Eben: Epilogue

January 4, 2010

I’ve been taking a look back at my 2000-odd pictures from this semester — and I’ll get some more of those up on my site sooner or later — and the overwhelming thought I’ve been having is not, “Wow, this is pretty interesting,” but rather, “Wow, I did a lot of crap over the past five months.”  Not bad crap — just a ton of stuff.  Being there definitely affected me in ways enumerated in this post, but I have no oversimplified conclusions to give about my time in Senegal.  Am I happy I did it?  Certainly.  But I’m also happy to be back home, speaking my first language in an entirely familiar culture.  I feel like the other students and I accustomed ourselves to a new way of life, and although it would be impossible to fully and entirely integrate into that life, I think we did pretty well given the constraints.  So I’ll miss the other American students and the Senegalese students I got very close to, but five months did seem long enough and I’m ready to get back to college.

To recap the past few weeks, I had a great time with my family both in Senegal and in South Africa.  My mom and I went down to Kedougou, a town in the southeast of Senegal close to the border with Guinea, hiking to some cool waterfalls and visiting an independent Bedick village on the top of a mountain.  Then my dad and brother joined us the next weekend, and we had a fairly rough time fending off thieves and hustlers (successfully) but also got to a great traditional wrestling match and had a nice visit with my host family.  It was great to have them there but also a little odd to spend time with them in the way that I did; I had come to think of the lack of some basic comforts as a structural constraint on my life there, but as soon as the family showed up and was willing to spend a little more money, those amenities became available to me.  Senegal had become the land of lack-of-hot-water for me, and all of a sudden I had hot water, and so on.  I don’t think this is bad — I always hate when people complain that their experience in a developing country is somewhat ruined by something like relatively constant internet access, since people in Senegal should have internet just as much as we should — but it was just a little weird to me given how I had become accustomed to living there.

Anyway, after a busy last weekend, we headed down to South Africa.  I spent nine hours on a plane next to a man taking up half my seat and reading a Glenn Beck book, then two days in Cape Town, two days in Stellenbosch (the wine country right outside Cape Town), and three days at a safari camp north of Johannesburg.  I recommend it all (except my neighbor on the flight).  Cape Town is beautiful, and was like Disney World after being in Senegal for so long.  So I’ll try to get back there at some point soon.  And I had never really considered going on a safari before, but I don’t see how you couldn’t like seeing those animals up close.

And now, I’m back home.  I’ve never really understood the phenomenon of culture shock, so no big problems readjusting, but whatever odd feelings I would have about being home have been somewhat tempered by already having been in a more developed country for the past 10 days.  Our program leaders told us before we left that all we would want to talk about on arrival would be our time in Senegal, but that we should be forgiving to people who don’t have unending interest in what they may see as a somewhat bizarre abroad program.  But I’ve actually had the opposite experience; I’ve mostly wanted to hear what others have been doing, but most have been unwilling to leave the subject of Senegal.  But I can’t complain too much about having to talk about myself extensively, and I’ve appreciated all the interest.

With that I think I’ll come to a close.  Some have suggested that I should continue posting here even though I’m back from abroad, but I have no plans to do so;  I don’t think my economics problem sets are quite as exciting writing material as killing a sheep.  But who knows, maybe that’ll change.  Again, I’d like to thank you for following along.

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