Group Update from Senegal
For our first group update, the Senegal Seven brainstormed the best way to unite our posts. Reflecting on the enormity of the potential ground to cover, we decided to present a week in our lives. Our thought was not to chronicle in exact detail our movements every day of the week, but to give a peek into some of the activities we do on any particular day and relate our impressions. Here is a week in the life of Senegal Bridge Year!
Monday - Jackson Salter
I awaken to the dissonant call to prayer emanating from the loudspeaker perched above the nearby mosque. I look outside to see a full moon in an indigo sky. Mamati, my four-year-old homestay sister, waddles outside and splashes water on her sleepy face. She looks at me and blinks as the water drips down her cheeks. The sun starts to rise above the village of Yoff.
Kine, my homestay mother, prepares kinkillibah, a soothing red tea made with the leaves from a local bush. We take sips between each bite of bakery-fresh baguette smothered in chocolate spread. She asks me if I spent the night in peace, and I reply that I did, thanks be to God. I take my last bite, gather my belongings, and walk out the door.
I hop into a clando (a local taxi) and I’m en route to the urban neighborhood of Parcelles Assainies. Upon my arrival at ACAPES school, I greet the headmaster, Monsieur Coli, whose office is always open to the questions and concerns of students, parents, and teachers. An aged man with a deep voice, Coli fervently believes in his school’s mission to make education an opportunity for children of all economic backgrounds.
I walk to my classroom, which, despite dust and cobwebs, is bright with two big windows that welcome fresh breezes and sunrays. Although I have a chalkboard and the students have notebooks, I am challenged by the lack of textbooks, a photocopier, and many other supplies that I had taken for granted throughout my education. The twenty-five students, who are in their early teens, have only recently begun their journey to learn English, but they are eager to communicate in this language that they perceive to beget global opportunity. Today’s lesson covers the body parts, present tense verbs, and how to tell directions. I try to keep the students engaged by ending class with a collaborative game.
After work, I eat an omelet sandwich at my favorite omelet shack. The cook is a Malian immigrant with a belly that wiggles as he shakes pepper out of his pepper-shaker. When he laughs, blackened teeth sprout in every direction. “It was delicious,” I say. “Until tomorrow!” I walk outside, find another clando, and head home.
It’s windy and the temperature is in the low 70s. My host siblings slip on winter coats, ski pants, and snow hats while I try to stop myself from laughing. I refrain from saying that they are cute, because this is believed to attract bad spirits. Instead, I say the culturally appropriate “Mashallah,” which means “God wanted it that way.”
I take a walk to the beach with my host brothers, Monsour and Mamadou. We stroll on the sand among hundreds of crabs. The three of us speak French and Wolof and I teach them some English phrases too. They test my memory of the Arabic letters they had taught me a few days before. The sun is setting, and I look out to the horizon over the ocean, knowing that my family is on the other side.
We leave the beach and wander through Yoff’s sandy alleys, the smell of roasted peanuts wafting from every corner. We arrive home just in time for dinner: supa kanja, or okra soup. Kine pours a mixture of okra, onion, spices, and dried fish over a bed of rice. We all gather around the common bowl and dig in. When I put my spoon down, I’m immediately told “Lekkal! Doo Lekk.” “Eat! You’re not eating.” Little Mamati takes my spoon and places it back into my hand. Despite my full belly, I obey their commands and take a few more bites.
I fall asleep with one thought still lingering in my mind. Out of all aspects of Senegalese culture, it is the terranga, or hospitality, that I look forward to sharing with others for the rest of my life.
Tuesday - Abigail Gellman
I stand enclosed in a narrow alley. Colorful, tarp-covered booths extend endlessly in both directions. “300 CFA, 300 CFA!” a man exclaims. I maneuver my way through the crowd to a promising pile of used clothes, each item valued at about 60 cents. I begin to sift through, searching for a good find. Oversized jean overalls, a cheetah print shirt, a faded blue button-down. Another Tuesday at the Yoff weekly market.
Dakar’s weekly markets are at once over-stimulating and exciting. Known as “dead toubab” markets, or “dead foreigner” markets, they rotate among different neighborhoods each day of the week; Tuesday is Yoff’s turn to host the myriad stretch of thrift store shopping. Every week, I eye all the gaudy, strange, funny items that have made their way to Yoff as hand-me-downs from who-knows-where. When I come across something I want, I bargain with the vendor over the price. (Some things for sale in Dakar are set-price like bus tickets or items in the more western gas stations and supermarkets. But fruit, cabs, and most clothing at the market are up for negotiation.)
