The Leaving Lists

I’ve been thinking a lot about leaving lately. At 24 years old, leaving seems like the thing to do every few years. I left home to go to college, I left college to study abroad (more than once…), I left abroad to go back to college, and I left college for the Peace Corps, all in the span of six years. Every time I leave, I feel equal parts nostalgia for what is left behind and excitement for what the future holds. So today, I’m giving in to the nostalgia and leaving you with a list of things I’ll miss about life in Senegal and some other things that I absolutely, could-in-no-way-ever miss (dust storms, I’m looking at you).

The Things I’ll Miss:

  • My host siblings. They’re the light of my life in Senegal and saying goodbye to all eighteen of them will be the hardest thing about my last day here. They yank out my hair when they try to braid it, they teach me bad words in Pulaar without telling me, they requisition all my good pens, and they remind me how our relationships with each other can add more meaning to our lives than anything else.
  • Sleeping outside. One of the upsides to our brutally hot weather is cloudless skies and the fact that it forces us outside, under countless stars, to find relief eleven months out of the year. I’ve always loved stargazing and Senegal has given me endless opportunities for it. It’s so dark here at night the Milky Way looks like a cloud in outer space, and I’ve seen shooting stars that end in bursts of green light.
  • The one guy in my village who speaks English. He listens to French radio and throws down knowledge all the time. He called me Michelle Obama until the Presidential race started and now refers to me as Hillary Clinton.
  • Biking, riding my horse, and walking everywhere. Whoever said, “It’s the simple things,” hit the nail on the head. Although I’ve cursed my bike when I’ve been stuck on the other side of a flood plain in the rainy season, I love being able to get everywhere I need to go on my own power. When I was a kid in upstate New York I always wanted to be able to ride my horse into town. I do that here and it’s perfectly normal! And awesome.
  • “Alhumdulili” moments. It could be another magnificent sunset. It could be meeting my baby host sister Hawa for the first time. It could be a breakthrough in Pulaar understanding or a project that really worked and made me feel like I did something right. It could just be a very well made breakfast sandwich. The alhumdulili moments are the ones where the world seems right and I’m thankful to still be a part of it.

The Things I’ll Be So Happy to See Go I Might Just Weep for Joy:

  • The lack of water. Always. Seriously, what is it about water? It is hands down the thing I’ve come to appreciate the most after my time in Yacine Lakke. To drink, to bathe in, to have come out of a faucet without insects in, to not get schistosomiasis from, and simply to just be around… these are the things I want from our good friend, Water.
  • Triple digit temperatures/heat exhaustion/sand so hot I could boil water on it (if there was any water to boil). And anything else related to the relentless ball of fire that is the sun in Senegal. I now have to wear a jacket when the temperature dips below ninety.
  • Dust storms. Oh ye mother of all Mother Nature’s bad jokes. You’ve permanently messed up my respiratory system. You’ve gotten into every nook and cranny. You rip up my banana trees and knock down my garden fences. My father always told me to never use the word hate, so I will say I strongly dislike you.
  • Transport in rickety, death-trap cars. Cracked windshield? String holding the motor in? Holes in the floor so I can see the potholed pavement zip by and try not to lose a leg in it? Cramming 30 people and screaming babies into a van meant for ten? No problem. These are the wonders of Senegalese transport, and that’s only after you’ve sat in a public garage for four hours, waiting for the car to fill up so you could leave, while being harassed by every man between the age of 17 and 55.
  • The gender inequality. I wish this were also a joke but the poor treatment of women in Senegal and the obvious inferior status they hold have been a very stark reality of my service. It’s frustrating, sad, and ignorant. The few empowered women I’ve met here are some of the biggest change agents I know. It’s time to recognize and nurture that potential.

Disclaimer: Most of this list is meant in jest. I’ve embraced all of life here, even the hardships, because it is exactly that: life. My host family, counterparts, and friends existed with all their wonders and challenges long before I came along and will be there, making it work, long after I’m gone. It has been a privilege to live with them and learn from them these past two years. Even through the dust storms.


3 thoughts on “The Leaving Lists

  1. Thank you for these exceptionally mature and insightful comments. I have enjoyed your blogs immensely, since Peace Corps made them available to RPCVS. I hope you will continue to blog after finishing your service in Senegal, as the experience certainly overlaps geographical location, as you have noted. We readers have been fortunate to share your thoughts, most especially appreciation for the lives and efforts of women. Thank you for publically recognizing the privilege of living among the villagers; theirs was an opportunity to meet a young, enthusiastic and hard working volunteer.

  2. Hi Erika,
    What a great post and blog in general. As someone whose leaving in March to serve in the Senegal with the PC, your blog been super informative! I have a lot of questions and was wondering if you would be able/willing to answer some of them. Feel free to send me an email at ghansel14@gmail.


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