WONDERFUL WEST AFRICA: SENEGAL AND TOGO
(Where are the parents? They should come too!)
I had two wonderful placements in West Africa and for these unforgettable experiences I will always be endebted to Projects-Abroad. Although young adults, especially students, predominate in these placements, older adults, especially those of retirement age, benefit as much, or even more. I think it is important to encourage older adults to break out of the confines of their daily routine and come with us on a placement with Projects-Abroad. Since the language of my two placements was French and since I had French lessons each day, I will write my review in both French and English.
D'abord en francais:
Je suis médecin et je vis avec ma famille à Wilmington en Caroline du Nord, aux États Unis. Bien que je fusse toujours pressé et occupé, je me sentais insatisfait et non comblé. Je suis allé au Sénégal où j'ai passé deux semaines avec une famille sénégalaise. Cette expérience m'a tellement ému que j'ai pris un autre placement au Togo, un petit pays pas loin du Sénégal.
Après un placement on est changé. on n'est plus la même personne. Après avoir goûté à une culture complèetement différente de la notre, après avoir été entouré d'une pauvreté inoubliable et inqualifiable où la vie est une lutte quotidienne, après avoir vu l'armée d'enfants qui dorment dans les rues, on ne voit plus dorénavant la vie comme auparavant. Maintenant on sent la peine du monde plus profondément, on crie. Soudain, les choses qui une fois étaient très importante, maintenant apparaissent insignifiantes. On sent une différence dans le coeur. On a grandi.
Mais, où sont les parents? Moi, pendant mes séjours au Sénégal et au Togo, je n'ai vu que les étudiants. Pourquoi? On m'a dit il y a longtemps que chaque jour de notre vie on devrait s'améliorer, qu'on ne devrait pas être aujourd'hui la même personne qu'on était hier et qu'on devrait utiliser la retraite pour accomplir toutes les choses qu'on avait voulu faire dans le passé: développer les talents, suivre des cours, étudier une langue étrangère, passer quelques semaines à l'étranger avec Projects-Abroad, toutes ces choses qui peuvent vous améliorer, qui vous feront grandir. Les parents, je m'adresse à vous, ces voyages avec Projects-Abroad vous toucheront profondément. Ces placements ne sont pas seulement pour les jeunes. C'est maintenant le temps de votre vie, après avoir beaucoup travaillé, après autant donné au développement et à l'éducation de vos enfants, c'est maintenant que vous devez tourner votre attention vers votre perfectionnement. Les parents, permettez à Projects-Abroad de vous introduire à une partie du monde que vous n'avez pas encore vue, une partie du monde qui est merveilleuse et fascinante, qui vous changera pour toujours.
Now, in English: Education is for all ages. It is not just for students but is for their parents as well. To me this is such an important issue that I will add a brief note in English to make this message available to Anglophones.
I am an American physician and I work and live with my family in Wilmington, N.C. After sensing an unfilled emptiness despite a very busy life, I took a placement with Projects Abroad to Senegal where I spent two weeks living with a black French speaking Muslim family. We both learned from each other in a warm loving atmosphere of exchange, as we ate our meals together, as I reverently watched them read the Koran and make their submissions to Allah, as i gave nightly lessons in US history and US geography and helped them learn English, as we shopped in the markets and visited extended family members in neighboring villages. Truly one of the most exciting cultural experiences of this trip came when I was guest of honor at a Muslim baptismal ceremony. This two week stay was a profoundly moving experience that changed me as a person and lead to another placement in the West African country of Togo, a placement which was equally life changing. I have since made two more trips to Africa. These trips make an indelible impression as you become a more caring person. Your concerns move away from self. You burst with pride at being an American. Your personal faith strengthens. My most moving experience was attending Sunday service in a very small Christian church, surrounded by mosques, here in this very Muslim country.
