Some Ways in Which I Have Changed

Thea Holcomb - Senegal


December 1, 2016

I scribbled the words of this post into a green notebook on Halloween of 2016, a day on which I was happy, tired, and for the most part optimistic, a simple bulleted list of all of the ways in which my time in Senegal has had an impact on the person whom I perceive myself to be. It’s mostly intended to be lighthearted and ineloquent, so if that’s your cup of tea, have at it.

  • I have experienced a massive increase in my appreciation for peanuts- they are an amazing food source around which Senegal’s economy seems to be centered. Thanks France! (read that as quite a bit sarcastic, because France is somewhat of a control freak.) Anyway, peanuts- they are full of the filling fat and protein that my body so desperately craves, and are utterly tasty in all forms- raw, straight out of the ground on the farm, shells burned black, cooked on a coal stove in a bowl full of sand, boiled, or however else; whether the legume found inside is soft and meaty or crunchy and nutty, every peanut is it’s own unpredictable moment, and every peanut (unless it’s moldy) is delicious. And there’s this magic to peanuts- they’re what I think of as a process-oriented food- demanding my full and undivided attention- it’s just not possible to read a novel or study my Laalaa while shelling peanuts, which I have indeed tried to do. That’s the thing about peanuts; they demand to be experienced.
  • I’m less scared of how I don’t know what happens in my future. I don’t really know why this is- perhaps it’s because I’ve slowed down or paused what the normal trajectory into the future is for Americans my age, perhaps it’s because I’ve had so much time on my hands that I’ve quickly learned how spending said time dwelling on the future makes it hard to breathe. I know there are many things about my life beyond this day that I cannot know, and I’ve found comfort in that, in a way that eluded me in the past.
  • I know what okra is. In my first week in the community in which I now live, someone asked me how to say “okra” in English and I told them English has no word for that plant. (Which, in my defense, is true of a lot of abstractions and plants to which I am introduced in this country.) Of course I’d heard of okra before, but it’s the kind of produce that you only encounter in books about the American South. Needless to say, my fellow Fellows from the American South had a good laugh.
  • Men. That fundamental, deep rooted sense of wariness and caution that ostensibly every female human who has been lucky enough to live at least a decade or two has felt in regards to men has become in me something much larger and darker- as will happen to anyone, when almost every man whom she encounters sees seducing her as his ticket to a better life in her grossly romanticized homeland. The number of men who I both know and trust in Senegal is fewer than the total number of shoes that I have with me in this country, and I’m the sort of person with a well-developed chaco-tan due to the fact that I’m not a hoarder of shoes. [Note- after writing the original post on October 31st, I began working at a nearby school, in which the vast majority of the men I have met act professionally, and with positive intentions.] I’m curious how I’ll feel about men once I am back in the United States.
  • I get enough sleep. This is a radical shift in my last several years of existence- and the difference it has made in my quality of life is astounding. I cannot recommend getting enough sleep enough.
  • My gratitude for chickens has escalated significantly. Their wide range of noises, their enthusiasm for their work of eating the little critters in the sand, how they occasionally offer a delicious change of pace from fish, the way that they stick together and take care of their young- we have so many chickens, and the presence on the Thiaw compound makes it feel like home.
  • I think a lot about God. This is a consequence of the books I read, the way the echoes of colonialism dance around my vision more or less 100% of the time, the stress and loneliness I endure each day, and my growing sense of wonder at the world (see the following paragraph). Lately, I find myself becoming more and more adamantly un-theistic, at least in the proper and omnipotent God sense, while simultaneously craving more and more, some sense of spiritual connectedness to the planet and the universe around me.
  • I experience more wonder. The stars, the efficacy of my solar charger, the vastness of the sea, the way that for most of the first 18 years of my life and for most of the rest of my life, entirely potable water is available to me at whatever temperature suits my fancy, from any number of faucets that are located indoors. This is an idea that’s becoming rather unfathomable. Like, you can drink it right away, without adding any bleach, with absolutely no risk to your health! The fact that under normal circumstances, I have access to such a wonderful resource is caused by a combination of my immense privilege and the marvels of centuries of human innovation, but it feels like nothing short of a miracle. Also in Senegal, I encounter a lot of babies, which is something I rarely see at home. Babies are so fascinating because they posses pretty much none of the traits that I associate with humanness- and yet- they are tiny humans! And slowly, without anybody noticing, they acquire all those human things, and suddenly they’re adults- like me. I guess I’m sort of an adult. That’s another thing that inspires wonder in me.
  • I’m discovering within myself a stronger desire to be more wholly ‘me,’ to the world around me- to express myself more complexly and completely. This isn’t totally possible (or even advisable) in the context of a language and culture I’m still just beginning to get a feel for, and in which I will never fully belong, so it’s a rather ndank ndank (little by little) process here- but I’ve been thinking about how once I’m back in the US, my freedom to be me will be boundless. Coming April 2017…

Thea Holcomb