Suddenly: occurring or done quickly and unexpectedly or without warning.
Like I explained in my previous post, living in Senegal has come quite suddenly. Especially when you consider how long it’s taken me to get here. It kind of blows my mind that at this time last year, this wasn’t even an option, let alone on the radar. And yet here I am.
I think my experience of seeing Africa for the first time illustrates this perfectly. The flight was long, uncomfortable, tiring, and at times annoying. I mean, let’s admit it: other than knowing that you’re flying over one of the biggest bodies of water on the planet, flying over the ocean isn’t really that exciting. Especially when you’re crossing it at night. Can I say ‘monotone?’ Actually, yes I can because it’s my blog and I can say anything I want. Monotone. Literally, physically, and figuratively. Even when it was daylight, the Big Blue was boring.
But what I found most interesting was that I kept looking out my window (yay for window seats!) for the coastline of Africa but I couldn’t see it, even when I knew the plane was already well into its final descent. Thanks to my many experiences of flying over land, I knew that coastlines, like cities, kind of float nonchalantly into your vision. The land rolls into the suburbs and the suburbs run into the city center with all of its skyscrapers. So of course Dakar would be the same. But it wasn’t.
Nope, it comes out of nowhere. Wham! Africa, Senegal, Dakar – all in one shot. The rugged cliffs on the northern part of the peninsula, the white, cream, and pink stucco houses (these were the really nice ones in the European/American district of the city), the deep green of the palm trees, and the rusty red dirt so typical of this part of Africa. It was quite beautiful and picturesque. And then we landed. I could see that our plane was one of two at the entire airport – it’s the only international airport in the country and it’s smaller than Madison’s Regional Airport. And then I noticed the grass growing between the cracks of the runway concrete.
Beautiful from the air, Third World on the ground. Sudden shifts. But even despite the horrid humidity (I’ve never sweat so much sitting down, let alone walking around somewhere), despite the run-down buildings, streets and cars, there’s something beautiful here. Underneath the complex and not-so-appealing smell that is synonymous with Dakar, there’s something familiar in the atmosphere. Despite the fact that my apartment wasn’t anywhere near ready when I arrived and that I’ve been living without electricity there, it’s ok. I’ve been able to take it in stride. So far. But I think what makes the difference is that people here are genuinely nice. They care about each other. And they smile. Their smiles are beautiful. I wish everyone could see a Senegalese smile. It would make your day.
I have a lot of adjusting to do. I have a difficult language to learn. My project is complex, emotionally difficult, and will require a lot of work. I also spend a lot of my time thinking about how blessed I’ve been in my life. People who live in the States or Europe take so many things for granted. Running water, hot water, potable water, paved roads, transportation and monetary systems that work, etc. This is going to test me in more ways than one. Sometimes I think that agreeing to stay here for 10 months was a mistake – and I’ll probably think that on more than one occasion in the future. The unknown is always a little intimidating. But I’m excited for the journey. And then suddenly, I’ll be home.