I spent two years living with a family in a hut made of cow dung in Mauritania, West Africa. I learned to speak the village language, Soninké, enough discuss the Koran with my host “father”, shoot the shit with my teenage brother Moussa about American pop culture and talk to my moms about female circumcision. I worked in the millet fields, pulled water from the well and slept outside with my sisters.
The Peace Corps, in essence, is the ultimate exchange program. It’s an opportunity to live more local than you ever thought possible in the developing world, basically being adopted into a family.
One afternoon during the daily tea break, I made fun of Moussa with the requisite insult, “You eat beans!” Everyone laughed. “Ah, Laliya (my local name),” said my mom, Khujedji, “You really are one of us.”
“No she’s not," Moussa shot back. “If anything happens to her, they’ll fly her out of here and she’ll leave us behind.” Khujedji shushed him. But he was right. I had an out.
For me, this was novel; for them, it was real life. I might have lived in the same mud hut, but I would be evacuated if I became severely ill; I’d be flown to shelter in the event of civil unrest and I would never be dependent on a millet crop for my survival.
While I gained a better understanding of daily life than otherwise possible, I would never know what it’s really like to be local.
This post was entered into the Grantourismo - HomeAwayUK Travel Writing Competition for November on the topic, "Living Like Locals". We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.