This Awkward Chapter In A Story Called Life

Trip Start Jun 13, 2013
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Flag of Senegal  , Kolda,
Sunday, December 2, 2012

There are things that everyone who lives abroad experiences; those awkward moments that occur because of a lack of complete comprehension of our cultural differences. The simplest form of this would be language. Sure you can study a language in school or visit somewhere and read Survival French on the plane but until you are truly fluent in a language awkward moments are a sure bet, and honestly even then can never really be totally dismissed.

Being a volunteer immersed in a culture where the interactions that I have with people are 80% of the time in a language different than either of our firsts there are bound to be moments that you walk away from saying, did I really just say that? A perfect example would be the other morning I was at the bank with Amadou, my wonderful work partner, and while leaving I said to the security guard "nous sommes fini," which translates to "we are finished." I thought I was joking with him because we were at the bank all morning and I wanted to emphasize that me and my work partner were finally done with everything there so we were leaving. Though I said “we are finished” in the context it was interpreted as though "I am done being friends with you;" I should have said “nous avons fini.” On top of all of this he is related to my family in some long complicated way so adding to the awkwardness of telling the security guard at the bank that I see on a weekly basis that I no longer want to be friends with him, I get to see him when he visits my house. Don't worry Amadou informed me of what I said after we left the bank and it was too late to correct my misspoken words and misinterpretation of the French language. Amadou just laughed but I continued on our walk home with a lack of excitement for the next time I see this security guard that is probably questioning what he did wrong.

Another perfect example; I was on my run the other morning and there was a donkey cart carrying fencing with a boy standing next to the donkey adjusting his harness. As I was approaching, I was preparing to pass the donkey cart on the right and thought nothing of it; cars pass these carts all the time. The cart started to move and, what looked like the boy getting ready to take off again, he started yelling something at me. With my headphones in I couldn’t quite hear what he was saying. Once the donkey started moving a bit quicker with the boy appearing to chase him and waving at me to go to the other side of the street I put two and two together; the donkey thought I was chasing it and with cart still connected started to run from what he thought was a threat. Just before passing the boy and cart I quick jumped to the other side of the road apologizing while continuing on my way. I let out a little laugh and shrugged my shoulders and the boy smiled. Who would have thought that’s its ok for cars that are ten times my size and weight to pass these animals without a problem should you come up to one on a run you should cross to the other side of the road out of respect.

My last example I wanted to share because it was an awkward moment that I actually benefited from. I went to the corner shop to buy laundry soap when I suddenly got a hankering for a bag of Crax Chips; comparable to Cheetos but not nearly as cheesy. Apparently Crax makes both a cheese and a sugary flavor of these puffs so I asked for the cheese kind. I shared a look of confusion with the boutique owner, who doesn’t speak much French, but didn’t think much of it. I paid him before I received my goods so when he turned around with my items I could no nothing other than accept the misunderstanding and continue on my way. What was this miscommunication you ask? I got my bag of puffs, which was the sweet kind that I hate, and a slice of Laughing Cow cheese that, unknown to man, never needs to be refrigerated. I secretly love Laughing Cow triangles but never buy them because I am not even sure that they made of. I gave the puffs to the kids and ate the cheese.

While in the moment it’s hard to think how these awkward situations are going to benefit me in the future but I know they will. Everything that I am doing in my life here is preparing me to live and appreciate life back home. I can’t imagine using these tricks very often but when the time comes to dismiss a relationship or dodge animals in the road I will be a pro.

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