Two years ago, I became a Peace Corps trainee, which now feels like a billion years ago. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and searching for... something. It sounds cliche and it is, but the only thing I knew for sure I wanted to do was run away and experience the world - good or bad, pretty or ugly, rich or poor. Today, I'm less bright-eyed, my tail is a bit singed, and my rose-colored fantasy glasses are shattered beyond repair. Still, I couldn't be happier.
I'm happy because I have faced reality and accepted it. People are often fed this idea that Africans are poor, dumb, helpless, and need to be saved (in more ways than one). I wanted to see for myself. After living in Ngouille Dieri for 2 years, I can assure you that residents may be financially impoverished, but they aren't helpless, they aren't stupid, and they don't need to be saved. They're just people making the best lives possible with what they have. Family, family, family is top priority here. I envy how close the families are. I'm close to my family, but Senegalese take it to a whole new level. Money is less valued and disappears in the wind. Yet, these guys are rich in family and hospitality. Different lifestyles often reflect different values.
I'm happy when I wake up with rain leaking through my roof. I'm irked, but I can roll over to a different part of the bed where it's dry and go back to sleep. Many people in the world don't have the benefit of a roof, leaky or not. I'm a lucky girl.
I'm also happy, because this wasn't supposed to be easy. I got exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to disappear in a remote corner of the world. I live in an African village with 700 people but no electricity. I wanted the road less traveled. I was the first volunteer in a place where women are not generally accepted as leaders. I wanted to experience an unfamiliar culture. I'm in a Muslim country, which is a world I was never even introduced to in college. It's a challenge beyond measure. It has rocked me to my core and morphed my character.
In orientation, we were told that if we made it through our training, we would make it through our service. Here I am two years later a little worse for wear but without one ounce of regret. I'm ready to move on to the next chapter of my life, whatever that may be, but I know a big part of me will miss Senegal.
Bonnie Weyandt has lived in Senegal, Africa for the last 27 months as a Peace Corps volunteer. There she has found a passion for writing people's stories, including her own. It's a big world out there, and she wants to discover it, one story at a time.