Time is an interesting thing, especially when considering an experience like our trip to Senegal. Sometimes, it feels like there simply isn’t enough of it. An infinity of potential can seem constrained by the finite. We definitely experienced that during our 9 days in West Africa. During the same trip, though, time also felt immeasurably irrelevant. Certain experiences play out in minutes and hours but then resonate. Quantifying the significance of a good meal and a drink of cool water after a long Senegalese day, or of the sensation against your hand of cold stone worn by the feet of slaves taking their last steps on their native continent, or of being surrounded by the expanse of Niokolo Koba National Park, or of discussing development’s impact on culture is a useless attempt at categorizing.
So, now, here we are – days separated from our time in the country of Teranga. It’s honestly startling how quickly we return to the routines of life on campus, yet somehow the resonance still registers. Here are some observations on that:
For Jack, it seems that the resonance is physical. He still wears the hat that Keita gave him every day and he seems to look at you differently. There’s a swagger about Jack now that wasn’t there before. But it’s more than just a cool beanie and a renewed sense of self – for those of us who know Jack well, it really feels like he’s still experiencing Senegal and the community of Niognani that embraced him so intimately.
For Sally, the resonance bubbles over. Senegal didn’t make Sally positive and social – those are qualities that have likely characterized her since birth. But Sally is open to more people now than she was before and it’s exciting to see. Even Olivier, who was with our group for part of the adventure and is now far separated in Belgium, reminds me of the connections that Sally made that will continue long after the trip.
For Zach, the resonance is registering in music. His roommate confirmed yesterday that Dibi Dibi Rek (well worth the listen!) is on repeat in their room. The image of Zach looking out the window as we drove across the country, Dibi Dibi Rek booming through the speakers, feels alive still.
For Connor, the resonance is almost certainly a fishing story. He didn’t catch the trophy of his dreams but he got to feel the wilderness of Senegal first-hand and will no doubt move forward with greater determination. Connor is quick to judge things – that’s his nature – but it seems that Senegal and its wild places will keep begging questions that are hard to conclude.
For Joy, the resonance is a renewed passion for her senior project. Joy’s a Senegal veteran, so it’s already pretty obvious that the country lives in her. She’s working with Colette to build a community center in Niognani and seems to think about the people of the community every day.
For Kobe, the resonance is probably more personal than he will ever expose. As he deals with personal and family matters, the love and support of Senegal is no doubt part of his experience. Sometimes it matters just knowing that there are people on the planet with us who care and who live in a way that allows them to stay connected and support each other. We all hope that Kobe knows how much our community tries to learn from and strive for the cohesion of Niognani, especially in the face of adversity and challenges.
For Azalia, the resonance is still working itself out. She knew before the trip that certain things were going to be significant because of her family connections to West Africa and her own passion for the issues and topics we were going to be discussing and learning about. But those truths continue to influence Azalia, I think, in unexpected ways. It’s impossible for some moments to play out in ways we can predict – the power of places and people is too living.
For Jacob, the resonance comes through language and images. He greets many of us now in French or Wolof (Ca va? Nanga Def?). And he continues to go through his pictures and share individual images with different groups of us. I can’t wait to see a slideshow of his favorite moments of the trip and to listen to him discuss and describe what those pictures mean.
And for the adults who got to travel with the students, the trip continues to resonate in incredible ways. There is so much to use and to learn from when it comes to teaching – material for classes just as much as approaches to teaching and guiding our students. The people of Senegal are incredible examples of the importance of education and community, the two basic things that hold up everything we do.
Finally, the resonance of the trip also lives on in this blog. So, thanks to all of you who took the time to read and to send questions and comments. Your engagement and thinking help keep the vibrations and importance of the trip alive. That, it turns out, is just as important as the finite time we got to spend in Senegal.
3 thoughts on “Back in America”
Aaron, thank you to you are your fellow travelers for sharing your experiences with us arm chair travelers.
I can speak for myself…that Senegal and Niognani are still swirling through every moment for me—the warmth and fullness in my chest, the peace and openness in my perspective, the safety I felt in the company of people I’ve never met. I want to become as much of it as I can.
I am taking the slowest steps possible back into our routine in order to retain and synthesize as much as I can, not letting the smile leave my face. When I wake up at 5am and just lie in bed, I take myself back outside under a mosquito net and the brightest stars, with donkeys braying and trucks passing by and let the morning come in peaceful reverie. When I witness an argument between my daughters or counsel a student in times of conflict, I remember the words of the wise imam we spoke with and from there my words, my actions are guided from a new direction, with new vision—one that is more whole, simple and natural, with the lingering reminder that life is simpler than we let it be.
The routine cranks on, but we waft in slowly, I hope. The wheels keep turning in the background, the many pieces of ourselves, new and old, swirling into a new transformed consciousness.
The breakthroughs and possibilities that come out of an experience as deep as this…are limitless~~~🙏🏼
Keep the fire burning. This summary is so great–each one of you connected in a special way. Pay these lessons forward, and BUILD on them as citizens of the WORLD. You have seen the future; now the challenge is to LIVE it. Go Blue!