Some things are better where you are! Image from Pixabay.
I’m not ashamed to confess it: I’m homesick. After living in West Africa for 20 months, the feeling has come and gone.
I’ve lived abroad before, but this is the longest stretch of time I’ve gone without setting foot in the United States. I love a lot of things about living in New England, my home region in America, but I’ve found that it isn’t helpful to obsessivly list the things I miss. Instead, I share with you a cure for homesickness: Reflect on things you enjoy about your current location or, conversely, the things you don’t miss about home!
Here’s what I don’t miss:
Commercialization of Holidays
It isn’t that advertising is non-existent in Togo. It’s just that it isn’t as bombastic and all-pervasive as it is in America. Here, billboards are rarely updated, and television sets are far from being an every-household possession.
Of course, in my electricity-free village, TVs are non-existent. The main advertisers here are cell phone providers, soft drinks, and beers. Although this signifies a problematic aspect of the economy, I find that November and December in America have become an almost unbearable assault on the senses. For the past two years in Togo, I’ve enjoyed the absence of a comically long lead-up to a one-day event and the omnipresent pressure to acquire more material goods. I found that I savored holiday songs and feasts more when they were a special departure from the norm, rather than a two-month long season. Removed from the commercial hullaballoo, it’s easier for me to focus on what I really value about Thanksgiving and Christmas.
It may drive most of my female colleagues crazy, but Togolese people love to compliment a person by remarking on how fat she is getting. Our diet here is high in starch and low in veggies; many of us who came here expecting to drop a few pounds have found the opposite.
The celebration of weight gain isn’t surprising; in a country where malnutrition and many other maladies are so pervasive, putting on a few pounds is seen as an indicator of good health, a good year for crops, and a solid economic status for the time being. If my host family thinks that I have lost weight, they will half-jokingly pronounce that it is necessary to fatten me back up.
American females are deeply socialized to internalize the idea that fat = bad, so this sort of compliment can be hard for some to get used to. As someone who made peace with her body years ago and who celebrates health and beauty in all shapes and sizes, I think this is great, and potentially a kind of affirmative therapy.
One reason we travel is because it changes our perspective. Our self-worth should never be tied to the number on the scale, and no body type should be celebrated over another. But after growing up in America, how refreshing to live in a place where the concept of fat-shaming isn’t even comprehensible!
Playing in the snow is fun. Shoveling out your car and finding city parking is not! Image courtesy of Chelsea Clarke.
I may have chosen this one only because we are still in windy, temperate harmattan, and the next hot season is yet to be upon us. But even after having weathered one hot season here, I prefer the extremes of heat here to the sub-zero days many places in America have been experiencing lately. This may simply be because I tend to skew cold — I’ll be sporting a sweatshirt when everyone else in the room is in shorts, and I’m pretty sure I start wearing long underwear eight weeks before anyone else in Boston, but still. Isn’t it better to sit in the shade of a mango tree with a battery-operated fan than to freeze your fingers off shoveling out your car for the third time in a week? I think so.
One of the things I really appreciate about life in Togo is the absence of artificial light in my home at nighttime. You would think that electricity would be most useful in the dark. But I think Westerners know intuitively that our bodies are biologically wired to respond to light and dark, and electricity just messes with the balance. My body has adjusted favorably to bedtime at dark and waking with sunrise. Taking away the temptation of artificial light, I’ve never felt more rested. My circadian rhythm is happy at last!
Notice this heading doesn’t simply read “electricity.” When I come into town, I do appreciate the ability to plug in my laptop, write articles like this, charge my phone, put my water bottle in a fridge, and sit in front of a fan for a few hours.
Sunrise at my house. Circadian rhythms on a normal track in village life. Image courtesy of Chelsea Clarke.