Pangs of homesickness, those dangerous and nettling feelings, have started to emerge. They poison daydreams and warp one’s relationship to what could normally be an open-ended calendar. In my stubborn and moneyless situtation, I have not yet left West Africa in almost two years. The sensation of burning, literally from the intense heat, and figuratively in terms of mental burnout, has overwhelmed me at times. When the adventure of going far away wears off, the hangover of staying far away ensues. The hangover of adventure is what you choose in doing Peace Corps Africa as opposed to backpacking through Africa. Choosing to stay despite the novelty having vanished allows for a new type of adventure.
The United States, through a foreign lens, has become intensely curious to me. I want the microwave dinners, the strip malls, the company of overeating sports fans. I want to visit Texas, summon a pizza through the phone, and be in a crowded New York subway. I also want all the things I’ve realized are rare in developing countries: encouragement of creativity, critical thinking in schools, male-female parity, entrepreneurial spirit, appreciation of diversity. The survival aspect of life in Senegal precludes most people from indulging in these privileges.
Americans, or anyone for that matter, ought to experience life abroad and all that it entails: the packing up of one’s life, the goodbyes, the suspension of loans/apartments/jobs/cellphones/relationships, the giving of oneself fully to an unknown place. The overwhelming (and exhilarating) uncertainty. The willingness to get sick. The willingness to become homesick.
It is freeing to choose to live in a culture where you will be constantly surrounded by different people who have no concept of alone time. In so doing, you choose in fact to be alone, even if it is not in the physical sense. That aloneness frees you to think; to negotiate your boundaries of self; to adopt, even, a new persona. And yet the bonds you forge in this period of solitude and homesickness, with people whose language (such as Pulaar) you’ve learned not to boost your résumé or your eligibility in international business but instead for the sole purpose of speaking with them, become some of the most heartfelt connections you will make with other human beings.
And in this period of homesickness and longing, one’s heart is more open. The complexities and intensities of emotions are more readily felt. What you gain from savoring the hangover of adventure is a braveness and an empathy and a vulnerability we are not often afforded in the midst of cluttered American life.