Thoughts from the desert

There’s certainly many definitions to what a desert is or how it should feel like. Not surprisingly, for someone coming from a tropical place, a desert is pretty much a very sandy, arid, and not very populated place, reaching high temperatures of even 45C degrees.I’ve been feeling that heated wind for quite a while already.

I can’t deny my first days here were tough. I certainly saw one of the most challenging experiences in my life so far coming. It was around midday when I arrived to this town in northern Senegal called Mboro. I didn’t see much but sand, some houses, and a oasis right in front of my eyes. When I got to my room I rushed to unpack all the clothes, expectations and questions for the year to come. As soon as I finished everything, I somehow closed my eyes as an attempt to stop all my fears. I took the deepest breath I could have taken and decided to take the life I had at that very moment. Senegal, but most specifically Mboro, seemed a very strange and nasty place compared to the concrete jungle I lived at: Hong Kong. It all seemed dirty, unorganised and overwhelming. There was people coming and leaving my host house at almost every time. Walking on the streets would be a constant reminder of your skin colour as everyone would shout at you calling you “toubab” and then they would unashamedly ask you exactly where you going just for the sake of it and more. Every day for the first few months was a question. I questioned every way possible about this place. Nothing here made any sense for me; from eating with my hands to not having toilet paper.

Time has passed, 2015 is no longer here, and today as I step into my sixth month in Senegal, the hottest realisation came to my mind unexpectedly: Humans at a certain point, with or without reason get used to things; be it good or bad, aesthetically pleasing or not. It’s just the nature of life, and as life keeps going, certain ways of doing or living -which at first seemed to be absurd- start to make sense and even become a part of your normal daily life. This brings me to pause and reflect on this very life I have, on my thoughts and my actions. I never thought I was going to get used to that heated wind cracking my already burned skin at midday. I never thought I was going to get used to live in a desert; but I did, and along the way life just taught me one of its greatest lessons, which seemed to be hidden to this city boy before: the paradox of life.

“We have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbour. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things. We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.”

Toubab: term specifically used in Senegal to describe foreigners who are mostly white.

Quote from Dr. Bob Moorehead’s “The Paradox of Our Age”