A Mountain on My Back

A sunset in Velingara

A sunset in Velingara

A little over two years ago, I set off on an adventure to live and work in Senegal. It’s hard to believe that my time here is almost finished, but, as I look forward, I wish I had more time to be in this place that’s become home.

At this point in many a PCV’s service, he or she is more than ready to return home to America. After living in Senegal for two years, we miss family and friends, are exhausted from navigating a different culture and language, and are simply ready to move onto the next stage of life.

Although I feel all of those things, I’m also not prepared to pack up and leave in less than two months.

My little sisters, who I miss miss dearly

My little sisters, who I miss miss dearly

When a child is having a rough day – crying all the time, falling down, or not getting along with others – people will say that she is trying to carry a mountain on her back… “O waawa bambugol pelle.” The child is attempting to take on the world, but failing.

As I look forward to the future – being reunited with family and friends, eating hamburgers, speaking English, searching for a job, and driving in a fully-functioning automobile – I feel like I’m carrying a mountain on my back. No one could argue that any of those are bad things, but I’m overwhelmed by the thought of tackling the challenges that will come with those opportunities.

Being a privileged American, I don’t want to complain about these first world prospects. There are so many job openings that I don’t know which ones to apply to. I’m free to move to any city in the world, if it fits my fancy. Everyone I know speaks English so I don’t have to learn a new language to get ahead. The money I earn from being employed allows me to buy good food, nice clothes, and even a car.

But, yet, the mountain on my back seems so heavy.

Most of my work was enjoyable

Most of my work was enjoyable

Transitions are never easy. It wasn’t easy coming here and it won’t be easy to leave. I’ve invested two years in learning the local language, building relationships, and becoming a trusted member of the community. In just a couple months, I’ll leave most of that behind. My family and friends will only be a Skype call away, but it’s not the same as spending time together every day.

The literal translation of the phrase, “O waawa bambugol pelle,” is “She can’t carry a mountain on her back.” Mountains aren’t to be carrying around. Mountains aren’t to be moved. Mountains are to be enjoyed for their beauty, explored for recreational thrills, traversed when needed, but otherwise left alone.

Biking in Senegal has been one of my favorite activities

Biking in Senegal has been one of my favorite activities

If you’re trying to carry a mountain on your back, you’re doing something wrong.

The future is exciting, but it’s also terrifying. Just like climbing a mountain peak, it’s not without its struggles. But, like reaching the summit, it’s always worth the sweat and tears shed along the way.

As I prepare to leave Senegal and return to America, I hope the mountain on my back turns to a molehill; allowing me to straighten my bent back and enjoy the views.

Off The Road

a bush path in rainy season

a bush path in rainy season

Millennials love to travel. We dream of climbing mountains in Tibet, surfing in Fiji, and tasting wine in Italy. As the world has become flatter, we board airplanes, jump on trains, and hop into cars to see what it has to offer.

Our bookshelves are filled with books like ‘Wild’ and ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ that describe finding one’s self while travelling. The bodies of our generation are tattooed with images of compasses, maps, and anything having to do with “wanderlust.”

Traveling is supposed to be the solution. To learn about yourself, you must travel. To help other people, you must travel. To understand the world, you must travel. To be a better person, you must travel.

This is the message we hear over and over again. You will not be complete until you’ve seen the world.

From the time I studied abroad in Bulgaria in 2011, I’ve had an itch to travel more. Since then, I’ve lived in Yellowstone National Park, taken several road trips across the United States, and joined Peace Corps. Personally, I love to travel.

But travelling doesn’t make me whole.

Although I do want to learn more about myself, help other people, understand the world, and become a better person, travelling will not achieve that for me.

Travelling is not the solution to life, it is simply one of many means of reaching the end.

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Throughout my life, I’ve had many friends who don’t like to travel. For so long it baffled me. How can you be happy living and working in the same small town in which you were born? How can you be content without leaving your own backyard? How can you find joy without experiencing the world?

I didn’t know that everything you could want to obtain in life can be realized without running off to far corners of the globe.

Instead of turning their backs on their family and friends, many people decide to live beside them. Surrounded by those who love you, these people find happiness. Life is short, why not spend time with those you love?

Many times, I’ve travelled in hopes of finding myself. Usually, I’ve become more lost. Moments when I learn the most about myself are when I return home from a trip.

When I’m at home is when I’m the most helpful to people around me. Instead of needing to manage language and cultural barriers, I’m free to simply help those around me.

The world is best understood from the ground, but you don’t need to dash off to the far reaches of the globe to grasp the workings of our earth. The world is happening all around you. Your neighbors, coworkers, and running partners are just as much a part of this planet as a farmer in Senegal, a businessman Saudi Arabia, or teacher in South Korea.

If travelling is the only way to become a better person, why is the world filled with terrorists, rapists, and corrupt politicians? Now, more than ever, people are travelling both for business as well as pleasure. Maybe if these people just stayed in their own backyards, they’d be less of a problem for society.

As a millennial who loves to travel, I’m not condoning travelling. Seeing the world is a lot of fun and I probably won’t stop anytime soon. But it’s not the answer to all of life’s challenges.

You can learn about yourself, help others, understand the world, and become a better person without leaving your backyard.

