Open April 18th

Grace Mannix - Senegal


April 18, 2015

Dearest family and friends,

I only have one more card to open for the plane ride home and thought it was way past time for me to write you back. Can you believe how little time is left until I see you again?! I often wonder where the time went and how I spent the last eight months without your company. I have watched a lot of movies (Taxi Driver, In Bruges, and The Brass Teapot, to name a few) and have expanded my music library as well (Childish Gambino, George Ezra, The Vaccines, Foo Fighters, among others). To be honest, I have watched more movies and listened to more music than books I’ve read, but I did read Room and The Goldfinch for the first time, and reread The Things They Carried. Have you picked up any good books lately? I need some suggestions! I’m planning on finishing Nick Kristoff’s A Path Appears on the plane ride home; it’s been on my shelf collecting dust for far too long now. The Poisonwood Bible is also on my list of books to read.

I exercised more in the beginning of the year than I did towards the end. For what I’ve been eating, I’m eating well. I only got really sick after TS2 in the beginning of December when I had a three day bug or something that just had to run it’s course. Other than that, it’s just been skin (infections, etc.) and GI issues here and there. Nothing I can’t handle! A lot could have happened but never did so I’m very grateful for that. My host family has been fantastic. You would all love my mom, Anta. She takes the best care of me so no need to worry. My siblings range from a four month old baby girl to a 22 year old boy, and most of them are eight-ten years old so I’m one of the older kids. Childhood here in Senegal is incredibly hands on. Some toys are imported and bought, but most are created with resources such as wire or bottle caps. We visited an animist village in Kedougou, a nearly 20 hour bus ride from my village, and one kid had made his own slingshot. It was so impressive! He even let me sling a rock with it.

The weather in Senegal is just HOT. The period of time between when we first got here in September leading up to TS1 in late November was a very humid and sweaty one. Towards December it started cooling off and it wasn’t as much of a chore to be wearing pants all the time. I definitely missed hockey season and the snow, though! It did not feel like winter. How many times did you go sledding? Did you get the hot chocolate with the mini-marshmallows in it? More recently, it’s been super windy. It picks up the sand so the sky looks more beige than blue and you have to walk with your head parallel to the ground. However, after looking down so much, I’ve started imagining that the layer of sand being blown around on one of the few cement streets in my village, changing shape so effortlessly and naturally, is a dance recital, and it makes my walk to work more enjoyable.

I’ve been working with a tailor named Mane Kebe (We’re related, nearly everyone in Kebemer is a Kebe, go figure). She’s a co-wife, meaning her husband has another wife living somewhere else in the country. In Senegal, men can have up to 4 wives! The first dress I made on my own here was for her daughter. There is a girl named Mayt who works with me and a boy named Cher. I’ve been able to meet so many people I wouldn’t have met other wise since she has a bunch of different clients. There is a certain section in the market where all of the tailor shops are located, so it’s a cool atmosphere. I’ve found my niche in Kebemer. How is work going for you?

I see the other 17 fellows in Senegal every so often. Get this – they think I’m funny. I share my site with someone, so I see her a lot and we get along well. The 18 of us would all be together every two months or so at the training seminars – we went to Saly, Mbour (south) for the first and St. Louis (north) for the second. I really like St. Louis and ended up going again on my own afterwards. Have you done any travelling lately? Where did you go? I hope you took pictures! The third and final TS is next week when we get picked up from our homestays on April 7th. We’re in Dakar, the capital city, until the 11th and then fly to California for Re-Entry training with the entire Global Cohort. I have kept in touch with some of the fellows from other countries, so I can’t wait to hear all their stories and trade some souvenirs!

I think it goes without saying that there is plenty of excitement surrounding the next few weeks; reconnecting with you all and being in the States again after so long. I’m looking forward to having conversations uninterrupted by the “Poor connection” screen on FaceTime and Skype, and am interested to see what has changed or what hasn’t. I’m definitely going to enjoy taking a hot shower, and might cry tears of joy at the first sight of Wawa. However, along with all of these exciting, happy moments yet to come, I am just as uncertain and anxious about the very near future.

Rumor has it, the three months following the return home from living abroad is just as hard, if not harder, than the first three months in-country. I can’t speak from experience, but there are some things I know will be a little bit challenging. For example, I’m returning to a place where everyone knows me in a certain way, and will treat me in the way they know how, even though my personality, values, and goals may have changed since. Plus, in other ways I’ve just become more of myself, but even that is still change.

I’ve spent the last eight months with people that don’t have unlimited WiFi or texting at their fingertips, so to check in with an old friend essentially meant walking to their house uninvited, but always welcome. When I take a hot shower, I’ll be thinking about how much water I’m using. When I go into Wawa, I’m going to remember how in Senegal I only spent $.20 on a packet of yogurt and no more than $1.00 on a hoagie-sized sandwich. As much as you’ve asked what I want to eat when I get home, or as much as I’ve said, “I want to do this, this, and this,” the truth is, when I have the opportunity, I don’t know if I actually would.

The culture and customs that I’ve experienced these past eight months are incredibly hard to articulate. It was brought to my attention recently that, despite the fact my loved ones may not understand the way of the Wolof, I have people around that want to understand me, and I feel grateful for that. I can’t blame any of you for treating me the only way you know how, that would be unfair of me to do. So, although the latter part of this blog may not be entirely accurate (because who knows what the future holds), I wanted to let you know where I’m at right now, before you see me again. I wanted to give you a heads up and hopefully help guide some of your more general questions about my time away towards a more specific inquiry, for both of our sakes.

Again, thank you for putting so much time and effort into writing me letters for my birthday and holidays, or even if I just needed to laugh. Not to mention, thank you for supporting and encouraging me throughout the year. I love you all very much (that hasn’t changed) and I can’t wait to see you soon!

Take care,

Gracie

Grace Mannix