Going with the flow: reflections on the journey so far

There’s certainly a lot to learn. Each place, each day, there is a new challenge, and slowly I am learning some lessons.

lesson one: it’s not always because you’re white.
Oftentimes, the locals have to argue for their price, too. The vendors hassle the other passengers in the car, and the kids beg to everyone on the street.

So yes, sometimes by being white, you’re targeted with inflated prices and extra harassment on the street, but you’re not the only one. Some cities, some countries, are worse than others, but I’m trying not to get too caught up in thinking it’s only because I’m white.

lesson two: you don’t have to like everyone.
For me, this is the big one.

When you’re at home, you can chose who you talk to and spend time with; naturally, there are plenty of people you chose not to. Yes, Canadians are nice, and Canada is good, but I am not expected to hang out with anyone and everyone I meet. So I certainly should not be expected to just because I’m in a foreign country.

I sometimes forget to just trust my instincts, and get wrapped up in feeling guilty for saying “no, thank you,” so many times a day. I criticize myself for not “immersing” well enough, for not “embracing the culture”, or “going with the flow.” I ask myself, “what are you doing here if you never want to talk to anyone? Why can’t you just chill out and relax?”

But the answer is, I don’t have to. I don’t have to talk to every person who wants to show me his shop, be my guide, or ask me if I’m married, in order to experience the culture. I do not have to go with every person who offers for me to stay in their home; while they may be legitimate offers, I maintain my right to make the choice, and oftentimes I choose to have a safety net (ie paid accommodation). And that’s not a bad thing.

Walking in the street, I often don’t have a choice whether or not to “go with the flow,” as I’m approached so many times, that I kind of have to give in at some point, and wind up in someone’s shop, having tea, or just chatting on a corner. Up until now, this has never been a problem; a bit of a time suck, but what else do I really have to do? Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s not. But I know that I can and do have those experiences, so I need to stop the self-criticizing.

Having Mafè, a Senegalese dish of peanut sauce on rice, behind the bus station in Nouakchott.
This guy insisted on taking a picture after having a quick tea on the way to the border.

As well, I have accepted the more substantial offers on occasion, and it’s provided me with some really fantastic experiences; but I need not feel obliged to accept in every situation. I must give my judgement more credit, because without it, I’m sure I would not have only good things to say.

The mother and daughter of the lovely family who helped me cross the border into Senegal. We are in a pirogue (small fishing boat) crossing the River Senegal into Rosso.
Watching some African music videos after having lunch with this man’s family. My extremely hungover guide (of sorts), pawned me off on his uncle while he napped and commenced to drink again.

lesson three
Actually there isn’t a lesson three, yet. It’s a slow process of figuring out what things I am learning: there is no course outline over here.

I try to meditate as often as I can (or remember to), and when I do, I always focus on inhaling things like patience, calmness, and acceptance. I focus on exhaling things like reactivity, frustration, and judgement. Because what I want the most is not to change who I am, but to be comfortable with it, and to go through this journey in peace and at ease; if not always with everyone around me, at least with myself.

I guess maybe that’s my lesson three.

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