N Be Jang Dorang - I Am Here Only

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Preparing for travel overseas is frantic. Passports, reservations, travelers' checks, batteries, film, all have to be accounted for. There are a lot of contingencies, a lot of details, and only two bags and a carry-on. As I prepared to move to Africa last summer to serve with the Peace Corps, I had the additional stress of taking the Graduate Record Exam the week before I left. While studying vocabulary for the verbal section, I found it interesting how many words essentially mean ordinary: banal, prosaic, pedestrian, colloquial, mundane, quotidian, and provincial. These adjectives tend to carry negative connotations: something "provincial" has limited scope; the "prosaic" is boring. It was ironic to be learning these words just before heading off on my exciting, extraordinary, global adventure.

Joining the Peace Corps and preparing for post-service graduate school are both part of my pursuit of the "global citizen" ideal. I want to travel broadly and study deeply, hopefully spending my life in service of the broken people and places of the world. What I am learning thus far as a global citizen in the flesh, transplanted from the Pacific Northwest to West Africa, is that my aspirations have been formed under some erroneous assumptions.

Under this new equatorial light, squinting through the red dust - a "glass half darkly" if there ever was one - I am becoming convinced that being a global citizen paradoxically has little to do with being global. I am concerned that "global citizenship" is a misnomer that obscures the gritty, mosquito-bitten task of being a citizen of a particular place; of being consciously provincial, of living colloquially, and of serving the banal everydayness of this broken world.

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Nathan Brouwer is in his first year with the U.S. Peace Corps in The Gambia. He is posted at The Gambia College Department of Agriculture and The National Agricultural Research Institute, where he will be working on curriculum development and research to improve small-farm agriculture in The Gambia.


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