By Weichen Zhao
The trip to Senegal gave me an opportunity to think about my future plans with no distractions, but inspirations.
I don’t really have anything to write. I’ve expressed much in daily discussions, which Mr. Alter and all the faculty members could prove true.
Now is just the time to really ‘digest’ the thoughts and ideas into actual life as a student at CCS who is going to face midterms in the rest of the 2016.
Then, after putting real effort to practicing the thoughts from the trip, I want to share my experience with my family from across the Pacific.
We are back on campus, and the stories are flowing in and out of classrooms, the dining hall and everywhere else that friends are reconnecting. Though the trip is over, its impact will linger. Here are some pictures to help us all remember moments from this excellent CCS adventure.
(Please note that these are only Mr. Alter’s and that they do not represent anything more than one person’s attempt to capture an experience that was different for each participant – more to come from others!)
By Lexy Carr
The group went through many endings during this trip, leaving our hearts full of hurt and sadness as well as happiness and new knowledge that will affect us as students and people for the rest of our lives. We may be happy about ending the abrupt early mornings that the donkeys and chickens brought at Kecouta’s Village, but we will truly miss the warm coat of love from the adults and the smiles of the jovial children of the village. Leaving the village may have been the saddest part of the trip, tears from everyone and small comments, most being “I’ll never see these people again.” Though we were reassured that there are other ways to keep our relationship with Ngognani, Kecouta’s village, strong.
The next saddest moment followed shortly after our departure of Ngognani: dropping off a friend that had spent most of the trip with us, Bandia. Not only was he a respectful young man who determinedly practiced his English, but he was also a cool guy to hang around. Darius could vouch for this, being as though he had many silent conversations with Bandia during our time in Ngognani. Through hand movements and a little bit of charades, they were able to build what one can describe as a brotherhood. As they shared their last hug I realized that a strong friendship can be maintained with little to no words.
As the group comes to final day in Senegal, we begin to reflect on the various challenges and experiences we faced and how quickly we were able to adapt. Dodging street vendors became second nature. Ice is now a figment of my imagination. The phrase “Thank you” has been replaced by “Mercí” and bucket baths aren’t so bad. My first time out of the country has been an eventful and emotional one and the start of many travels.
We are all safely in Brussels, enduring our layover as best we can (eating chocolate at 6:00AM est très difficile, by someone must do it).
Leaving Senegal was not easy. It holds onto our hearts in its own special way. Kecouta’s village, the seemingly endless feasts, and the adventures have touched us all. Our final day consisted of a trip to Goree Island, a place with both an extraordinarily painful history and beautiful vistas. There are only a few more students whose voices have yet to ring out from the trip, so be on the lookout.
For now, à bientôt.
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.
By Amanda Freeman
When I told people I was going to Africa instead of traveling home to Florida, I got many mixed responses from my family and friends. They asked me, “why do you want to do this?” and “Won’t you miss your family? You haven’t been home since August.” First, I told them I was presented with this special and unique opportunity that I will never be able to experience. Then I said that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn and challenge preconceived notions about Africa. And yes, I do miss my family, and I will miss them over break, but I know that they understand and support my decision. In these three short days, we have been confronted with many difficult topics concerning race, morals, priorities, and personal happiness. When our group has been faced with these challenging questions, we have been able to have meaningful conversations.
With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, most of us have been thinking about what our families are doing at home but another larger question stemmed from this topic. What is home? I personally struggle with the question of what my home is. I was born and raised and South Florida, have never moved in my entire life, and considered it my home. However, when I left Florida and came to Christchurch I began to also consider it my home. When Christchurch offered me the opportunity to travel to India last spring, I once again found a home that is so different than my North American homes. Once again I have found a home in Senegal.
So, what exactly makes a place home? I have come to a conclusion that home is not exactly a place but instead it is where you can be at peace with yourself and be surrounded by the people with no judgment.
By Darius Tucker
This won’t be the last time you see Bandia
You really do care
There is always next year
You knew this would happen, right?
You will see him soon enough
It is okay
Remember this moment
Let it sink in
Let it go
Don’t let this set you back
We learn and move on
These are all the things said to me after I left the village and my friend Bandia. It’s true that time is the best remedy for pain, but I know that this one will never fully go away. I don’t know if it was the naivety that I thought this day would never come—that we will have to go our own ways—or it was the fact I truly believe that I had a chance to stay for life.