My first time in the market, I had been hesitant to bargain, perhaps not confident in my language ability or tentative to be confrontational. But when I spied a beautiful pair of patterned harem pants, I overcame my fear, halved the price, and ended up returning an hour later to buy a second pair.
It turns out bantering with vendors over prices is much more often fun than frustrating.
Sometimes, the jayalkat (seller) won’t budge in price negotiations, but I have developed bargaining strategies. A favorite is the walk-away tactic. To my amusement, one time, the vendor started bagging up the dress I wanted to buy while we were still in disagreement over the price. As a dramatic tactic he proceeded to take it back out of the bag as we continued to go back and forth. Having reached a stalemate, I loitered around for a minute or two, but then when I started to walk away, he sold it to me at my price!
That first market day, I made the usual perfunctory introductions and told the vendor I was learning Wolof. But when he saw that I could successfully say Ehh wai?!? Dafa cher! Wani ko! “Eh! That’s expensive! Lower the price!” he laughed and told me I clearly wasn’t learning Wolof but spoke it very well. Now, every Tuesday I make sure to walk by Adama, the vendor who sold me those pants, and he remembers me, saying Geej na la gis! “long time no see!’ with a smile.
Sometimes toting a new item in a black plastic bag swinging at my side, I head to the program house after my market visit on Tuesdays. Every day we check in as a group and go around in a circle, recounting the day’s highs and lows, or “Roses and Thorns.” We describe highlights and frustrations from our homestays and service-sites, sharing funny and memorable anecdotes and processing the more difficult experiences together out loud.
Our group check in is followed by language class, and once that is over, I head home to spend the evening with my homestay family. After greeting my family when I arrive, I play with my homestay siblings and we all eat chebbu jenn, rice and fish, together around a large metal bowl. I laugh with Mouhammad, my almost three year old host brother, and play our favorite game, a mix of hide-and-go-seek and peek-a-boo (Ana Mouhammad “Where is Mouhammad?” Gasp,* Mungi Fi “He is here!”) or clap my host sisters’ hands in the simple hand-game they never tire of. A favorite pastime is sitting with my host father and other family and friends sipping the steaming hot sweet tea, atayah, into the night. I have had several “aha” moment as I learn that people I see regularly and had assumed were “family friends” are in fact part of the ever-growing list of extended family member I am getting to know. I listen to them converse in rapid Wolof, satisfied by new phrases I can pick up, and chat with them, always feeling welcomed.
One evening, I was told I am Senegalese now, and, naturally, will remain here in Senegal and not return to America. Someone conceded and said I could briefly return in May, say hi to my family, and then come back. I just laughed and said okay, overjoyed to be among the loving, warm, funny, interesting family I get to keep spending my time with for the next six months.
Wednesday - Jeremy Rotblat
Upon rolling out of my bug hut on Wednesday mornings, I often find that the queue for the sink is long, but it’s even longer for the shower. With the many kids heading off to school by 7:30 along with some adults leaving for work, my day begins with multiple greetings from those heading out. I myself then leave to catch a #4 bus that drops me off in front of Hôpital Fann, a local public hospital. After greeting the hospital security guard with a firm, friendly handshake, I proceed to Ker Xaleyi, or The House of Children, the child psychology department which provides consultations as well as a class during the week for children with mental disabilities.
After all the children arrive, the class begins with songs that introduce each teacher and staff member in the department, followed by an outline of the day’s activities. Activities include spending time on the playground, painting, or planting vegetables in Ker Xaleyi’s own garden. If it is not too hot, the kids may be treated to swimming in the on-site kiddie-pool. Wednesday is a special day for me at Ker Xaleyi since I play music for the kids after their snack, either on a keyboard or the ukulele that I brought with me to Senegal. The kids come up and eagerly pound the keys or strum the strings, overcome with excitement and curiosity.
While I now find my work at Ker Xaleyi very interesting and rewarding, that was not always the case. I’d be amiss if I didn’t admit that when I first arrived at the hospital, I carried with me a subtle “hero complex,” thinking that I could simply show up and come up with multiple ways that I could help improve the lives of the children that have to deal with such difficulties every day. That mindset was quickly challenged after I was met with multiple hurdles, including the communication barrier that existed between me the children and the other personnel. I felt useless at many points during my first weeks in the class, feeling as if the personnel were not doing much to help the children and frustrated by my inability to express this concern due to insufficient language skills.
