Friday, December 27, 2013

"I Touch It" says the Italian

The travel bug. Something that seems more like a disease in the sense that you are born with it and it never really goes away versus something temporary that you catch. I have been infected with this disease, if you will, sine I can remember. Moving every few years, visiting family that were spread across the United States and continuing traveling though my studies and now through my work has allowed me to visit and live in some of the most interesting, at the very least, places in the world. At this stage of the game I want to believe that when I find myself back in the states in four months or so that I will be content with where I am geographically and not have the innermost feeling of needing to get away. With that being said there are things that only seeing the world can add to someone’s life and finding those cultural difference remind me why I am always trying to immerse myself in a new culture.
While I technically live abroad, my day-to-day life is such a routine at this point that Senegal has almost lost its shiny new toy effect. I forget that the things that seem so normal to me were once seen as new and exciting. It becomes more apparent once I leave the comfort of my village and venture to the more touristy sites of Senegal where I get to watch all these firsts in the eyes of other people that treat Senegal as a tourist destination; it is the Mexico of France.
The first night at Blue Africa, a hotel on the beach in Mbour where Rachel and I found ourselves for Christmas, we met an Italian man who was touring West Africa on his motorbike. Granted he had seen much more of West Africa than I have he was new to Senegal and seemed to be checking his first impressions for accurateness with Rachel and myself. It was not only funny to hear his impressions but it was also exciting to see some of his mannerisms that he had brought from Italy. A prime example of this, which we ended up Googling later to figure out the details of what we witnessed, was the act of him grabbing himself, you know, down there, and saying “I touch it” after I asked him if he had been in an accident yet. Rachel and I both just laughed it off and continued on with conversation because we both knew it was a cultural ism that we were clearly unaware of and didn’t feel the need to go into detail incase we were getting into something that we would eventually regret. Apparently the act of a man grabbing his crotch or a woman grabbing her left boob in Italy was the equivalent to our knock on wood; t is interesting how the simple act of knocking on wood differs so greatly amongst cultures. I also noticed how seemingly passionate he was with everything. The food was great as he took in every bite, the view breathtaking and the homeless dog that was never too far away was even greeted with a “ciao bella” or hello beautiful in English; usually the homeless animals get an “acha” or “shoo,” as we would say in America, since they are at the bottom of the bottom of the totem poll in Senegal.
In a not so smooth segue; dogs, cats and pigs are treated as though they don’t exist in Senegal. Cows, goats and sheep are slightly higher up considering that they at least provide food once someone determines that their life should come to an end, with the human life, as similarly in most cultures, usually being the reigning class. Not too long ago a few volunteers and myself were riding in a car coming back from Kolda when we came across a troop of monkeys. While we were all taken back by how magnificent they looked in their natural environment and the natural way they acted towards each other we could not help but notice the behavior of our driver. He repeatedly brought his fingertips up to his forehead and out in the space between him and the windshield with an open palm almost like he was telling them to stop. We had our assumptions of what exactly he was doing but once asked he told us that he was showing them respect because we were once exactly like them and even today we are not much different. This sign of respect was interesting since it was coming from a cultural that normally does not show much, if any, respect for animals.

How do you make Christmas on the beach better? Add
some wine and cheese!
While rituals, little behaviors and the simple beauty that a country can offer us are all searchable on your favorite search engines it will never be the same as seeing it first hand.  We tend to speed through life and forget to take in all the little things that we take advantage of once we get used to something. Whether you are one of 14 squeezed in a car, waking up to the mosque speakers announcing prayer at 5:30am or tasting that once exciting dish for the fifth time that week for dinner, life is exciting, life is a gift and it is the little things that reminds me why I like to travel. If you are ever missing home or family just blink a couple of times because it will be over before you know it.


Carol Blodgett said...

You write so well my love!!!! I enjoy every one.

Rebe said...

I really needed this reminder to take advantage of my time here in Korea, so thank you! 8 months seems like such a long time left for me (I know what that must sound like to you, after a 27 month commitment...), but it will be gone before I know it. I'll try to appreciate the small things and not get sucked into the daily routine. Thanks again for sharing!


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