On Normaility

I’ve been meaning to write another blog for a while, but (believe it or not) I couldn’t think of anything particularly exceptional to write about. For the most part, life in Senegal doesn’t surprise me anymore. I’ve grown used to sitting cross legged with my family as we eat from a single dish. Without thinking, I bathe by pouring a bucket of water on myself, do my laundry by hand, and bargain with taxis drivers. The lack of WiFi, frequent power outs, and heat no longer phase me (I felt cold the other day—it was 80 degrees!).

If you’re reading this from the US, my daily life might still sound remarkable. For instance, whenever I talk to my mom she inevitably overhears the call to prayer because I live beside a mosque and I call her from the roof (better signal). “Is that the mosque?” she always asks. Well duh, I think (having never lived within a mile of one before). A lot of things—noteworthy at first—are simply my new normal.

I wonder what I’ve lost in this abatement of surprise. Appreciation? I certainly hope not. Wonder may not overwhelm my every thought, but I can still recognize how lucky I am to be here. But I’d like to imagine I’m gaining something in this process as well.

If I had simply visited Senegal for a week, there would still be a wall between myself and life here. I may have glimpsed through the cracks in a few moments of lucidity (and taken photos to prove how interesting my life is), but surveying the border between “us” and “them” doesn’t remove the distinction. Through travel, we can appreciate vistas beyond our own cultural identity, but it takes something more to confront society itself.

To me, immersion necessarily involves deconstructing the idea of what a normal life is. Living with a host family and learning the local language has a way of provoking introspection: Why is life like this in the US? What shapes our shared system of values? Can one pick and choose the aspects of society they like or is it all or nothing?

Before I left home, I could never fully grasp life in Senegal. If anything, my fascination with its differences made the culture more unreachable. Now, two months in (with plenty more to learn), I feel more confronted by normality than the culture itself. 


I have a mailing address!

Erin Pugh

Global Citizen Year

C/o Claire Ba

BP 598 Thies

CP 21000

Thies, Senegal

You can help more students like me take gap years (and help me fulfill a graduation requirement) by giving to my fundraising page: https://donate.globalcitizenyear.org/fundraiser/1910313