By Olivier Shumbusho
It’s funny how different a country is depending on where you go. I had already been to Senegal on one previous occasion, visiting only two cities and experiencing the urban side, which was frankly not the most interesting to me.
Throughout this trip, I witnessed a shift, not only in the infrastructure but in the values, the traditions, the lifestyles, and the people. This shift was not one-sided; my fellow students and teachers came out of their shell to engage with a new and remote environment and gained new perspectives and connections that they will cherish forever. The place shifted and so did we.
Being the only other French speaker allowed me to witness the relationships we formed blossom first-hand, as I translated seemingly every expression that came to mind within reason. I refused to translate “You’re my lil shooter” “Y’all should listen to Quando Rando and Roddy Rich” for Connor, but y’all get the idea. And even if they didn’t speak hand gestures, random noises and always being ready to play, brought us foreigners into the Niogani community in no time.
I also had the privilege of co-guiding some tours which also brought me to another realization. Their lifestyle is unlike any I have seen before and the only way to describe it: simplicity. One reason why this community was so tightly knit was the fact they didn’t stress themselves with things that didn’t matter. Which doesn’t mean that they don’t have problems, rather they focus on what is really important to them and solve their issues in the most direct way. Procrastination is a foreign concept.
One example of the community not caring about things that didn’t matter involved the toilet. The floor of the toilet space collapsed (it was nearing its time anyway). For us this seemed horrible – the thing everyone used was broken. For Kecouta and Sirah and Fanta (his two wives), there was no need for stress. There would be a solution. They quickly constructed a new floor for the toilet room. The event required a solution but it did not require freaking out. The community could solve it.
Procrastination simply doesn’t exist in the village. People don’t make excuses. One of the men in the village, an immigrant from Ivory Coast, had an infection in his mouth that had caused his face to swell to twice its size. He had continued working despite the discomfort and came to us to ask for simple ibuprofen and a band-aid. We ended up taking him to the hospital, where they drained his face and gave him some antibiotics. Before we knew it, he was back to work and gratefully making sure we all understood his village. Procrastination – putting something off based on excuses – does not exist.
What I’ll take back from this trip is what is really important to me, certainly not my phone or Wi-Fi or scuffles between my peers but this better way of life and the strength of the bonds I create from now on. I’ll never forget this experience with this group, and even though I lost my glasses in the Gambia river, I found a lot more.
P.S. if you go look for my son Idi, he has THE roundest head ever, Alter can attest.