As I found myself unable to communicate, I was forced to sit back and observe. I noticed that the other personnel were doing the exact same thing: observing. They observed how the children reacted to different activities and situations, how they acted in individual settings and group settings. By being forced to sit and observe I noticed subtle reactions and inclinations in each child that I hadn’t realized when I was anxiously attempting to jump in and start making significant change.
This realization has not only changed my perspective about my service work but my entire view of experiencing Senegalese culture. At first it was so easy to feel as if I could simply embrace a new culture, expect to assimilate and help those in need within the country. But through my experience at Ker Xaleyi, I’ve come to realize that just as I learned to stop and observe nuances in the class, I must take the time to stop and observe the many subtle aspects of Senegalese culture before even beginning to think that I can understand it, adopt some of its practices or help members of the culture. I believe that one must go through the processes of observation, reflection and action and not simply hastily jump to action.
After finishing work at the hospital, I go to the Program House for Wolof class. From lessons on different types of verbs to complex pronoun usage, both the Wolof and French language continues to play an important role in my everyday life here. I believe the same principle of observation can be applied to my experiences with our language study here in Senegal. At first I found Wolof grammar to be confusing and had forgotten much of my French knowledge that I gained in high school. Within this frustration, I soon came to see that one of the best ways I improved my language skills was by simply observing conversations, trying to decipher words or phrases and just becoming familiar with the rhythm, the syntax and the intonation of the languages. At my homestay, on my bus ride, at the hospital and simply walking down the street, my ears are tuned to pick up and listen to Wolof and French interactions, truly immersing myself in the language.
My Wednesdays end with dinner in the company of my host family and conversations with my homestay brother on topics ranging from football to politics. It was in one of these conversations over dinner that we both acknowledged that I’m here in Senegal for nine months to first observe and then serve, for serving others is embedded in “observing”.
Thursday - Adrian Tasistro-Hart
It’s 7:30 when my cell phone alarm chimes its wakeup call on Thursday morning, prompting the beginning of my weekday routine. I dress, pass through the bathroom, pack my daypack for work, and, after receiving the equivalent of 40 cents from my host mother, head to the bakery for my breakfast baguette. I eat the baguette with either butter or, if I’m lucky, a tuna paste, washing it down with kinkillibah, a local tea, and my daily malaria-prevention pill.
And then it’s off to work. I descend the stairs from my family’s apartment and exit our apartment complex. Usually Yoff is still waking up at this hour, and the neighborhood is tranquil except for the stirrings of women sweeping the sand in front of their compounds and children wiping the sleep from their eyes on their way to buy bread before school.
I leave the cozy village atmosphere of Yoff and arrive at the autoroute, a modern 4-lane highway with every imaginable form of transportation flying past, honks emanating from the hustle and bustle of an abruptly urban environment. I cautiously cross the highway at a traffic circle, watching out for rogue motorcycles and horse carts, after which I take a breather and stop to think: How am I getting to work today?
The first option to usually be eliminated is taking an Ndiaga Ndiaye. These massive white vans, characteristically stamped with Alhamdoulilah! (Praise be to God!) in black lettering on their fronts, are always an adventure. Men who hang off the backs of these lumbering, ancient behemoths rapidly shout destinations, and no matter where you want to go, they will assure you that they’re going there just to have you board and pay. The Ndiaga Ndiayes are not to be confused with the smaller and nimbler Car Rapides, brightly colored vans that zoom throughout the city. Like the Ndiaga Ndiayes, fares are bargained for with men precariously holding onto the backs of the vehicles, and regular routes are unreliable. Not the best for a morning commute so on to option two:
If I’m lucky, I’ll see a huge, modern, blue bus with a number 8 on the front. This bus, part of the state-owned (but apparently recently privatized) bus transportation system, “Dakar Dem Dikk (DDD)”, is about as nice as it gets in mass transit, with its spacious interior and cheap fares (175CFA, or just under 20 cents). The brand-new buses even include sound systems that have been known to play “Hotel California”. Wait times are usually around half an hour, though, making the smaller, white buses a much more reliable option.
