By Caitlin O’Reilly
When I think back to these past few days spent in Senegal, I am lost to find words to capture everything that I have seen and felt. From our first night in a luxurious house right next to the ocean and two nights on an island which felt like paradise, we finally arrived at Kecouta’s calming village after a long seven hour drive. There is no doubt in my mind that our time spent in this village was the most meaningful; relationships between our cultures formed and they exposed their personal traditions to us. No story I tell or picture I took will ever be able to capture the nature of life in the village.
After spending a total of 4 days with no running water or electricity, I couldn’t help but realize how grateful I truly am. Through conversing with the people of the village and playing with the children, I felt calm and refreshed. The people in this village seemed so free and at peace. It felt like for the first time in my life, every person I interacted with was so full of life and just happy. The people were so welcoming and truly opened themselves up to make us feel at home. Seeing this really made me think about the differences between our society and theirs. I sat watching the women cook our meals throughout the long, hot days with the most positive energy I have ever seen. I played duck duck goose and ring around the rosie with the most outgoing and playful children I have ever met. Being in this village showed me how complete your life can be without having all the materialistic things we find to be so important. There was something so freeing about the dirt that covered my feet and fingers. There was a feeling of comfort when the villagers treated us as locals rather than seeing us as foreigners. Our time in this village was definitely the most impactful part of this trip. I was able to see how the simplest of lifestyles is actually the most fulfilling. In life, I find that I am always searching for larger things to make my life feel complete, knowing that we only have one shot, but these past few days showed me that all you really need to be happy are the people around you. As one of the villagers, Kecou put it, the only two things needed to live a fulfilled life is to have love and friendships.
Coming to Africa has been an experience like no other, and I have no one to thank but my parents and the faculty members that made this happen. Coming to Senegal has allowed me to first hand witness the shattering of all the stereotypes. People say that Africa is poor and that Africans are all sad and starving. I am so lucky to have been able to come here and say that that is 100% false. I have never been around such positive energy in my life, and I wish I could thank everyone in this county for showing me the true meaning of life. I found myself reflecting a lot about my personal goals in life. I continued asking myself: Do I want to follow the standards that society has set and live a fairly average life or do I want to focus on what makes me happy and what makes me feel alive even if it goes against what society sees as correct? I envy the lives of those in the village, and I somewhat fear going back to structure of the American lifestyle simply for this reason. As I know I must return back to reality and our final day is coming to an end. I am certain that these experiences will stay with me forever. I simply hope for myself that I will begin to feel less pressured by society to do what is expected and instead live a life driven solely by my passions and things that make me feel complete.