Traveling to Senegal Left Me With More Questions Than Answers
Questions on sustainability and problem solving.
Here I am, sitting on the edge of a fishermen’s boat in the Senegal River in the Saint Louis Region, right outside the village of Mouit. Birds are flapping and squawking from every which way above me. Normally, birds scare me, and I usually run for cover, but I could not duck this time. I was in awe at the sheer number of them and their reaction as we got closer to their sanctuary. Here humans met animals at the nexus that is the Langue De Barbarie National Park in Senegal. I’ve seen lots of birds in my lifetime of course, and I’ve seen bird preservation sites, but here, I felt intrusive, which was a feeling I had more than once during my time here in Senegal. It was more often than not that I felt like an outsider that was invading the classroom, the town or the habitat of others that were native to this land. But I wanted to learn! About the culture, the land and the language so I tried not to stand out too much but alas, that was not possible. I was different and everyone knew it.
After seeing the swarm of nesting birds, we continued our way down the river. Our Ecoguard guide explained the history of this particular National Park and the logistics of how it was taken care of. Langue De Barbarie was small in comparison to other National Parks. There are ten volunteers I learned that dedicate their time to conserving the park with no pay. I was baffled by the generosity of these people and their passion for preserving the land. However, despite all their efforts it was disheartening to see the amount of trash that was still infiltrating the park’s land and water. This I learned was due to neighboring cities, like Dakar and Saint Louis, throwing their trash into the ocean which then trickles its way into the Senegal River.
Preserving the land is not an easy task and I think back to the parks in the United States where they have huge staffs working together to, not only take care of the land, but to create educational opportunities for the communities to interact with the land. It sounded like the Ecoguards worked hard to do just that, but I couldn’t help but wonder, where do they go from here?
Sustainability seems like it would be an appropriate issue to tackle in this context however, development is complicated and there is no easy answer to the problems that we face. In Senegal for example, the push is for a significant improvement in education, specifically literacy, but literacy is only one huge area out of many. So the question I have been asking myself is, how can we can tackle more than one issue at a time? Or must we wait and achieve one goal before we move on to the other?
As a traveler I often wonder what my role is, my purpose, when I am journeying to other people's homes and cultures. There's an ethical frame of mind I constantly try to hone so that I am aware of my intention and impact. Thus, when I reflect on my time in Senegal, which was part of a field course for my graduate program, I am constantly coming up with more questions than answers.
Senegal welcomed me with open arms. It allowed me to take in its beauty, its warmth (figuratively and literally), and it's uniqueness. I felt honored to share meals with my host family and learn about their history and I learned to fully accept that there were always be more questions in life, and our job is to let these questions lead our exploration of the world around us. We may not have the answers yet but we will, one small footstep at a time.