America · Here/There

About Here versus There

One can never truly know a place unless you’ve been there, even being there for any amount of time, how much do you really know a place?

The locals don’t see the historical land marker because its just something they walk past on a daily basis and don’t know what all the fuss is about, although they own dna is attached to the place, the reason, the fight the monument is there. Maybe they don’t need to see it externally.

Sacred Baobob trees in the desert of Senegal

It is VERY hard to explain this place to people that are not here. Even if you’ve traveled to a place, living there is different. Here we say Dakar is Dakar and Senegal is Senegal. Which is very true, those places are world apart and the people from those places vastly different. Same with the south of the country. In Kolda and Kedougou, being very close to the Guinea-Bissau boarder, when asked where I’m from I would say my region, Fatick, but then my fellow volunteer that lives there, simply said Dakar (6 hours by car north of me & no where near me) They are so close to Guinea, they think everything north of them is Senegal and they are Guinea. All there food, most things come from Guinea, not Senegal and surely not Dakar (12 hours north by car)

Recently listening to a re-airing of a This American Life podcast ‘Americans in Paris‘ David Sedaris makes an interesting point about learning to speak the language of a place…

Ira Glass: Someday, David says, he’ll be more comfortable in French. His accent will improve, and that daily anxiety will be removed from his life.

David Sedaris :And when it is removed for me, then I probably won’t be interested in living here anymore. I’ll probably leave.

Ira Glass: Because it’ll be just like living back home.

David Sedaris :Plus the more you learn, the more disappointed you wind up being. It’s easy to like somebody when you don’t know what they’re saying.

Ira Glass: That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about that, that not understanding somebody makes them seem more interesting than they really are.

David Sedaris : I just assumed that everyone talked about books and movies all the time. That’s all they talked about, as far as I was concerned. And then I learned a little bit more, and I realized that they’re no different than people anywhere else, that they talk about the same banal things that we all talk about everywhere.

Which is so true, it’s not exotic here, it’s not that different than anyplace else. It more or less has what we have, maybe just in slightly different forms of it. I laugh at things that are exactly the same in the two places; fart jokes, driving too fast, checking doors of a car to see which one is open, very long goodbyes, ladies sitting around gossiping among countless others

The large taba tree “Cola sordifolia”tree in front of my compound

The other part of the podcast

Ira Glass Here’s something else. There are certain things about French culture, Janet says, that just make life here very pleasant. For one thing, people don’t ask you personal questions, where you grew up, where you work, what’s your family life, what’s your story. You’re not constantly explaining yourself. She says she has one friend who she knew for five years before she knew this woman had a grown son. Also, there isn’t the same striving, the same ambition to be number one as in the States, especially compared with the corporate law job she used to have, where everybody was expected to put in 60 and 70 and 80 hours a week. Here, that would be seen as very strange. Work just is not that important to most people. 

Janet Mcdonald I’ll get tears in my eyes just like– sometimes I look around the subway, and I look at all these French people, and I’m like, thank you for letting me live here in your country. 

Ira Glass We head outside. 

Ira Glass But you feel like it’s your country. But your identity here isn’t that of the French person. It’s that of an outsider. 

Janet Mcdonald I know. And I think that’s what it is to be project girl. I was always an outsider. And I feel most inside right now where I’m most outside. Go figure. [LAUGHS]
That’s what’s freedom is, though. It’s not about nothing left to lose. It’s about nothing left to be. You don’t have to be anything. I was just thinking about it this morning. It’s like I’m an outsider. I will always be a foreigner no matter how good my French gets. I will never really be French no matter how much of a wannabe I am. And yet, I feel that I’m home. I’m just home.

Strangely, when you are you are the only white person for miles around (to quote a dear friend) it is a very odd feeling. And also something that is very hard to describe to another person from another culture and place. I’m not sure if it’s possible to transfer the idea accurately or correctly unless they experience for themselves.

I’m very happy to live here but sometimes it makes your head spin and question what and where ‘home’ is. That being said when I first got here I was very much reminded I was not in Kansas anymore (trust me I KNOW this is not America) but now being so close to leaving it’s hard to know where or what Kansas is like anymore.

But in case I need a remind of how things might correlate I have this.


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