These buses, half of which are squarish and Indian-made and the other half miniature versions of the Chinese-made blue DDD buses, are run by an organization of ex-Car Rapide drivers, and they are an example of development gone right. The buses were in part funded by loans from various development agencies, and they have transformed Dakar’s mass transit by offering a reliable and cheap service that moves hundreds of thousands of people a day. Some days I’ll take the minibus number 47, plastered with stickers of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, an iconic Senegalese religious leader, for 40 cents, but not today.
Today, I’ll take a taxi-clando. These beat-up cars, sedans imported from Europe, look like they were resurrected from some forgotten junkyard as mechanical Frankenstein’s mercilessly urged on by their drivers. They’re quick and cheap, though, and on the autoroute they stop at my bus stop, honking at every potential customer and dodging buses pulling into and out of the stop. I jump in, pay 20 cents, and ride to Patte d’Oie.
Patte d’Oie epitomizes Dakar. Just one neighborhood east of Yoff, Patte d’Oie is a place in flux, where the sand from the dusty alleyways of quiet village life seeps onto the paved main road, an artery through which the frenzied lifeblood of Dakar flows. Wooden market stalls line the garbage-littered street, and vendors find the most precarious ways to display their goods, erecting notebook towers and shoe pyramids, and all the while brushing away freshly fallen dust with plastic pom-pom dusters. Behind the sellers’ stalls is a wide sidewalk lined with residential buildings. Beggars sit on the steps of some of the houses jingling change in their hands and praying loudly. I might catch a glimpse of a woman in a colorful wax-cloth skirt bent over sweeping out the entry-way of a house or perhaps a young woman in western casual at the bus stop waiting to go to school. Young guys emulating American “cool”, with skinny jeans, over-sized Nike kicks, graphic t-shirts, and flat bill caps with shiny stickers, mill around selling cell phone credit cards, newspapers, and faux-designer sunglasses. Other young men dressed in formal boubous, which are traditional Senegalese outfits, or even close-fitting Western business suits and carrying laptop cases step into one of the many buses that pass through Patte d’Oie. I myself join them on either the 5 or the 30, paying for my ticket and squeezing through the mass of people to find a spot to stand. Glancing out the window, I see a stall of rolled-up prayer mats and remember that tomorrow is Friday: the day of prayer.
Friday - Julianna Wright
It would be hard to travel to Senegal and not realize that it is a Muslim country. With calls to prayer five times a day, women in headscarves, and men shaking prayer beads, it's pretty obvious. Talk to someone for a few minutes and you'll hear Allhumdulilah (Thanks to God) or Inshallah (God willing) to confirm your suspicions. Yet these surface-level examples of devotion don’t get at the true depth of the spirituality I've encountered in Senegal. Religion is so much more than a mosque on every street corner. It's ingrained in almost every aspect of life, and on Friday, Islam’s holy day and the day when observant followers go to the mosque for prayers, it becomes even more evident.
On a typical morning, I wake up three times to various calls to prayer before actually getting out of bed. I chase my two-year-old sister, Yacine, down the stairs, watch the TV show Sene Dine, “Your Religion,” with my host mom while waiting for the bathroom, eat my breakfast, and head to my service site, SOS Children’s Villages Dakar, a community organization that provides a home for children who have been orphaned or come from disadvantaged families.
As I mount the crowded bus, I stand face to face with a large poster of Cheikh Ibrahima Fall, a famous religious figure in Senegal. Cheikhs are the founders of different Islamic sects, and people hang pictures of their Cheikhs everywhere to bring good luck. Beyond the poster, I'm surrounded by an array of beautifully tailored boubous and I'm reminded that it's Friday. Whether they're going to mosque or not, everyone wears their finest to work and school on Friday. Even the Christians in my office dress up. This practice started as a religious action but has become a cultural.
This Friday I spend my day in the Youth Mentoring Office, which supports the children who have left the village until they reach a point of independence and stability. I read a colleague's dissertation which begins with three pages of acknowledgments starting with Allah, then individually thanking each extended family member, her marabout (religious teacher) and her mentors. It surprised me to see this extensive list at the front of a research paper, particularly because its author does not give off the air of being particularly religious. She doesn't wear a headscarf, doesn't drop everything to pray when the call sounds, and doesn't go to mosque on Fridays. More cultural than spiritual is the idea that when you've had success you need to first thank God, and then the rest of your family that's supported you.
