Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, March 20

High Points

It’s hard to stay positive every day of my Peace Corps service; some days are much harder than others. And so, I found myself taking a few moments each evening to review the best part of my day and sharing it with a fellow volunteer. Anything that makes me laugh or smile, diffuses frustration or anger, or generally lifts the spirit counts! It’s the one time when size doesn’t matter…

Fellow PCV
1.       Wind blowing away mosquitoes
2.       COS (close of service) conference posted on calendar
3.       No high point. L
4.       News from a grad school application to arrive in the future
5.       Finding a lost bag of gummi bears
6.       Feeling appreciated by study abroad kids hosted
7.       Creating the Ameri-list (arrival at home version of the bucket list).

N'ice Cream
1.       Giant bag of fruit purchased
2.       Shower with pretty smelling soap
3.       Mardi Gras party with chicken, fries and salad
4.       Journaling through a problem
5.       Impromptu financial planning class
6.       N’ice Cream trip to get old delicious ice  cream
7.       Dinner out with homestay family in Dakar

I share a week's worth with you now because it illustrates a few important points about what I assume is the average Peace Corps service. More than sometimes, roughly most of the time, it’s the littlest of things that make a difference. The smallest hint of appreciation from a Senegalese person can make an entire week. That’s because the culture here is founded on negative reinforcement, so that rare positive version is highly coveted. When you expect someone to berate you for your poor language skills, but instead they just smile and let it pass without incident… it can change a whole day in a way I’ll never be able to explain.

Stir Fry Lunch
Food is always important. A good meal can make a whole day better by being a) tasty, b) nutritious and c) plentiful. But most of us will take two out of three of those. Throw in some great American company and I’m happy as a clam. Having a variety of fruit available for breakfast or afternoon snack can give a girl something to look forward to and candy is the best kind of treat. But most thrilling are those times when I travel to the food filled glory that is Dakar; where you can find just about anything to satisfy your craving: Asian, Mexican, American, and desserts galore!

In the over weighted percentage of high points that involve a simple pleasure, one can occasionally find an “ah hah” moment or two that have potential. Perhaps it’s when your brother finally learns to use the word “please” (in English no less). Or maybe it’s when a business principle hits home with a work partner. And you know it because you see that idea in action a week after the conversation. There is no never ending bounty of these grand moments- and the entire incident will have lasted less than one hour. These facts are guaranteed. But they are happenings that I’ll remember five, ten, and fifteen years down the line. They will become the stories retold millions of times for friends and families that will over glorify my service. They will mean a lot to me, there is no doubt.

Women's Group
The fixing of a future date makes this deadline-less world seem more manageable; if I know something will actually happen- on a day it is said to happen- then there is a degree of controllability found in that. It seems like every day I fight the feeling of despair that tells me I won’t be able to accomplish anything today. Things move slower, more politically, and less productively here in Senegal and I have no control over that. But every so often, something is fixed. A Peace Corps training, a rendezvous with fellow PCVs to work on a project, or even an open house hosted by a women’s group feels great to plan. I may miss my Franklin Covey super planner immensely, but I’m holding it down one fixed appointment at a time.

Me and Saliou
At the end of the day, avoiding an irritating mosquito bite should never be discounted. Big or small, this exercise of looking back and thinking about something that brought a smile to my face helps ease the stress of Peace Corps life. I can’t say I was ever the type to do this state-side. And I can’t promise that I’ll be able to continue this exercise after I’m gone- look at my life-long pile of failed New Year’s resolutions! But I can say right here and now, today, that this is one of the best coping mechanisms a volunteer can implement. I knew when I joined that I’d have the chance to get “back to basics,” as the over-played mantra says, but it means so much more than charcoal cooking and bucket baths. It’s about learning to appreciate what I do have and letting go of what I don’t; focusing on the high points!

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