10 Oct 2017 TBH: The First Month(s) of a Bridge Year in Senegal
October 3, 2017
Anyone remember TBH’s? Talking about them now seems juvenile and trivial, but I remember at one point in middle school getting in a fight with one of my best friends because I didn’t write her a long enough TBH on her Facebook wall (don’t worry we made up love you Grace (: ) Anyways, for those of you who don’t know what a TBH is, it stands for “To Be Honest” which I think, as stupid as it may sound, is something that I need to be during my time in Senegal.
Back home I found it very easy to hide my emotions especially ones that I thought made me look vulnerable or weak. If you ask anyone in my family, they can tell you I rarely cried. Even in situations when I really should’ve. And I prided myself on that ability to remain calm in situations where, frankly, I should’ve been a hot mess. I think I found it easy to be what I saw as strong when I was in a comfortable environment and especially when there were people that I thought I needed to be “strong” for. But here, I’ve realized that not only is suppressing my emotions not healthy for me, but it’s unhealthy for the people around me. Every single fellow will have at least one completely crappy day. I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve had a few. Whether it be just a crappy day overall or a few random moments sprinkled in, we all deal with hard and real emotions that make you have to go to your room, or if your brave, go to your host family, and cry it out. So keeping those emotions to yourself is not only hurting you and your ability to grow, but it hurts the other fellows but not allowing them to see that others have struggles too which can make them feel alone and incompetent.
With time I can tell that these feelings are lessening. But I really hope that upcoming fellows will read this blog because before I came to Senegal when people asked me if I was nervous I’d simply shake my head and give the easier said than done response of, “No not really. I mean, I know there will be challenges but I’m excited for those because they’ll make the good times even better!!” Then I’d put on an optimistic smile and be on my way. Well from present Wyatt (or Ngoné now) to past Wyatt, that response was bullshit (pardon my french, which I speak of lot of now by the way!! The good kind not the cussing kind..). I had no idea what “challenges” I would face (yes I loved to use the words challenges). I oversimplified an unknown situation but it’s ok because, to be honest, there’s no way to prepare yourself for dealing with the feelings all fellows feel at one time or another.
Most of you may be thinking, “Geez she’s have a really bad time I shouldn’t, or I’m glad I didn’t, take a gap year, especially in Senegal”. NO. NO. NO. I am so so so grateful for where I am. I wouldn’t change it for the world. But it’s time that I start being honest about how I feel and this is a huge step for me. Putting these thoughts up where potentially anyone could see them makes me feel incredibly vulnerable. But it’s so important to my own personal growth and for those who really want to know what some of the crappier times are like, so here it goes.
Before I came to Senegal I viewed it as some type of utopia where, yeah sure I’d be a little homesick every now and then, but soon I’d be dressed in tradition Senegalese clothing, speaking fluently in Wolof (I quickly found out that would not be the case), making attaya like a pro, being viewed as just one of the locals, and barely thinking of home. I think I thought this because what I knew about the GCY program in Senegal was mainly what I saw on social media and, something I’m guilty of myself, is making social media pages full of the good times but not really showing the sometimes less fun reality of a situation. So when I got to Senegal I was pumped full of ways to cope with emotional and physical issues. However, I still had the mindset that I probably wouldn’t use any of those tools because, hey, I was soo independent and level headed in the town I had lived in my whole life, how could that possibly change in a country I’d never been to!!! Besides, I’d seen so many instagram pictures, it looked easy! I was in for a rude awakening.