After SOS, I meet the Bridge Year group for Wolof class, after which we head to a Ndeup, or healing ceremony, which was happening right down the street. Before we depart, our instructor Babacar explains that the Senegalese may hold a Ndeup when someone in the family is very ill (usually when the person is terminally or mentally ill). It is believed that the affected person has upset the Rab, the ancestor spirits that protect the family. In order to correct this imbalance, a family will hold a Ndeup to appease the Rab by dancing to the Rab’s war cry.
The sandy lot where the Ndeup takes place is packed, so we climb to the top of an apartment building for a better look. As we move through the crowd, a women collapses in front of us screaming and writhing upon the ground. When the drummers play the song of a specific Rab, some women become so overwhelmed with emotion that they believe that the Rab has taken over their bodies. Although I cannot bring myself to believe that people are literally possessed, I do think they can be seized by their own emotions and beliefs to the point that even those who don't want to participate are susceptible to falling into this state.
Soon many women are writhing on the ground while others dance around them, but then the Ndeup stops abruptly and everyone flees. The family hosting the Ndeup pours a large bowl of rice on the ground as a sacrifice to the Rab. The call to prayer sounds soon after, and Babacar explains that Ndeups always end before the call because the practice of honoring the Rab is contradictory to Islam’s belief in one God, Allah.
In Dakar, people are proud of their faith in Islam and will openly dismiss the ancient African practices, but when visits to a hospital or marabout don't work, they hold a Ndeup. Ultimately these ceremonies are ingrained in the cultural beliefs and superstitions and give hope when other means fail.
My day is flavored with Senegalese spirituality, and as I'm kept awake by the djembe beats and Arabic chants of a ceremony down the street, I ponder the events of the day, and thank God that tomorrow is Saturday, and I'll be able to sleep in.
Saturday - Nicole Marvin
Out of habit, I wake up early on Saturday, declining the opportunity to sleep in and pass a lazy morning. I dress quickly, lace up my sneakers, and go. In a matter of minutes, I am out on the sand, finding my familiar pace as I look out over the rolling waves. The beach is one of my favorite places in Dakar; there I can escape the commotion of city living. Although there are many people around—a continuous stream of walkers, runners, soccer players, swimmers, and fishermen—I am by myself. On the beach, I am exempt from the cultural obligation to greet everyone. While I usually acknowledge those I pass by making eye contact, I can let my mind be carried away by the sound of the surf. Just like back home, the combination of holding a steady rhythm and being out in nature allows my mind to do its best processing, and since I’m in the mood I mull over some of the struggles that teaching English presented over the past week at my service site. On the beach, I am free.
It is an odd contrast to have such an expanse of natural beauty adjacent to a bustling neighborhood, but I have come to find that contrast and paradox are commonplace in Senegal. Their abundance is a subject of marvel and presents me with my own paradox: I can easily spot contrasts in my environment yet struggle to understand or explain them. There are the obvious clichés I read about in Senegal guidebooks before my trip—men wearing business suits praying in the street, a broad spectrum of wealth and poverty—but beneath the surface, contrast seems to play a significant role in Senegalese culture. People here place a high value on family time, but the centerpieces of an evening at home are televisions, computers, and cell phones. The market is a hotspot for bargaining, yet on every other street corner I can find many nondescript boutiques that offer the same brands of household and food products at the same fixed prices. In the streets, people take their time offering warm-hearted greetings to neighbors or even strangers that they pass, yet on the buses people jostle and shove others to be the first one on the bus, the first one to pay for a ticket, and one of the lucky riders to get a seat. These perplexing observations become great food for during my run when contrast is right before my eyes on the beach.
After spending the morning in relative solitude, I am happy to meet with the rest of my group to get out of our neighborhood of Yoff. Our Saturday excursions are always a source of excitement. For the past few weeks, we have explored parts of Dakar that offer glimpses into various parts of city life: N’gor Island, just off Dakar’s coast; the zoo; the Saturday market; a Christmas bazaar at an American school; and the lighthouse. While I usually bring a camera and enjoy taking pictures, I am confident asserting that I am not a tourist. I express it in the way I dress—always appropriate or conservative by cultural standards; in the way I speak—using Wolof as much as possible in conversations; and in myriad ways in which I act, even by seemingly insignificant choices like taking buses instead of taxis. I believe that adopting the lifestyle of my homestay family allows me to have much greater insight on the sites and activity of Dakar than any tourist would. And no matter where we decide to go, I am always intrigued by our instructor Babacar’s reaction. Although Babacar is Senegalese and an expert on Dakar, travelling with a group of Americans allows him to explore his country from new perspectives. As he exclaimed that “Dakar is so tiny!” when seeing the entire city from the lighthouse, he was intrigued to hear my impression that it was vast. During our most adventurous excursion in which we travelled to the city of Touba to see Senegal’s grand mosque, Babacar was proud that the entire group’s respect for modesty gained praise from locals visiting the mosque. Babacar is an excellent tour guide, and I am lucky to be able to learn from him.
