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Photo by Elke Schmidt, Senegal Bridge Year Program.

The Rooftop

There is no doubt that in just this first month of life here, I have grown insurmountably. All of the new exposure to perspectives, orthodoxy, and general way of life inevitably lead me to reflect upon my own beliefs. However, the constant day to day changes in my way of life have been harder than expected. Not only have I been forced to face my biggest fear of bugs, to take bucket showers, and to assemble my bug tent every night, I have also begun to wake up three hours prior to breakfast to hand-wash my clothes at least once a week. For two days we were afforded a short break from rugged living and stayed in an air-conditioned hotel in Thies for two nights. Regardless of this access to similar western comforts, hand washing laundry was a task that I still could not escape.

While the rest of the group decided to wash their clothes later in the day, Felipe and I decided to wash our laundry in the morning before the sun was fully out. At 6am, 3 hours before the group’s 9am breakfast, I woke up Felipe to begin the laundry process. We began filling buckets on the first floor and carrying them up to the roof, 3 floors up. Once we had 5 water-filled buckets on the roof, we began to organize them. One for pre-rinse, the next had our bar of soap for scrubbing out stains and problem areas, the next our powdered soap bucket for general washing, and the last two for rinsing. Playing music with my speaker I had bargained for at 13,000 CFA the evening before at a local butik, we watched the sunrise as we squatted down by the buckets to wash our clothes. We washed our clothes from the dirt accumulated over the week, all to do it again. After the 40 mins of time it took to fill and organize the buckets, it took us another 2 hours to wash and hang all of our clothes. When we had finished, we had two lines filled full of clothing. Tired, yet accomplished, we set out to prepare for the official beginning of the day. This was just a necessary step to ensure that one of the basic necessities of daily life was met so that I could go on and complete the essence of my work here.

Our instructors talk a lot about the majority vs. the minority world and the great privilege that many of us have in being American citizens. The truth is, that despite having a relatively lower socioeconomic status in the United States, I have a minimal level of comfort that is only offered to a minimal amount of people around the world (and as we are now becoming more aware: at the expense of millions in the global community). The fact that I, despite coming from a lower socioeconomic background, will always have running water, and can rely on a washer and dryer for my laundry are proof of the minimal levels of comfort that I have been afforded.

Putting so much effort into a task that at home would take 2 minutes of my time and no manual effort whatsoever, has inevitably led us to value even the most mundane, and under-appreciated activities of daily life.

Our rooftop laundry gave me time to reflect on the comfort we left back at home. I have become inevitably aware of the privileges that we have coming from the minority world. It is dangerous to hide in one’s privilege and never try to understand what it feels like to live without that privilege. If it is possible, it is imperative to try and experience a world without these privileges not to pity others or create a sense of superiority for oneself but rather to have a greater understanding of what life is like for my brothers and sisters in the international community.