This is when I would usually stop. But, to stay true to my recent admission of newfound vulnerability, I will tell you that I don’t how many times I’ve cried since I’ve been here. I know one of the first times was literally 5 minutes after I got dropped off at my new home. In front of my entire family. It was not my proudest moment. Since then, I’ve cried in the middle of lunch, behind a boutique, while walking on the main road, in my bed.. the list goes on. The main source of my irritatingly incessant need to release emotion through further dehydrating myself with tears, as if I don’t lose enough water from constant sweating, is just simply missing people. I miss my dad. I miss my sisters. I miss my brother. I miss my deda. I miss my mom. I miss my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I miss my friends. I miss Lilli. I miss Duncan. I miss my bed. I am beyond lucky to have so many people to miss and to love (if you’re reading this know that I am sending you a ridiculous amount of love, as in, an annoying overbearing amount), but to be honest it freaking sucks. But at the same time it’s given me such a huge realization that for so long I took so many things for granted. There were times where I should’ve stayed in the living room for a game of cards instead of going to my room, or gone to Layne’s volleyball game instead of, again going to my room. So this begins the transition of how these “challenges” really have started to change me for the better.
The lifestyle of Senegal has already taught me so much. The love that the families, and just people in general, have for each other here is overwhelming. People constantly will give me their chairs to sit in, invite me to eat with their families, ask me to sit with them just to talk, or offer me attaya. The greetings alone can take 5 minutes. “How are you, how is your is your family, how is your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, I hope you’re not sick!” This is repeated back to the person who first asked and then the greeting ends with my favorite word in both Wolof and Laala, Jaam. It just means peace but the amount of times I hear people say it to each other is wonderful because Senegal really is so peaceful. This sense of love and community is something that I’ll always keep with me. It’s made me realize how much we take for granted. We are constantly moving and we constantly need something to keep our minds busy. We never stop and just realize how lucky we are to have everything that we have. Now, instead of looking forward to things like going out with friends or going on vacations, I look forward the breeze when I get out of the shower at night. I look forward to walking to the farm in the mornings. I look forward to reading under my family’s tree. I look forward to walking 3 miles to language class, to sit under a different tree. I look forward to hanging out under Bertha the Big-Ass Baobab and listening to music. I look forward to looking at the stars and the moon at night. If I’ve learned anything during the past few weeks it’s that little things really do matter and back home I take all of them for granted.
I know that when I get home I’ll fall back into some of my old habits, but I know that from now on I’ll try to always be aware of the things that I am so lucky to have. I will tell the people I love that I love them more often. I will take more time to listen, to think, to feel. I’m sorry to anyone who I didn’t give a proper goodbye to before I left. I wish I could redo my goodbye’s because, knowing what I know now, I’d make them so much more meaningful.
Overall, yes the challenges are real in a way I wasn’t totally prepared for and in a way that I didn’t think I’d really experience them. But at the same time, past me was right that those crappy times have taught me to appreciate things that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. To be honest, sometimes it sucks here, but sometimes it sucked back home. But now I know how to deal with things when they suck because it’s no longer an option to ignore them if I really want to get everything I can out of my already small amount of time that I get to live here (can you believe it’s already October!! If you see Layne tell her happy birthday it was on the 8th (: )
So with that, I want to say that if you read all this you’re a trooper, I had a lot to get off my chest. I hope that wherever you are and whoever you’re with, you may consider taking a moment to look around and just be aware of how many amazing things you have in your life. Possibly, you could even start a gratitude journal, which is a practice I now do everyday. Each morning, I write 3 things I’m grateful for, even if I feel like crap, just to remind myself that I am lucky to have what I have. And if you’re reading this line, I’d just like to reiterate that I love you and appreciate you and I’m sorry if I don’t tell you that enough. I hope everyone has a wonderful next few weeks.
Wyatt / Ngoné
P.S. To prove that I am in fact having a good time here are some pictures :))
P.P.S. Here is the address for a new PO Box for letters!! I love them if you can find time to send one please do 🙂
Global Citizen Year
BP 598 Thiès
My sister Henriette (9), my sister Mari (11), and my brother Casimir (3)
Me and my bud Kevin on a beach in Dakar
Rode camels at Lak Rose
A boat in Lak Rose.
Bertha the Big-Ass Baobab
Me with my favorite baby goat Jeffrey