What to expect when you’re not expecting

What to expect when you’re not expecting.

I think this was the title of a movie -rather a disaster I hear- starring Cameron Diaz and Elizabeth Banks. Although I am in no way of ‘expecting’ as the movie indicated,  I do think it serves as a perfect subtitle to my trip to Dakar.

What was I expecting indeed? Getting lost from the airport to my airbnb place. Not being able to step one foot outside the door without being called ‘Chinois!’ or ‘Amigo!’ or ‘Ching-Chong’, like my 14 years of living in Nouadhibou had taught me, yet never accustomed me to. Being utterly unaware of how to find my way in town. So many concerns and anxieties, besides the main question ‘Does my research question actually make sense IRL?’.

What I was not expecting however is the wave of familiarity and memories that overcame me when I saw the little bit of the city from the plane. The lack of skyscrapers, the overwhelming presence of neutral toned colors – sand, tranquility, monotony – the flat houses invading one another on narrow streets, the occasional minarets, the vast parcels of destitute lands, and the multitude of cars – everything that I had forgotten, that time had tucked away in the further corners of my box of memories, came back. Granted, Dakar was not my hometown per se, it is actually a much more developed version of good old Nouadhibou (especially 20 years ago), but it didn’t matter. I could still recognize bits of my childhood in this West African capital.


View of Dakar from the plane.

Once in the city, I realized memories come in other forms than visual ones. It was not just the sight of ’boutiques’ that seem to have just popped out of nowhere from pieces of metal. It was more than the frequent horses (donkeys in Nouadhibou) dragging the carriages. It’s as if all my senses had been awoken by this trip back ‘home’.

It’s the heat of the scorching sun on your skin and in your eyes. It’s the smell and taste of the exhaust fumes from the run-down vehicles that constantly tingle the back of your throat (whoever thinks Africa is the land of pure air and nature blah blah has never been to African capitals). It’s the sound of the clip-clops from the horse carriages. It’s the sound of the distant, yet awfully close, call to prayers five times a day. It’s the tingle of the sand on your feet, it’s the struggle of trying to walk in that sand everywhere you go. It’s the constant thrill you get trying to cross a busy intersection, looking left and right, without the help of traffic lights – will you make it this time as well or will that car run you over? It’s that laugh and not-quite-shaking, not-quite-slapping of hands when you say something funny with your friends. It’s that smell of a mixture of piss and food gone bad from the heat and time that linger in the corner of every street.

It’s the feeling of finally being at home after all these years, something I have never been able to feel from the many instances I landed in Seoul, South Korea, the land of my passport.

Gosh, Africa (not to generalize), it’s good to be back.



Going home

For the purpose of this post, see: Two Sides of a Same Coin
For the ‘other side”s take on this topic, see: When Home is No Longer Home

As much as I hate and love to say it, here goes.

“I’ll be back home in the summer.”

I hate it because I never thought I would ever say that and refer to Korea as home, when I first arrived in 2002. I vowed that I would only use this sacred word for Nouadhibou and Mauritania, my true home.

Yet I love it, because, well, yes, I’m going back home, even if it is for a short while, and I know this visit is going to be filled with wonderful food and people, and then, some not so wonderful people, because you can never escape those, and then some more fantastic food.

One of the main things that often make me wonder, to this day, whether or not I’m making the right choice to spend $1,500 on a plane ticket, plus more to buy presents, etc, and suffer the scorching heat or the annoying rain of the Korean summer, is … people. Not the ‘right kind’, of course, but the distant family, the uncles, the aunts, the family ‘friends’, and the ‘friends’ I don’t particularly fancy meeting but somehow feel my duty to. And of course with them comes the never, ever, ending question of ‘if I have a guy’ and ‘when I will ever get married’, because, you know, I ain’t getting any younger. It’s not even that I’ll actually ‘see’ my distant family (hopefully) or that I have many of them to start with, but I’ll have to call them and that question is bound to come up. And I know, in my head, that it’s one of those questions they ask without really thinking because they don’t have anything else to ask. But still, they may ask it once and move on, but I have to listen to the same question and awkwardly laugh away for everyone of them. And then I have to tell my ‘friends’/acquaintances that ‘No, Boston is not filled with dashingly handsome guys lining up to date me’ when they ask, with sparkling eyes, ‘So~~~~ any cute guys?’ as if we were still high school girls.