Sometimes the best journeys happen off the road.

What the Heck am I Doing in Senegal?

greeting some women in a nearby village

greeting some women in a nearby village


As I settle into a routine in my new home, go to the market, meet with work partners, and greet lots and lots of people, many people always ask what a toubob (white person) is doing in Velingara, Senegal. Although my Pulaar vocabulary is quite limited, I launch into a short explanation of what I’m doing in Senegal, what Peace Corps is, and how it effects the people of my community. Some people get it, some people don’t, but everyone wants a piece of the toubob pie.

Then I realized that, like my new family, neighbors, and friends in Senegal, many people back in the United States have no idea what I’m doing here. And so, because my English vocabulary is slightly more advanced than my Pulaar, I will briefly explain “What the heck I’m doing in Senegal.”

About year ago, as I was contemplating what to do when I graduated college, I googled “awesome jobs that involve travel and no cubicles.” Among the results were astronaut, tour guide, and Peace Corps Volunteer. Because heights are my biggest fear second only to snakes I ruled out astronaut. I’ve always hated listening to someone talk about cool places when I could be out exploring them, so I crossed off tour guide. Only Peace Corps was left.

Fast forward a year, and here I am, typing this blog in my hut (it’s actually a sweltering hot, cement room with a tin roof, but hut sounds more exotic) in Senegal. Peace Corps is a U.S. government development program that sends Americans into developing countries around the world for 27 months of service. The three goals of Peace Corps are…

1. To help the people of interested countries meet their needs for trained men and women
2. To promote better understanding of the American people on the part of the people served
3. To help promote better understanding of other people on the part of the American people

In Peace Corps Senegal, there are three large sectors: Health, Agriculture, and Community Economic Development (CED). As a CED volunteer, I will work with individuals, groups, and business to build and improve basic business skills and financial literacy. On a daily basis, this will involve working with entrepreneurs on projects in waste management, handicrafts, agribusiness, and ecotourism. For example, one project I will be working on is a trash collection service in my neighborhood.

Unlike many NGOs, Peace Corps works on a small level. We do not hand out large amounts of money, we are change agents working to alter behavior. Two years is not enough time to see the full impact of the work I will be doing here. Although I’m sure the people who live, work, and play with me will gain something, but I know I will learn a lot from this experience.

I’m not here to change the world, but I’m here to do my part.

First Days in Senegal

a woman washes laundry at the Thies Training Center

a woman washes laundry at the Thies Training Center


There are times in our lives when, no matter what, we can’t slow down time. There are other times when, try as we might, we can’t speed it up. There are still other times when time seems to fly by in slow motion. The past few days can only be described this way.

Since meeting the other 60 Peace Corps Trainees (PCT) in Philadelphia for two days of icebreakers and last-minute details, we have arrived in Thiès, Senegal for nine weeks of training. Thus far, training has included classes from 8:00 to 16:00 with other activities in the evenings. Beginning this week, we will be assigned to a local language and leave for Community Based Training (CBT) to live with host families.

Several of the trainers are nearing the end of their 27 months of service as we begin our service. As we ask them questions and learn from their experiences, everyone says the same thing: your time in Senegal will be over in the blink of an eye. Although there will be difficult days, weeks, and months, the hard times will pass as quickly as the good times.

Daunting though it seems to integrate into a new culture, I can help but anticipate the success that comes from the failures and mistakes I am sure to make as I learn a new language, start a new job, and become a member of Senegalese society. Though the hard times will come, the good times will be well worth the trials I overcome.

Training Grounds

SenegalSince receiving my invitation to serve with the Peace Corps in Senegal, it seems as if my life as becoming training grounds for the 27 months I’ll spend in Africa. Starting a new job, moving to a new city, staying with a host family, making new friends, living in a foreign country, and learning a new language are among the lessons I’ve learned so far. As with many lessons, these weren’t always easy to learn, and some were downright difficult. But, in the end, they all lead to good things and strengthened the skills I hope to use as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV).

Months turn to weeks and weeks turn to days as the countdown to March 3 winds down. As I anticipate arriving in Thiès, Senegal for Pre-Service Training (PST), the anxiousness I felt in my stomach is being replaced by pure excitement. Not that I’m not scared, but the strength that is only present in the face of fear is empowering me.

Empowering me to touch up on my French skills. Empowering me to say goodbye to friends and family. And empowering me to invest in the lives of those around me, even if only for a short period of time. Because, although my remaining time in America may be short, the two years I spend in Africa will seem even shorter.

The most important lesson I’ve learned in the last year is to learn from the people around you. Though someone may only appear in your life for a summer, a month, or even just a moment, each human has a life lesson to share.

To listen, to love, to hope, to dream. A few of these have been shared with me.

When I look back on my African experience in two years, I hope I remember the lessons I learned from the people around me. Maybe I’ll change Africa for the better, but I know that Africa will change me for the best. The men and women I live, work, and travel with will share with me just as much as I share with them.

And, I have no doubt, Africa will be training grounds for something even greater. Because life has a way of always preparing us for the challenges we will face, of using our fears to make us stronger.

So, enjoy today for today, but always look forward to something far greater. Although you may not think you have what it takes, take what you have and face your fears. Share what you learn, because, after all, we’re all training.