in the order I finished them:

“The Blue Sweater” – Jacqueline Novogratz

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – J.K. Rowling

“The Happiness Hypothesis” – Jonathon Haidt

“To Kill A Mockingbird” – Harper Lee

“Americanah” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“The Piano Teacher” – Janice Y.K. Lee

“1984” – George Orwell

“Half of A Yellow Sun” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Elston Tortuga