It’s not that I don’t like men. I do, I absolutely love men, believe me. It’s just that I don’t feel like actively looking for one just now. That doesn’t mean of course that if Benedict Cumberbatch really really wanted to date me right now, I won’t grant his wish. Who am I to deny his one wish, really?


But, like anything that is worth having or doing, dating is an investment. I know that I would have to actually meet guys, go to places where there is the slightest chance of me dating someone. I know that some guy won’t magically appear at my door step when I decide to stay in because I just can’t bother to take a shower. This means I would have to look for places/groups/gatherings/blind dates and what not, kinda look nice, and then work really hard to look and sound interesting. And… the mere thought of that is exhausting. Yes, maybe, one day, I’ll panic and realize I do need to find a partner for life to come back home to and spend the weekends with and post obnoxious pictures and statuses on Facebook. Maybe, then, I’ll join a dating site. Fortunately, I’m not at that stage yet (and hopefully won’t ever be). I just wish people would realize that I have more to share than stories of guys I met, cute guys I passed by and who, hence, could naturally be my potential soul mates; or even that me not sharing these stories could mean, just maybe, that I want to keep some things private. Why would I keep these delicious stories to myself? Oh, I don’t know, maybe because I’ve too often been bored by the romantic details of others that I know not to impose them on others? I don’t know, just an idea.


This was supposed to be a post about how excited I was to go back home… hmm… I don’t know what happened, something just took control over the keyboard. You are witnessing the very dangerous result of years of repressed feelings and thoughts and unspoken words.

Anyways… aside from all that, I AM excited to go back home, truly.

I can’t stop listing and picturing the foods I’ll inhale as soon as I touch ground.


Street food…


I’m going in the summer… which means I can eat bingsu!!!


Can’t wait to go to the Sushi buffet behind my parents’ apartment, and compared to that, this picture looks like a joke, no kidding.


Oh gawd sundae…


Spicy chicken


And of course, the best kind of food…Mommy’s food!

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Sorry, I got a little bit carried away with the food…

I am elated to see my dear, true, friends back. The ones that stood by me during the toughest times and happiest times, the ones that know me best as I am now, the ones that know what ticks me off and what makes me laugh.

The friends that make me laugh so hard it's literally impossible to stand still

The friends that make me laugh so hard it’s literally impossible to stand still

And I am looking forward to drinking with these friends. And when I mean drinking, I don’t mean one or two bottles of beer, I mean three, four 3,000 cc beer pitchers, along with a couple of soju.

Korea, the only place where people are secure enough to forego of their sanitary issues to share drinks (this was a vodka-based drink I think)

Korea, the only place where people are secure enough to forego of their sanitary issues to share drinks (this was a vodka-based drink I think)

The actual beer may not be as good as the draft beer here, but gawd I miss those pitchers.

The actual beer may not be as good as the draft beer here, but gawd I miss those pitchers.

It’s not that I’m looking forward to or planning to get wasted. I have absolutely no respect for the people that lie on the streets passed out from too much drinking, or for people who, unable to control their alcohol intake, end up being complete nuisances to the people around them. But gawd I miss those long hours of staying in laughing and talking with friends and then hugging them goodbye as the first ray of sun comes out, leaving with only a vague memory of the night. A good ‘drinking session’ has brought me some great moments, some heart-breaking, some embarrassing, but what I remember from most of them is laughter, talks, and bonds. I don’t know, maybe I’m too old for this, or maybe I’m just glorifying my grad school days in GSIS. We’ll find out.

Maybe I’ll end up disappointed, annoyed at the utter absence of ‘Excuse me’ or ‘Sorry’ or ‘Thank you’ among Koreans, regardless of whether they bump into you in the streets or of whether you’re holding the door for them for an eternity. But at least I’ll have fun being mad at them and giving them the evil eye if when that happens.

Korea is, after all, where 10 years of my life have taken place, and for someone to whom the notion of ‘home’ has gone through years of reflection only to conclude that a clear definition is practically impossible, anywhere where I can find a piece of my story is home.

So, yes, I am excited to go home.