But in that moment when I realized that it was over, the things I looked forward to seeing everyday, a smile from Bandia, a laugh, a hug at night were gone just like that. In that one moment as we slowly pulled off I felt like I was being torn away from what I learned to love. I couldn’t believe it was gone because it was a sound I have heard my whole life: an engine. In my mind it meant this was over, but there’s always time to come back. But, the truth was, there wasn’t. My time with the people with hearts as pure as gold was over. And to all the things that were said to me after we left the village, one comment stuck with me that wasn’t in words. It was from the soul. Sira pointed at her heart, then at mine, then at mine, then back at hers again. And that is what the whole trip was: an unspoken connection. That was stronger than any other words.
By Caleb Lewis
Senegal is an amazing place.
It can be calm, peaceful, yet dangerous in many different ways. That is what makes it unique. At daytime you hear children laughing and having fun, and at night you hear hyenas laughing, searching for food. I honestly didn’t know what to expect before coming on this trip. I questioned myself many times, asking if I would get that thrill of being near dangerous animals or if I would be able to “go all out.” If you read my blog post from last year’s India trip, then you’d know what I mean by “going all out.” Being on this trip has answered my questions, and the answer is yes. I have had many opportunities to see and hear dangerous creatures and to go all out.
When I’m in Virginia I feel cautious of my surroundings. I feel like I’m not living life to the fullest, but when I’m in another country outside my comfort zone, I feel free.
Exploring has played a big role throughout my life, starting in the woods around my house then to the Himalayan Mountains and now to the deserts and jungles of Senegal. Senegal has so many opportunities for me to take hold of, such as swimming in the bioluminescence at night to riding on donkey carts to a nearby village, to swimming in crocodile and hippo-infested waters. Senegal is truly a unique place, and I am insanely lucky to be here.
I have connected to Kecouta’s village in a way I can’t really describe. It is different from how I connect to Agora in India. I could say I connected with the people of Ngognani through soccer and being friendly, but honestly it is unknown. All I can say is that all of the people have smiles on their faces and seem like they are grateful for their lives and living conditions.
I really connected with one individual on this trip. His name is Baka, and he is Kecouta’s oldest son. Baka and I don’t speak the same language, but we still manage to understand each other. He taught me a little French, and I taught him a little English. Our friendship is one that will not be forgotten and will be carried on until the next time we see each other.
Senegal is a place I could only visit, not live in—mainly because of the heat. It stays above 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter and is early 120 during the summer. It is perfect for at least a couple of months I could live here for a couple years.
As this trip comes to an end, it’s made me want to take as many pictures as I possibly can so I can remember every detail of this place. But then I realized that a picture can’t describe what this place is truly like. A picture can only show what the place has. Only my mind can paint a true image of Senegal and everything it has. But I don’t think I’ll be able to put that image into words other than the cliche ones like “unique” or “amazing” or “great.” Overall, this trip has been a great experience for me and is made me see many different views of life.
By Yujia Chen
The bees don’t understand why the river keeps pouring water into their nest because they didn’t see me swaying the boat – blame it on God. You didn’t pray hard enough.
No worries, for us, human, vini, vici, vichi.
This trip, to me, is about acceptance, breaking down all the preconceptions and to be real.
It is okay to walk around an island that has nothing but marsh and mangroves, and let useless imaginations fly for a whole afternoon. It is okay to choose a real park and see only a couple of deer over a “zoo park” that has everything manually kept for you to see. Should we accept what we want to see or what is real? Or can we choose all the time?
The bees come out of the nest and circle above the mud, but after a while, they accept the reality in which the water has been poured in their nest, then they go back and live with it. Everything goes back to normal. When Kecouta’s village was forced to leave the fertile land and live in a barren field, the village did it, no complaint. That’s the spirit I see in every person in Senegal. See, that’s the problem of our society: we teach our children “if you want it, go get it.” What you do when you do not always get what you want?
After seeing all the dramatic photographs of Africa and finally getting to come and see a completely different scene, how do you react? Instead of getting disappointed, I get excited, because this is real. This is the reality, which I would not know unless I am in it, I can smell it, see it, and taste it. I can sense it.
That’s how experience differs from knowledge. Personal experience is more real than pure knowledge. It may not be true since I can only see the reality from a certain perspective; however, if true knowledge that we gather from many so-called experts is real and yet it is so abstract or so far away from my experience, it would be hard for anyone to truly obtain that knowledge. I guess that’s why an old Chinese saying concludes that you need to travel a lot while reading a lot.
Our steps are too big and pace too fast. We fulfill everything, we seize time, and get the best out of every possible corner. We even fulfill our potential, which is an area that is supposed to be unreachable in the literal sense. Chill out.