The group’s first daylight hours in Senegal were busy! We played many games of soccer – on the beach, on a typical local pitch; we discussed big issues and small details; we spoke with locals; we ate two of the most common meals (thieboudienne and poulet yassa).
Then, at the end of the day, we discussed our initial impressions and experiences. Charlie and Jack were the LODs, so they led the discussion. Many others weighed in. Here is a recap:
Charlie – I want to give advice on how to maximize the experience – what really helped me during my first week was that at the end of the day I thought through all the things that confused me or challenged notions I had before I came.
I want all of us to spend 3 minutes thinking about something you noticed that challenged your belief about Africa, Senegal or the people here.
Jack – I thought it was crazy how we were walking down the street and we’d see these really nice buildings, shops – a new airport – but then you could also look and see an entire poverty stricken neighborhood. It was confusing to me to see that.
Michael – I think it relates to what Coach Schaefer and I were talking about the other day – he reminded me that although he is not a black person in America, so he doesn’t get it but he gets that he doesn’t get it, he can do his part to combat racial issues. I think that is part of what we did and encountered today. For example, we gave some soccer balls to kids we were playing with. It was good but then a lot more would come asking for balls. I didn’t understand what it’s like to need things in a particular sense. The guy we were playing soccer with today, I gave him some cleats. Then he asked for some socks. I was a bit put off – since I had just given him something, I was surprised that he would ask for more. It made me think about need.
Sydney – it made me think about giving something to someone and creating a sense of need or wanting. If you give someone something, they will likely think about what else they might be able to get. This creates a false sense of need.
Nathan – really, people who are living here want things that we have every day. My parents always told me to treasure opportunity and what I have – I could never understand it before. Now I can. It made me realize that the things we are having are incredible, unbelievable in this context.
Mr. Schaefer – I took a much different angle on the experience. I felt bad for myself a lot today. I didn’t feel bad for the people I saw. I watched people, especially the kids, who had this incredible freedom to just play. I saw more just playing today – pure joy with it. I was watching these incredible games and I felt a little bad for the society I live in. It seems like we don’t play, we don’t do it as often. It was everywhere here.
Charlie – I think you’ll find that pretty much everywhere you go in this country. It definitely hurt me at first to see people be so happy while having so little and doing simple things. While having so little. It made me feel out of place and it made me question my life in general – made me think about whether I am really living with as much happiness as the people here do every day.
Nathan – the difference is that in America, I see a balance. You guys have more freedom than you realize compared to life back in China. It is all relative. The kind of feeling of no freedom I have experienced just doesn’t exist in America. The balance in American society is pretty good – you have time to study, you have time to have fun.
Lexy – not me, specifically, but I thought about how some people see Africa as poor, hungry and struggling. That is not what I saw right from the start – I saw bright lights and a growing city. We think of stability as having money and nice things, but I feel like we are seeing people being content with happiness in a different way / sense.
Ms. Sinnenberg – I think it is important to consider what wealth is. What makes people wealthy? I like my job not because of the money but because of the experience. What makes people feel wealthy? I was also thinking about what we have to give up of ourselves to be here. The communal eating experience is a really good way to see what your portion looks like and how clear it is when you take from others. What do you have to give up to be here?
Jack – I was talking with Charlie earlier about the idea of wealth. You can’t really consider wealth as being a thing that is objective. People live in all sorts of different circumstances. People in the village we’re going to visit are probably going to feel wealthy because they can live and they have what they need.
Charlie – maybe there is no real definition for wealth. Our definition might not hold for the entire world – Senegal and India have shown me this.
Mr. Fritz – I remember watching the man bathe the horse in the ocean. At first seeing a horse tied up on the beach surprised me. I started thinking that it wasn’t good for it to be there. But then I saw it in the water with its owner (he took it there to bathe it) and it was happy – being washed and played with. It made me think, that happy horse.
Ege – When we were eating lunch, Charlie explained the triangle thing (how people eat around a communal bowl and only take from the triangle in front of them). It is different than how we do where I am from. Here they just use one plate and they share.
Sydney – I was comparing things to India from last year. The language barrier, at least on day one, is a bit more of a struggle here. It feels hard because we’re here just on the first day. I think there is a difference because in Agora it felt like the words didn’t really matter – it was more about emotion. Here so far it has been a real struggle. Just by doing hand motions, i didn’t feel a mutual connection. I want to learn how to get better at it. It was a different feeling from language than I have had before. I think it has to do with strong ties with people, like in Agora. We were just out talking to people who have never seen us and it was harder.
Charlie – thanks to all of you for sharing. I would urge you to keep thinking about these things and challenging these ideas. That’s what I’ve done for the last week and I want you to have a similarly amazing experience.