Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, June 20

Feeling Alone

I’m never really physically alone; there is always someone in the room. My bedroom door is never shut, because that would mean something is horribly wrong with me. I’ve started to feel weird about even shutting the door to pee in my cubby bathroom. But I feel alone almost all the time. Emotionally it is so hard to connect. Whether it is with my host family, friends I’ve made in town, or other Volunteers… it all seems so transient. Have we all accepted that this will be a temporary thing?

I taught my oldest host brother the word “hug,” and how to give one. He’s not too bad, and for a while he’d give me one every day when he got home from school. It made my day. Then, he became grumpy and told me he didn’t understand the significance. It’s hard to explain. Americans just crave contact more than the Senegalese. I don’t know how to explain why touching someone makes me feel better. The song “Lean on Me” sums it up right? We depend of friends to help us when we are weak? We lean on them, both figuratively and sometimes literally. In the end, he told me it was all mental and that I could change it if I tried. What if I don’t want to try? Who says there’s anything wrong with PDA?

And then there’s me trying to explain happy hour. It’s more than just an hour of discounted drink; it’s a time when coworkers go out to relieve stress. We complain about the job, we talk about life and we get to know each other. A guy I work with and I go for a drink occasionally, and I’ve spend a large amount of time explaining the relevance in American culture of ‘end of the week beer after work.’ I think he finally got it because he asked if we should be continuing to get beers every week- but this is after knowing him for eight months. Given this, you should understand why I would find my paltry version of happy hour a huge success.

Now, about those other PCVs. There seems to be this constant battle between needing a good friend and being paranoid that the other person could be taking it the wrong way. Or maybe it’s all my paranoid, Mefloquine popping, head. Back in my old life, there were coworkers I was cordial with and others that knew my whole life inside and out. Here in Africa, it feels like when I see another American/ coworker/ friend/ PCV that it’s such a rare opportunity that I regurgitate everything I would say to my closest friends without filter. Because hey, I can do it in English to someone who’ll get it! People here are amazingly supportive of each other, and by no means am I saying I am ungrateful. What I am saying is that there’s a part of me that, once done spitting out every last detail, wonders am I really closer to this person now, or was that just too much information?

With the sheer volume of different, and sometimes very frustrating, stimuli here, I need to get something off my chest quickly before it continues to bother me. So, I call or meet up with someone and we talk openly and candidly about the things we go through or see. It honestly feels almost like a secret knowing that no one else around can understand what’s being said. At first it’s mostly rant, but then it turns into a bigger picture conversation about the things we’ve learned, how and how quickly we’re changing, and the people we’ll become by having gone through this. And about this time, I realize I’ve just told someone enough detail about my life to put them squarely into my inner circle back at home… but what does that even mean here?

Interactions, as I’ve said, are few and far between. I go months without seeing friends from the northern or eastern parts of the country. So with a lack of time, I talk about things that matter… sometimes skipping the formalities and going straight to the meaty stuff. Which leads to my second concern of was that too much? Did I just force someone to listen to something they didn’t want to hear? Were they kindly listening, and nodding, and responding politely… but all the while thinking, “Geez, what did I get into? Remind me not to ask next time…”

So, I ask you, where do I draw the line between cordial and inner circle? Time is slipping past my African sand clock and I’m not entirely sure who’ll be left standing at the finish line. My host brothers, friends from town, PCVs that I’ve really only spend a few days in actual company with? Or are these relationships temporary and built on an immediate need that will fall away like the sand once I’m gone?

I’ll deal with the fallout when I get back as I’m quite certain that no matter how many questions I ask, nothing will be solved today. By and large, I’m surrounded by good people… and a few of them quite obviously do care for me. I suppose for now I’ll relax, stop worrying about it, be grateful, and maybe even consider getting off Mefloquine.

1 comment:

  1. Alys-
    I really enjoyed reading this post. I'm at the end of my 2nd week in Moldova and I'm pretty much feeling that way right now- who is really my friend, who is going to go tell everyone else what I said, and who will remain my friend when we leave. Most of us seem so close right now, but I know that is bound to change once we are at our permanent sites. I'm feeling alone, even though there are 16 of us EE's at this site. I'm thankful to have the wonderful host mom that I do, but it's hard having the language barrier right now because I only understand so much, and I can only tell her/respond with even less than that.
    I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    Tu parles français en senegal, non?

    Bonne nuit-