So, I have been in my village for just over a week now. The first week was really tough. I was kind of numb the first few days, I think I was just so overwhelmed. But I tried to just take it one day at a time and I spent most of my day unpacking and setting up my hut or reading. But after a few days, I stopped being able to take it day to day, and started thinking about being here two years and started freaking out. But then, like magic, I woke up on Day 8 and just kind of felt fine and, for the first time, had the desire to go out around my village and explore and meet people. I even cooked spaghetti and sauce for my entire family last night. They loved it and were re-heating it for breakfast this morning.
I’m never sure exactly what it is that’s so scary about living here for two years, but after thinking more about it, I’ve come up with a few contributing factors—unfamiliarity and lack of control. My friend Adrian and I went to a lumo (market that only happens once a week) on Saturday and it was insane. Just getting there was such an experience in itself, as traveling in jeles always is. And then we got there and there are sooo many people, smells (the smell of dried fish, which my family sells, is pretty awful), colors, animals, it’s a bit like sensory overload when you first arrive.
At one point, we saw a donkey-cart traffic jam that included maybe 30 donkey-carts that were stuck in the middle of the road, and on the one hand, I think, wow, this is hilarious, I love it. But on the other hand, I think, holy shit, this is crazy, what am I doing here for 2 years?! And so I realized it is my being entirely surrounded by totally unfamiliar things, people, clothing, foods, and languages that is so scary and overwhelming.
The other thing that makes being here for 2 years seem scary is having no control over several huge decisions and many day-to-day decisions in my life. It is always scary to move by yourself to a totally new city, but normally you get to pick out your neighborhood, apartment and choose who you want to be friends with. I did not get to pick my village, family or house. And although I love my village, family and house, as a result of living with a family, I still face all the problems that come with sharing a living space. So I have to learn my family’s routines and find a way to integrate into their way of life while simultaneously establishing my own life and routine.
Eating is tough, because have no control over when I eat and what I eat and I don’t particularly like the food my family makes. I feel bad telling them I don’t like their cooking so I started cooking on my own. And at first I felt guilty not only because I was not eating their cooking but also because I was not sharing my cooking with them. But I’ve realized that it’s ok if I don’t like their food and I shouldn’t feel bad about cooking for myself. So now, I usually eat a little with them, and then when I get hungry, I cook some food for myself and it works well.
But it is further complicated because I am paying rent. See normally, when you are living with your family, you aren’t paying rent. Or, if you are renting an apartment, you don’t have to feel guilty about not being friends with your roommates or never being around. So it gets really hard to do my own thing without feeling guilty and often I feel I am riding this very thin line between living detached as a renter and being a member of the family.
Eg. If I know my sister is outside slaving away at the family’s laundry and I am just lying on my bed reading, I start to feel really guilty, that I should be out there helping, because even though I’m not expected to, I’m a part of the family, right? Or, when my brother asks me to borrow my bike is it rude for me to say no, even though Peace Corps tells me I’m not allowed to let anyone else use my bike?
So right now, I am trying to work on finding a middle ground that works for me and feel less guilty when I want to do my own thing, because I know that it is really hard to offend Gambians. Ok, that’s all, the electricity will turn off in 10 minutes so I have to go!! LOVE YOU ALL!!