By Kobe Scales
Connections make meaning, in turn the connections make relationships that if done right last forever. The connections made on international trips are indeed the kind of relationships that will last forever.
On this trip we missed Thanksgiving with our families, but should be thankful for the people that made us feel as though we were an integral part of their families away from our blood families. I have thought a lot about what it really means to be thankful and why I am thankful for the things that I am thankful for. I think that on this trip I really learned how to be thankful for people other than my own family and friends. When I think about Bandia, I see a version of a person that I would want to be a few years from now. Bandia is a strong man who in the words of Coach Alter “had a lot of growing to do when he was the young guy working at the hotel”. This is cool to me because when I think of myself I believe that if you asked Coach Alter he would have said the same thing about me freshman year.
Although I continue to grow, I believe that I have made a lot of growth since being the 13 year old freshman that you all once knew. This thought for me came true when I was having a conversation with Coach Alter and I had said “Coach you know I don’t like talking about how I feel even if something is bothering me I tend to keep it to myself.” to this he responded “Yes I understand, but I think that there are conversations that we can have now that we could not have your freshman year or maybe even your sophomore year”.
So when I see Bandia I think wow if by the time I am his age I can impact people in the same way he has, I should be well on my way to Kecouta level. Bandia accepted the CCS kids in a way that I haven’t seen before. He connected with me through very few words, I did a lot of watching in the way that he interacted with his family and friends. I made the comment to the group “I think Bandia and I actually hugged more times than we spoke words”. The only thing I truly remember Bandia saying was in his language “Kobe, very big” and then as we ate he says “Eat more, stay strong, stay big”. When I think about this I think this is a man who before we met, probably had no idea I was coming but by the time I had to leave, had impacted me so greatly, I thought I might shed a tear or two, for this connection I am forever grateful…
The trip worked out perfectly, for me this meant meeting two men who I appreciated more than I ever thought I could, but in the order that can only be understood If you experienced it. The second man we met was Kecouta, obviously a man much older than Bandia. I had a very different experience with Kecouta. The first two days spent in his village the only few words we exchanged were me saying “Kecouta, ca va?” and him responding “Ca va bien”. I could only see a big African Man who did not say many words but had for some reason opened his home to people who had no clue what went on in his culture/day to day life. I said to the group “I don’t understand Coach Alter says he’s great and always happy but he seems mad and doesn’t talk”. The next day and for days to come, I spent most if not all of my time with this same man, trying to learn and understand his way of life, speaking with him about everything from family values to him giving me an African Wife to have. This man I thought was the chief of his village and if Coach Alter hadn’t said otherwise, I would have never known any better.
He walked this group of “toubabs”(the name for foreigners) through the whole village and I promise he he stopped to talk at every house, which shows how great of a presence he has among the people. His two wives were amazing and cooked for us toubabs lunch and dinner everyday from Monday to Thursday. In America we simply buy all of our food from the store and cook it. These people of the Mandinka tribe grow every piece of food. I did not understand the full extent of this until on Thanksgiving day I found myself in a peanut field picking weeds and carrying bushels of peanuts to a pile for roasting. It was then that I thought about how thankful I was to not only Kecouta but also his two wives for the food that they prepared for us but also the way that they opened there home for us to live.
It wasn’t about the fact that they did these things, it was how effortless it seemed, good hospitality can carry relationships a very long way, especially in the world of international travel. I needed a family away from my family and that’s exactly what I found with Kecouta and his family. In the words of Kecouta “You were never strangers to my family and I, you never feel like strangers until the day that you leave. I don’t understand how you can become family in such short time and then leave”.
On Friday I found myself in this strange place where I was saying bye to the wives of Kecouta and what seemed like his millions of kids and I couldn’t find any words to say to them other than “merci”(thank you in french)… I never thought I’d have to leave. When it was time to say bye to what had become my best friend; Kecouta, I couldn’t help but cry… It was then that I understood the famous phrase that Mr. Byers loves so much… “Connections Make Meaning”.
I will never forget these people, I will always love them. #SENEGALFOREVER<3