I didn’t join Peace Corps because I thought it would be a creative way to lose weight. I’m not that stupid (I know, evidence suggests otherwise). But I did think that one of the perks of living in a food insecure sub-Saharan country for two years might be weight loss. Damn was I wrong.
Luckily, I joined Peace Corps after a 6 month stint in my mother’s basement, during which I compulsively counted calories and went on never-ending exercise binges in an attempt to knock myself out of the pity party I was throwing myself. So when I boarded the plane to Senegal I had lost about half of the freshman 15 (oh okay 25) that I managed to gain—and keep—in college.
My first couple weeks in Senegal things were looking good. A bout of food poisoning combined with my training family’s reluctance to feed me during Ramadan meant that, even though the most exercise I was getting every day was the ab workout from crying myself to sleep, I still managed to lose weight.
But all good things (even hunger) must come to an end. I moved into my permanent site in Kedougou, and despite the fact I was eating for 2,462 (I am counting all the internal parasites) I started to gain weight.
Food here falls into 3 categories: 1) empty carbs. 90% of what I consume is white rice and corn cous cous. 2) Oil. Lots of oil. 3) Sugar. If I make it out of this without becoming diabetic it will be a miracle. Protein? Fruits? Vegetables? Yeah right.
I wasn’t doing my body any favors either. For the first time in my life I wasn’t exercising. Unless you count the calories I burned running back a forth from my bed to the latrine.
All this would be fine, if I hadn’t turned into a lazy alcoholic since arriving here. Oh okay, so I can’t really blame Senegal for this particular character flaw. But I bet my penchant for shitty Senegalese beer hasn’t really helped the situation.
When all was said and done my parasites put up an epic fight but they were no match for the killer combination of shitty food (pun intended), booze and laziness. It didn’t take long before my ass reached epically enormous proportions. And when I stepped on the scale after a year and 8 months in Senegal I almost burst into tears. That’s a lie. I cried. I cried like the big fat baby I’ve become. But despite how upset I was, I didn’t do anything about it.
This never would have happened in America. Because in America I am a self-hating bitch. On my bad days no one hated me more than me. And that was possible because I lived in a world where every time I shot myself down, someone else would pick me up, my friends, my family, that hot guy that just checked me out at Starbucks. In America I had the luxury of being self-hating.
Here in Senegal I don’t have that luxury. I get told every day my skin is the wrong color. My clothes are wrong. I don’t speak the right language. My nose is ugly. My ears are red. I am stupid. If someone notices me it’s for all the wrong reasons. When the only attention you get is negative attention it really fucks with your mind. If that little voice inside my head wasn’t screaming back wonderful kind compliments I would have self-destructed long ago.
This isn’t a cliché story about a girl who lived two years in Africa and came to embrace her body and love her curves. I am not that girl. And Senegal didn’t make me love my chub. When I get back to the “real world” I will sweat and starve like every other image-conscious girl. But what Senegal did teach me is how to be my own champion. How to find strength and confidence without external affirmation. And honestly that was probably worth the extra 30 pounds.
Disclaimer: The contents of this blog are mine alone and do not represent the positions or views of the U.S. Government or the U.S. Peace Corps.
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