The fun-filled day concludes with my return home, complete with a playful scolding from my host mother for coming home late and never sleeping enough. I eat dinner with my host family, watch television with them, and head to bed as, with a smile, I face my day’s final paradox: being unsure whether I enjoy going out with the group or staying in with my family more.
Sunday - Stanley Mathabane
Now we come to the end of our eventful week in the life of the “Senegal Seven”. Throughout this account of daily life in Dakar you can clearly see that most of our days here involve interpreting a myriad of new information and trying to make sense of this new environment. However, sometimes all of these interpretations and discoveries have been so exciting and stimulating that I find my brain short circuiting at the end of the week. To prevent this, Sunday serves as a day for the group to rest and recuperate as well as reflect on another week of service.
Sundays begin with a relaxing/difficult/cleansing/sweaty yoga session. I never really thought I would ever be into yoga…ever. In fact, whenever my sister in the United States would pay to perform this ridiculous ritual, I admittedly questioned her sanity. But here I decided to join in and give it a shot. Like most of the new experiences I’ve had here, I was not disappointed. It’s refreshing to get up and be active in a culture where I find myself sitting very often. One unexpected similarity between Dakar and America is the amount of time the average person will spend watching television. When I walk into my usual corner shop near the program house I always find the shopkeeper watching a movie on a small TV. Last night it was “The Terminator”. After our yoga session the entire group meets up to do a “check in” where everyone shares some positive and negative aspects of the day (which we refer to as “roses” or “thorns”). Just yesterday I had the opportunity to share my rose which involved my host mom gettin’ her groove on to some Beyoncé. Honestly, my time spent with my host family (and in particular my kind and hilarious host mom) is always such a rose. Whether it be spent walking around the streets of Yoff with my little host brother and sister or singing classics by Usher with my older brother. (“Let it Burn” is the best R&B song created. That’s a fact. If you disagree, take it up with my host brother, Usher’s self-proclaimed number one fan.)
Following the check in, we eat lunch as a group. Sometimes this can be a peaceful process. However, because Senegalese meals are shared between two large bowls rather than separate plates, this meal can quickly devolve into a battle for the most delicious parts of the meal. The definition of “delicious” is based on personal preference in our group. But I think it’s universally understood that the eucalyptus sauce is where it’s at. After the battle has ended and all of the spoons have been sheathed, we watch a Ted Talk! The reason I place an exclamation point at the end of that sentence is because Ted Talks, which are essentially intellectual Youtube videos, are incredibly interesting. And I had no knowledge of them until coming to Senegal. The topics of the Ted Talks we have watched have ranged greatly, from discussions of development in Africa to ways of developing an exceptional memory. After we’ve discussed whatever fascinating information was presented we have time to contact foreigners.
I endearingly refer to these foreigners as “our parents”. And thanks to the magic that is Skype, we have time to speak with those who know us the best. This is such a precious time because it gives us an opportunity to connect to our roots in the United States.
Lately, the group has also had the opportunity to participate in “Laughter Yoga” with an extremely kind couple of yoga instructors. Laughter Yoga…? Laughter Yoga.
The premise of this form of Yoga is that anyone can get together and just laugh for no reason. This may sound strange, but is so lovely in reality. This session really helps bring my day of rest into conclusion with absurd exercises, such as speaking gibberish with complete strangers. It’s just always nice to laugh and the fact that you can meet with strangers and just laugh is amazing. I’d say that’s been a huge take away from these first three months. Just a realization of how small the world really is and how similar all humanity is. Realizing that it’s always possible to find someone who’s willing to share a laugh and make a human connection has made the “real world” a whole less daunting and also given me a broader concept of my community. I used to define my community as my isolated town of Portland. But after seeing how easy it is to bond with strangers from the East Coast to Senegal, I know that a community is not stagnant. It forever moves and grows with you. Now I know that as long as you are willing to share a genuine laugh, you’ll be able to build relationships in any situation, regardless of age, language, or culture.