I returned to the US on May 16th, 2011. I’ve now been out of The Gambia for over seven months now. In that time I have gained about 15 pounds, lost my tan, travelled to Italy twice, gone through a massive amount of teacher training, and met a whole new group of awesome friends. I no longer spend half my morning greeting people or share my food plate or eat on the floor with my hand or speak Pulaar regularly or chase farm animals away from my front door. However, to be honest, those are all things that I miss. While I realize that there are many things that I do not miss, I sometimes find myself wishing I could return to The Gambia. I know that my life will never again be as simple as it was there.
Joy and Nostalgia
I enjoy no longer being referred to as a “toubab.” It is also a relief to go shopping and pay the price listed on the item, instead of bartering for 15 minutes. Being able to eat a variety of foods and having ready access to ice-cold water at all times is fantastic. However, I do miss the salty taste of domadaa and the exotic fruits that were always so cheap and accessible in The Gambia, such as papaya and cashew fruit. Living in Boston has severely reduced my ability to go on secluded runs or to go bird watching. Now, in the cold of winter, I run on a treadmill in a crowded gym, longing for the open fields that I used to run through in Africa (even if it was really hot and dry and dusty). I do enjoy being able to have a hot shower and no longer having to use a pit-latrine, but I will never forget the nights when I was able to take a bucket bath under a starry sky.
I also miss the incredible people, culture, and customs of The Gambia. Gambians had a friendliness and simple sense of humor that I have found nowhere else in the world. However, I do not miss the people who tended to be overly friendly or the domestic violence that was often present. Overall, the things that I miss the most are the amazing people that I met and worked with and the abounding nature that constantly surrounded me in The Gambia.
Everyone is interested in hearing about Africa, especially people who have lived and worked overseas before. While my friends make fun of me for constantly starting my sentences with “well, when I was in Africa …,” I have found many willing and interested ears to listen to my crazy stories. One of the best things I did when I returned to the US was designed a photo album on KODAK.com summarizing my three years in Africa. It is a great thing to show to people and allows me to condense an otherwise overwhelming amount of stories, experiences, and memories. I have also found that it is great to listen to the stories that other people have of living and working overseas. You’ll be amazed at how similar the joys and stresses of your different experiences might be. My students are also good listeners!
Whatever the situation and whoever the person, I am thankful for every single person who has read or listened to my stories and reflections.