Shake it Out

Amanda Brinegar - Senegal


October 14, 2010

We stepped off the plane into the dark. Our feet fell on rocky asphalt rather than cushy airport carpet. African impression: dark and rough.
Although I have been here for almost a week, I haven’t found my way out of the dark. Yes, the sun has come up, but it radiates over an unfamiliar land.

Discovering my surroundings, slowly, arms outstretched, has been exhilarating and exciting, but at times overwhelming and terrifying. Every day a new rock embeds itself in my shoe, but I always have the ability to sit down, untie my laces and shake it out.

These rocks are seeds of culture shock—no toilet paper, no air conditioning and no eating utensils. Physical affection is rare, polygamy is acceptable and sharing is the basis of society. People are more forward than I am used to. When walking downtown, I had four men approach me, some to welcome me, some to ask for my phone number. When faced with these cultural differences I experience a number of immediate emotions. I feel uneasy when strangers come up to me. I feel uncomfortable without toilet paper, air conditioning and eating utensils.
I encounter loneliness without physical affection. I am angered and confused when thinking about polygamy and believe that if I was the wife I would be jealous.

Although I have an instant reaction to these strange practices, part of cultural immersion is stepping back and taking the time to understand and build acceptance and respect. I now come to question all of my beliefs and feelings. Am I feeling this way because it is a human emotion or because my culture taught me to feel this way? I believe that negative emotions are not innate, but rather society driven.

We were all blessed with joy, happiness and love, and we choose what makes us angry, jealous and sad. In the confines of our society, we have
been told how we should react to situations. I never realized before how much my culture defines my identity. Now, I am searching for who I really am, how I feel and what I believe.

That is why this journey is so important. It is through experiencing a world outside of my own that I will discover my individuality and independence and develop my own beliefs and values. I have poked my safety bubble and popped it. Vulnerable and out of place, I will discover more than I ever could in the light.

Amanda Brinegar