This is what comfort feels like

Armi Katariina Kauppila - Senegal


February 14, 2016

I lean on my finger placed
at the bottom corner of the front seat window. So I stand, looking around
myself at the busy car station in MBour. Looking around, but not with surprise.
With affection mixed with a little bit of boredom.

I have gotten used to this.

I see all the vendors, but I’ve seen them so many times before. I know how to
not buy. I converse with the men waiting with me for the seventh passenger; I
stumble less in my Wolof phrases. The driver tells me a man has already set his
backpack on the front seat, apologises that I can’t sit there. I know arguing
would be useless so I just attempt a usual noise of disapproval. Somehow,
despite what could be described as a chaos, I have a feeling of control over
the situation. All the new is not new anymore – danger has worn out through
time and turned into some strange kind of safety.

How do I know I’ve lived here for a while? I’ve gone through phases. The
pre-school kids used to be monsters, then they became cute, now they’re all
monsters again. But in a different way. The marriage proposals and the people
yelling “tubaab” used to be either scary or annoying, then I learned
to laugh but now there’s nothing funny about it anymore. That’s because my home
consists of all these things now and I’ve slowly gotten used to them. On some
level.

The car still hasn’t left, but I know I’m lucky to have only the seventh
passenger left to come; after all direct cars to a place like Ngueniene filling
up fast are quite a luxury. I relax, knowing I’m in the right place at the
right time because the beauty of the sunset conceals a dark secret; this is the
time for the wanderers of all corners to crawl back into the safety of home –
at least if female. In the attraction of a moment I grab a somewhat
Barbie-looking doll from the random items’ basket on the hood of the car.

“What’s this?” I ask the vendor, a middle-aged plus man resting his
arms a few feet away.

“A doll,” he replies immediately.

“Why is she a blonde?” I continue.

“She just is,” he says.

Surprised by the absence of hesitation in his answer, I push once more:

“But why? Why doesn’t she look like everyone here?” I demonstrate by
turning around.

“She came from over there,” him and another man explain, pointing to
an undefined direction that could be West, could be East. “She looks like
you,” the vendor adds. Laughs.

I say nothing, put the doll back in the basket and claim my seat in the back
middle of the soon leaving car.

Comfort with the place and the people, discomfort with some of the things
within them.

Later, sitting there, I find my back in a hurtful place. A tiny, quiet whine of
protest escapes my mouth. The world won’t hear me. I remind myself of an idea
central to meditation: living with discomfort instead of running away from it.
A question comes to my mind from a book, Practicing Peace by Pema Chödrön:
“Can I sit with suffering, both yours and mine, without trying to make it
go away?” One could take it as a question and try to answer it. No or
maybe yes. But I prefer to see it as a challenge.

It’s February the 6th, two days after my nameday and eight before Valentine’s.
By now I have learned that garlic goes after all the peppers when pounding
spices. I still don’t understand why, but I’ve been taught that so it goes.
I’ve understood that if attaya tastes too much like anything, even sugar, the
solution is always to add sugar. By now I’ve found some kind of comfort; I
leave my earrings on my desk because I know if the baby wants to steal them
she’ll grab them from my ears during an afternoon hug.

Good, I’ve found comfort. Now I must push myself out of it, to a new direction.
I recognize the phase I’m in, now I must really push.

Because now what is to come? More pepper, more garlic, more pounding, more
learning. More attaya, more sugar, more understanding, more solution. Solutions
to some of the puzzles inside my head. But now what I must keep in the front of
my mind are two I’s: intention and impact. For the last two months in this
place that has recently turned into a home, what are my intentions? What is the
impact I will have, and how do I carry my responsibility for it? And how will I
combine these two, so that my actions can lead to a realistically intended
impact? Two eyes, filled with curiosity. I must not get too comfortable to be
able to see things I’m uncomfortable with. Must not crawl into a time-based
nest of safety.

Because now that the counting of days has lost its meaning and stars are stars,
not surroundings for airplanes I wish were carrying me away from here, every
day is important. Now chapters in my journal are no more daily complaints and
successes from a traveller’s account but rather occasional notes from a
person’s life. And my family isn’t they, it’s we unless I
discover once again a new habit I hadn’t known. I want it to remain this way.
But I need it to move forward.

And now I must sit on the driver’s seat (only metaphorically of course), drive
out of this comfort and choose how far the rest of this trip will take me. The
speed I can’t choose; the brakes broke some time ago and all moments pass.  The wheel I can’t turn; it will take me
through all the holes and the rocks. But how far – somehow I can decide that if
I really try. And I promise now, I will try.




 

 

Armi Katariina Kauppila