I meant to post this weeks ago so I apologize for the untimeliness but here it is.
Another Ramadan has passed! I’m finally emerging from my semi-comatose state of the last few weeks (I decided to go out with a bang and do fasting properly this year, no water and no food) and I’m reminded again of the word that’s been rattling around in my head for the past few months now: community.
As we celebrate the end of Ramadan for the third (!) day the interwoven threads of my village are at their most obvious. There is a community of reliance on one another like nothing I’ve ever seen before and the ebb and flow of people and animals in and out of each other’s lives is constant. It is its own ecosystem of sorts. Eid al-Fitr, the celebration at the end of Ramadan and known as “djoulde” in Pulaar, sees every compound in my village blend into the next. We all dress up in our best complets and migrate from household to household, asking forgiveness for wrongs done in the past year and giving blessings for the new. The children run wild in hoards, muddying their new clothes, and the women help each other slicing up the mounds of onions to be turned into onion sauce. Extended families kill a cow and split up the parts between people and households; sometimes one cow feeds one hundred people and four households.
Community is evident outside of the holidays too. One of the first things I got over fast when I moved to Senegal was a need for personal space and privacy. Although I have my own hut and bathroom space it’s almost always too hot to spend any time in, let alone sleep in. It mostly hosts my lizard roommates ten months out of the year and I only kick them out when it gets down to 65 degrees outside at night in the cold season (which lasts all of seven days). This means we do EVERYTHING together. I eat breakfast outside in a central area between the houses of the compound with 25 other people; I eat lunch and dinner there too. I take a nap next to a horse under a tree while a neighbor walks buy selling fresh milk and I wake up to a goat nibbling on my shirt, a child climbing on my back, and a farmer in my face who wants me to come look at his corn.
At first, I found the culture of community in my village overwhelming. If I went to the corner shop 100 yards from the front door of our compound and brought two eggs, one of my scholarship girls who lives across the village would ask me the how my omelet was the next day. Everyone had an opinion on my work or my language skills, even if I had never met them or talked to them before. People heard about it from their brother/mom/grandmother/sixth cousin.
Despite the lack of privacy in this life I have now, the sense of community in our 3,000-person village (all packed into a stretch of land about a half mile long) is something I cherish. Now, when someone asks me about the eggs I bought yesterday I ask them about the extra loaf of bread they ordered. I love that I can walk into any compound in my village just to say hi and stay for the whole day without anyone asking me what I want. We might get nosy and people definitely get in fights over goat damage to gardens, but I don’t know any place else where a couple thousand people can comfortably call each other family and know each other well enough to really mean it.
The openness of my village community is something I’m happy to have gained during my time in Peace Corps and always want to retain. Maybe not to the extent of knowing my neighbor’s grocery list but in the ability to know the people around me well and foster an environment of mutual support. These individual threads of connection to other people are so incredibly important to our society, yet so undervalued in the fast-paced environment much of the world lives in today. As I move toward the next stage of my life I want to take time to appreciate community and bring it with me wherever I go.