Sunday, November 21, 2010

As Local As I'll Never Be

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. 


  1. What an amazing and educational experience. Touching post and so true wherever one travels. We are very fortunate when the "locals" invite us in to glimpse a bit of their life. Thanks for sharing and good luck in the competition!

  2. How fantastic that you lived as "local" as was possible, but I know what you mean about not ever being truly one of them. Lovely post. And good luck in the competition.

  3. What an advertisement for the peace corp! You never cease to surprise us, woman! What an incredible story!

    As Nicole says, you definitely lived as local as you could possibly could, and more than many people get the chance to.

    But of course it's not *always* possible - we've actually made a similar point in our latest review of our 'home away from home' in Diani Beach, Kenya: and included a great quote from the owner of our Bali property you will relate to.

    Thanks again for entering and best of luck!