Creative Writing

Salty and Selfish

Once I heard “I didn’t ask you shit” come out of the five year old’s mouth I knew my language fluency had just gone from Intermediate-Mid to Intermediate-Advanced. It was a momentous milestone to say the least. Intermediate Advanced means you can understand more than you can respond. It also means that no one cares, so save yourself the heartache, and let the locals talk about, over and down at you while you stand there taking it like a champ.

I’m learning that these precious moments, swallowing my pride and fury, get bottled up inside and put on a shelf labeled “Don’t-Take-It-Personally.” Then one day, someone refuses to wash their hands before dinner with the rest of us and the entire shelf comes tumbling down while I fight the urge to cry and throw the water bucket across the compound out of irrational and misguided frustration. Z says you regress about two years in maturity while hidden away in the Peace Corps….I think I have proven, by the mere fact that I’m an almost-28 year old having temper tantrums, he was being modest in his estimation. Just doing my part to be a shining Ambassador for you folks out there, here in this little Senegalese village. No need to thank me, the pleasure is all mine. In summary:



Amusing as it is to read the trials and tribulations of living in the bush, I am realizing there needs to be a disclaimer to some of my stories. That it’s easier to convey things to be so much worse and dramatic than they actually are. The solitude and discomfort of being an outsider heightens ones awareness and vulnerability, so much so that disruptions to everyday routines, conversations and thought processes (that are already a struggle in themselves) can send one over the edge, a little too quickly I might add. Emotions are high, self-confidence low. Though the same could be said about teenagers, and do you ever believe what they have to say? Their life is never as hard as they make it sound, it’s really the existential angst (and raging hormones) talking. The same could be said for Peace Corps Volunteers. I’m malnourished and tired and uncomfortable but the life equations lean heavily toward the blessed, the sane, and the plentiful – so it ain’t all that bad.

This experience is also making me empathize so much more with immigrants in America. My parents moved to the States from rural parts of Cambodia/Vietnam in their late 20’s speaking no English. We may whine and joke out here about the challenges of cross-cultural communication and collaboration, but at the end of the day locals are impressed we make an effort to assimilate (however many awkward and painful attempts it takes). They are, for the most part, more patient with us than we are with them. Do you think the same sentiment could be made about America(ns)?