A trip to remember…travels through West Africa

Posted May 12, 2007 by voicesofsenegal
Categories: Africa, Life, Peace Corps, Personal, senegal, Travel

Several years ago after finishing three years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, West Africa, my best friend and I purchased two used Peace Corps motorcycles and spent the next three months traveling through West Africa. Beginning in Senegal, we passed through Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Ivory Cost, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali. Needless to say, it was a challenging and memorable event. In future posts, I plan on recounting some of the more memorable stories, however more than what I saw and did, it people that we saw and met on the way that made the most lasting impression.

One of the experiences that sticks with me was my trip to Kindia, Guinea. I had split for a few days from my traveling companion to visit a large, national agricultural research facility. Upon on arriving, I somehow managed to convince the director to have someone take me on a tour . It was an impressive facility and my guide and I rode around for the better part of several hours on our motorcycles around the fields and orchards. At the end of my tour, we returned to the headquarter building , I thanked my guide and said goodbye. As I walked outside to my motorcycle, I realized I really did not have much of a plan at this point and had nowhere to stay. Flexibility was the name of the game on our trip and the only map that we had was of West Africa and there was nothing on the local scale that would have been of some use. Neither did I have any books to suggest where I go could go or stay.

To be honest, at that very moment, I was more than a little discouraged. I was tired and had been battling some stomach illness for a week or so. It was getting late and I just did not have the energy to start looking for someone to stay. If I had been near a village, I would not have hesitated to ask to stay with one of the local villagers, but this was a town and the same rules of hospitality were probably not going to help me here – at least so I thought.

At that very moment, one of the researchers that worked at the facility came out of the building on his way home for the evening. Seeing me there, he engaged me in conversation and, before you knew it, I was following him home. I ended up spending the next two nights at is house. But his hospitality went beyond that. He showed me around the area and his wife cooked up some fabulous Guinean meals. All of this for a stranger, and, perhaps more surprisingly, a foreigner. It is a debt that I can never really repay but will certainly never forget.


Patience is a virtue

Posted May 9, 2007 by voicesofsenegal
Categories: Personal, proverb, senegal, wolof

The water bucket will find those who wait patiently at the well.

Ku yaag ci teen, baag fekk la fa


In many places in rural Senegal (and particularly in a historical context), water is hand-drawn from a communal well. Moreover, there are typically only one or two water buckets for a given well that, at certain times of day, are in constant use. Waiting patiently for an available bucket is not just a virtue but rather a requirement.

Patience and waiting were some of the skills that I developed during my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer and I become quite proud of this over time. In my mind, I had become a more evolved individual who was not bothered by petty, everyday annoyances. The power of my patience made life run ever more smoothly and I really thought that I was a changed individual.

As time has passed and circumstances have changed, I have come to realize that much of my patience was based on the fact that I did not have a true stake in the outcomes of most of the situations in which I found myself. I was had the luxury of being able to wait. As much as I cared for the people with whom and I was living and working, the reality was that I would one day be going home. I had an eventual out to any problems that faced me. Patience was not a virtue but rather an artifact of being somewhat of an outsider.

As I have matured, married and been blessed with two daughters I have become keenly aware of how patience, real patience, is much more meaningful (and difficult) when you have a personal and tangible stake in the events and people at hand. I am again in the position where I need to develop the ability to wait, watch and observe. Watching our 4-year old and 10-month old daughters learn, struggle, fail, succeed in all aspects of their young lives allows me truly understand the lessons of patience that I first embarked upon back in Senegal.

A stick in the river will never become a crocodile…

Posted May 7, 2007 by voicesofsenegal
Categories: Islam, Personal, proverb, wolof

Bant, lu mu yàgg-yàgg ci biir deex, du soppaliku mukk jasig.

A stick, no matter how long it rests in the river, will never become a crocodile.

This wolof proverb holds alot of resonance for me personally because the two most important elements of my life, my strong affiliation with Senegal and my conversion to Islam, are things that came to me later in life. I was raised in a typical white, middle-class American household and regardless of the depth of my understanding of Senegalese culture and my study of Islam, I will never have the innate knowledge of these two facets of my life on the same level as a native Senegalese or an individual born in a Muslim household.

However, that reality does not mean that my appreciation of these things is diminished or that they hold less value. It only means that my my experience is different and that it is informed and influenced by my own background. A true and amazing blessing that I have been able to experience so much.

A new voice

Posted May 6, 2007 by voicesofsenegal
Categories: Personal

I have been giving serious thought about how I can become a meaningful participant that brings value to the conversation. Not wanting to post for the sake of posting , I have been searching to identify the unique perspectives that I may have. Fortunately, I have had experiences that should add to the collective conversation. I spent 4 years living in Senegal, West Africa both as a member of the Peace Corps and working and traveling on my own. Several years later, I married a Senegalese woman that I met while living and working with her father in Sebikhotane, Senegal.

We now have two daughters that we want to share the deep appreciation of Senegalese (and more broadly African) culture that my wife and I have. I continuously search the internet for interesting and educational material that I will be able to share with them. Unfortunately, most of the traditional press focuses on the problems. Newer and social media provide a richer view however the focus (even in Senegalese outlets) is more on current events and what is happening now.

I want to broaden the conversation in a longitudinal sense to capture the unique stories and history of Senegal. This will include the examples of the languages with which I am familiar (principally Wolof), proverbs and stories. That being said, I am open to current discussions of Senegal and the Senegalese people – including the experience of those those Senegalese who have emigrated to other countries.

All are welcome to participate in this discussion.


mamadou thiam