Last night, after a heart-wrenching round of good-byes, I got onto our great white beast (the bus) for the last time with two other girls and Bouna and headed for the airport. While we sat I watched Dakar flicker past in the night and I wondered, really, when did this happen? My mind was caught in a weird space and time continuum in which I cannot recall exactly what I've been doing for the last three and half months but can only conjure up the first time I landed in Dakar. It was hot and I was tired and confused--really, not much has changed. I didn't have long to ponder my predicament though because I had bags to check and people to fend off, and crowds to push through and then more crowds to push through, and there were some people I had to wave my passport at in another crush of people, and then, bizarrely, a bag search and a pat down. Then I took two extra-large tylenol pms and 9 hours later, I was back in the U.S. And also back in the majority. Maybe you're wondering--what was it like when you first stepped off the plane? Were you overwhelmed by the sea of white people? Were the bright lights of the airport dazzling? To you I say, one thing at a time. And really, none of this was that shocking--I walked back into a place where I was totally comfortable, understood everything and was able to express myself perfectly. That hasn't been my modus operandi for the last four months, but before that it was pretty normal. It was nice, I guess.

Here's what I noticed more than anything else--we live in the lap of luxury, cleanliness, and above all, efficiency! We walk off the airplane gangway and there are two men directing us into Customs, then two more men clarifying which way was for visitors and which way was for residents, and then there was a line. An actual line. And at the end of the line, there were two women telling us which Customs Official to go to! It was so civil. It wasn't stressful, it was borderline fun. Then we topped it off with a trip to the bathroom, which was great--there was toilet paper, it flushed automatically, and as an added bonus there was soap in the dispenser. Altogether an enjoyable experience.

Then I downed two Starbucks lattes in a row and ate my weight in applewood smoked bacon and eggs--did I pay for that later? Yes, yes I did. But hey, I was happy to revisit the aforementioned bathrooms. Did I mention that I was sitting on a seat? No? Well it was great.

Sidenote: My friend and I had an awkward moment with our waitress when we simultaneously said jerejeff to the waitress instead of thank you. What's up, English?

Maybe you think I'm exaggerating my delight at rediscovering the wonderful country in which we live and all the amenities that are available to us, but I'm really not. I had a 12-hour layover in D.C. that I can honestly say was downright enjoyable; I walked laps with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. A Christmas song, actually, because now Christmas is here! I know, I admired the decorated trees all over Dulles.

I don't want to give the impression that my experience in Senegal was negative in anyway, or that my living conditions were horrible, or that the still-developing infrastructure somehow detracted from my experience. That isn't the case, and although it wasn't what I'm used to, it wasn't bad--just different. And coming back has shined a light on the many, many things about my culture and my country that I take for granted. I knew from the beginning that there were certain aspects of life that I didn't appreciate like I should, but I know now that things are easy here. It's easy to get through Customs and it's easy to go the bathroom and it's easy to order food and pay in a currency I fully understand and it's easy to get around and there are great maps that tell you where everything is.

I'm going to miss a lot about Senegal, and I don't think that's hit me fully yet. I'm home and I'm happy about it, and so far I've escaped total re-entry shock. Mostly I look around and go, this is such a great place. The skies are gray, it's freezing cold, but there are trees on the horizon. I am so grateful.

Well. I think that about 99% of the time. Sometimes the efficiency goes too far. At the airport we were on one of those moving walkways that are already kind of obnoxious--like, really? You need the floor to do the speedwalking for you? Anyway. That aside, we notice first there's a sign that says WALK LEFT, STAND RIGHT. They really know how to keep this place moving! I think. How organized. That's so great. Then things got a little out of hand--there's another sign at the end that says CAUTION! WALKWAY ENDS IN 20 FT. Then there's a motion activated sensor that triggers a woman's voice saying, Please watch your step, walk way ends in 20 ft.

You really have to wonder how many idiots had to bite it before they made not only the sign, but also the talking lady, necessary. Come on, people. It's not rocket science. And that's when I roll my eyes and heave an exasperated sigh at my fellow countrymen, because really, that's just embarrassing. But you know. You win some, you lose some.

xoxo, Lauren