On these placements I have only seen students, never an older adult. WHERE ARE THE PARENTS? These are the people who should be making these trips! A friend told me years ago that I should always try to be a better person tomorrow than I was today, and that I should use my later years of life, especially the retirement years, not to pamper myself with pleasures and leisure, but instead to use this time to persue my own interests and talents, to take educatinal courses, persue music or art, travel, do something BOLD. GROW. Parents, this is our time in life to resume the education and growth of our youth, and a placement with Projects-Abroad will allow us to do this. Don't let us just spend our efforts and finances on developing our children. Our development is equally important. This is OUR time in life to develop ourselves. This is an invitation. Come with us to Africa on a Projects-Abroad placement.
I have a very productive and successful life but yet there seemed to be something lacking inside, some void. Projects-Abroad appeared to offer a solution so I took a two week placement to St. Louis, Senegal, and had one of the most deeply personal experiences of my life. This lead to another placement, to Togo, a small West African country not far from Senegal. These placements have a profound affect upon our lives. As we become part of a local family, as we do volunteer work in their community, schools and orphanages, as we work to improve their quality of life, we find that it is we who have learned from them, that we have become the pupil and they the teacher, that it is we, not they, who have benefited the most. We go to give and leave enriched. We learn that there is actually only one world nation. The needs and wants and aspirations of everyone everywhere are always the same, not changing according to skin color or geography or religion. We are the same everywhere, we and our brothers. This is the first, and most important lesson, that a volunteer learns from a Projects-Abroad placement.
In St. Louis I lived with a black West African French speaking Muslim family that totally welcomed me into their family. I had never before felt such an excitement as I became more and more emersed into this vibrant culture. My two weeks there were an unbroken, steady bombardement of the senses that was at times near overwhelming but always intense and wonderful and very personal. So many memories: the pain of such devastating poverty; the endless street children too young to have any understanding of the hopeless future that awaited; the hundreds of colorful fishing boats pulled up on the beach, nets bursting with fish; the steady pounding of the waves on a marvelously pure white beach that disappeared off into the far distance as strong Atlantic winds buffeted the crying sea birds above; the black clarity of the equatorial night sky set ablaze by the shimmering Milky Way; the bright tropical colors of the flowering robes and turbans worn by the trim black Senegalese women, their beautiful black skin made all the more striking as it contrasted against their robes; the mosques everywhere with their calls to worship chanted loudly above the noisy clatter of everyday life, these calls to Allah that I found so comforting as it turned my attention to my own faith; the crumbling of once grand French villas that recall those past times of French glory and harsh subjugation but that today have only a faded elegance that speaks sadly of a faltering economy; the wild goats everywhere, roaming around eating garbage, like unpaid street cleaners, keeping the city of St. Louis as tidy as can be expected.
What indelible impressions! But today, what do I remember most, when alone and quiet. Now four years later, I feel these emotions as intensely as if it were yesterday. I don't think about the dirt and decline but instead I remember the beauty of the people, their smiles and their welcome, as they worked so hard in their struggle of daily life. I remember beautiful bougainvilleas everywhere, a wonderful sprawling plant that seemed so hard to be trying to gloss over the dirt and pain. I remember these deeply religious people so proud and dignified as they faced their adversities. But, my most intense experience came one Sunday morning when, instead of the usual Muslim chants filling the air, I heard church bells. I followed these to find a wonderful old stone church built by the French 150 years prior. It was so beautiful inside, with every corner colorfully tinted by a bright African sun streaming in through striking blue stained glass windows, giving a soft glow that fell upon crosses and elaborate woodwork and huge vases of tropical flowers. The service was conducted in the beautiful French language and the music was a chorus of striking soprano voices that contrasted wonderfully against the deep rich sounds of African drums. A congregation of a hundred Christian sang the hymns that I knew by heart. All this was so unexpected and seemed so out of place in this Muslim world that it made it all the more beautiful, all the more moving, all the more my life's most unforgettable experience. Thank you, Projects-Abroad.
1927 South Churchill Drive
Wilmington, N.C. USA
email: [email protected]