By: Gidget Valadez
For years, I have been dreaming of this trip. And it is with gratitude that I was afforded the opportunity to attend this year. This was the first Global Ed trip since the onset of Covid and our world is completely different since the India trip of 2020. The unknowns were greater than usual. This small and intimate group of students and faculty was up for the challenge with open hearts and minimal expectations. But we came as we were.
Our arrival on Senegalese soil was filled with so many new sights, smells, sounds, tastes and questions.The streets were filled with crop-eared dogs, kittens, goats, boars, donkeys, horses, and cattle. Filled with markets and foot stands brimming with peppers, onions, carrots, cabbage, oranges, bananas, and carefully stacked mountains of watermelons. Filled with young men in urban streetwear, older men in traditional silk robes and head coverings, children running and playing about, and women in long fluted mermaid dresses with big ruffles and peplums of the finest fabrics in a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns, each one more exquisite than the one before. Perhaps the beauty of the clothing stems from a desire to be their best selves, perhaps as a stark contrast to the dust, dirt, and squalor…as a message of hope. Or perhaps as a celebration of this one life to be lived fully, joyfully, and with gratitude for all their blessings. So many questions, so many possibilities.
We visited coastal villages, ecolodges, and Senegalese families filled with multiple generations. We fished in the Sine Saloum delta and learned many lessons about cultural variations, religious and societal roles, the value of symbiotic relationships, be it between species, ecosystems, religious and governmental institutions, societal roles (herders, storytellers, farmers, builders, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs and investors), genders, and generations. And how countless things a half a world away actually connect to so many elements of our lives here at CCS and who we are as humans.
As I absorbed the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes along our journey, as I looked into the eyes of strangers and made many new friends, a recurring and resounding message kept whispering into my heart: ”This…..changes…..everything!” What does that even mean? It is difficult to describe. But my prayer is that I bring back to my family, my community, and the world a changed heart around the pillars of the CCS philosophy: curiosity, integrity, self-confidence, acceptance, respect and kindness. But also generosity, honesty, selflessness, patience, grace, and love, to name a few. All things that the people of Senegal embrace and embody. And my prayer is also to be called back home to Senegal, to the villages where I became a part of two incredible families who will live in my heart forever.