For today’s post, I’d planned to recap my “hectic” travel experience from Accra to Abidjan and then to Dakar. But the ‘powers of inspiration’ have something else on their minds. So instead, we’re going to talk about finding one’s place in a new country, culture, situation and so on.
Now, this is somewhat of a contradiction to my previous post about feeling right at home in Senegal, but hey, life is full of contradictions. So yea, in true life fashion, it pulled a fast one on me right after that post. Senegal still feels like home and is still pretty familiar, but I haven’t found “my place” yet. That statement also contradicts what I said in my previous post about not wanting routines. While I don’t want my day planned out to the last dot and cross, I do like to have a general sense of….harmony. (I try to limit my use of ‘routine’ lol) Who am I kidding? If ever there was a person who needs harmony to function, that would be me. Sure, I might not be getting along with every single person I know, but even in the midst of that disharmony, I need some harmony. What would you know? Another contradiction!
Kinda-Sorta-Not Really Honeymooning
Anyway, as I was saying. Finding one’s place. When you first chance upon a new country, culture or situation, you’re bound to be excited. It’s new and your senses go haywire with this infusion of newness. That’s what the experts call phase one of culture shock: the honeymoon phase. I think I’ve skipped that phase for the most part. From time to time, however, when I really let it sink in that I’m here in Dakar pursuing a “new” experience, I do lose myself to the euphoria and sense of wonder that only the honeymoon can bring.
The Ongoing Tug-of-War
Then there’s phase two: the negotiation phase. Here, you notice the key differences between the “new” culture and the “old”, and you experience intense mood swings – usually frustration and anger. In my case, I notice the differences between Senegal, Ghana, and the U.S. That’s bound to make the negotiation phase a tad more complex, right? For example, I know that Senegal is a West African country like Ghana and prone to power outages. So I’m not surprised when the lights go off. But then, I’ve been so used to having electricity, internet, and everything else exactly when I want/need it. Which I usually tell myself is RIGHT THIS MOMENT! That’s the influence of U.S. living creeping up on me. So then, when between the space of two hours the lights go off and on three times, I literally have to tell myself to “Calm down. There’s nothing you can do about it. Go sing on the balcony instead.” And I do. And have a pretty good time at it too. Lol. But you get the drift. The negotiation phase is a tug of war between old and new, here and there, then and now, happy and sad, optimistic and plain intolerant.
The “Zen” Place
Phase three. The adjustment phase. This is where you’ve got everything handled. You know who your favorite grocer is. You have that salesman in town who gives you a great price for all the stuff he over chargers other “foreigners”. You own the land. But actually you don’t. And that’s okay too, because you know how to roll with the punches. You have found your place, have discovered that harmony that makes your clock tick. Eventually, you do become master of your own territory, complete with the castle, the court and all.
What Confucius Didn’t Tell You About Confusion
The Zen Place. That’s where I wanna be. That’s where I’m telling myself I should be. After all, I am African. I have visited Senegal before, and there’s a lot of familiarity here. Now, THAT’s what’s messing up this whole integration experience. (If I tell you that it all JUST made sense to me, would you believe me?) No wonder the contradictions. See, I’m telling myself that I should be 10%honeymoon, 20%tug-of-war, and 70%zen. But let’s be real. I’ve been here barely a month, and in West Africa for barely a month and a half. It’s too soon. According to experts, one goes zen between 6 months to one year of living in the “new” place. Why am I rushing myself?
So. For those of you going to a kinda-new but very familiar place, here’s some advice. Don’t do what I did. I realize you’ll probably ignore this and go ahead and do it anyway, but that’s life. I’ll probably do the same from time to time lol.
– Be patient with yourself: Give yourself time to adjust and stop putting time frames on when you should be blabbering in french, eating all the local food, saying the right things at the right time and what have you. Allow yourself the time.
–Give yourself more credit: You’re more complex than you even know, and you’re bound to surprise yourself even when you think you know exactly where/who you are.
–Ride the waves: Whatever’s going on, embrace it. Ride the waves. Be in the moment. That exact moment is never gonna come again, why not take advantage of it?
– Play tourist: Locals tend not to like tourists too much. They crowd the space and walk too slow. What better excuse do you have for taking your time? Take photos. Of anything and everything. The food. Inscriptions on posters. You acting silly. Your friends. Strangers. Go all out and capture those moments. If nothing at all, they’ll make for good stories for your grand kids.
– Have a plan, but be prepared to throw it out the door: Yes, you can set some milestones for yourself. For learning the language, learning how to cook, finding your way around town. But don’t be harsh on yourself. Have a plan, but if necessary, throw it out the door. Don’t get stuck on planning. Life’s what happens when you’re busy making other plans.
Alors, going with the “live in the moment” spiel, I’m distracted right now. So. I’ll end this here. And maybe I’ll add on from time to time. One last thing. Take a peak at Marianne Williamson’s poem. It helped bring some perspective to this whole medley of contradictions. Might find it useful ;) Ciao!
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.