Consider This…

“How can African countries become united like the United States?” He asked me. I felt sadness, which surprised me. He’s 20 years old, studying English (unusual in Senegal where most people study French) and, apparently, believes that the USA has got it made in the shade. “Don’t!”, I said instinctively, “Don’t try to be like the USA or anyone else. Strive to be yourself. If you try to be like someone else, you’ll never be them and you’ll never be you.” He looked puzzled. Neither of us expected this answer which just poured out of my mouth.
I was invited to speak at an English class in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. That was the first question they asked. Spending time with the locals, experiencing their lives, feeling their hearts, exchanging stories opened my eyes, heart and mind to the richness around me. One of the greatest pleasures of travel is to challenge my defaults and learn new ways of doing things.
Once I freed myself from guilt and expectations, it was easier to be present and go with the flow. I felt sad because there’s so much we, in the USA, can learn from Senegal yet they don’t value their own indigenous ways.
The first thing that struck me is the amount of waste we have in the west. We squander resources like they’re endless. Not realizing the high price we pay.
Most homes in Senegal don’t have running water. More affluent homes may have one faucet with running water. People carry containers to the neighborhood faucet, socialize with the neighbors while filling up (the original water cooler phenomenon), haul the water back, put one big container in the kitchen, another in the bathroom until they run out, rinse and repeat. One might think “How horrible. Poor people…etc” but in reality, they gain many benefits from this. The daily physical exercise keeps their bodies fit, healthy and strong. The social bonding, sense of belonging and emotional support keeps them mentally fit, healthy and resilient. The environment also benefits. Every drop of water is treasured because it was earned through hard labor. No waste! Ultimately, a healthier system for all.
Coexisting with other beings is more equitable in Senegal. Cats, dogs, goats, donkeys, pigs (in Christian neighborhoods) and other animals and birds roam the streets eating organic waste and no one tries to control, kill or imprison them. They are respected as partners and cohabitants of the space. Interspecies relationships are rooted in cooperation and love instead of fear and competition. There’s enough for all. What a concept!
Eating communally from one big dish is the norm in Senegal and many African countries. Most people eat with their hands and offer utensils to guests. Apart from saving on the cleaning efforts and resources, there’s something very primal, satisfying and endearing about this tradition: connection, bonding…we are social animals after all!
If we adopt one of these traditions in the USA, I could easily see school shootings, teenage suicide, addiction and other mental health problems dropping drastically. Not to say that they don’t have problems in Senegal, no system is perfect, but we’ve got as much to learn from them as they do from us.
Another student from the English class, a 22 year old pregnant woman, asked me “How many children do you have?” When I said none, she said “I’ll give you one of mine”. We laughed. As I said, no system is perfect.

#senegal #africa #westafrica #dakar #traveladventure #expectations #eastvswest #livinginthemoment #travelstories #travellife #community #sharing #water #resources #savetheplanet #waste #wasteculture #culturechange

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