While there were other ports that I was excited for coming on the ship like Rome and Barcelona, there was one port in particular that I wanted so badly to capture my heart…Senegal. I find it important to mention a few factors revolving around my excitement for SAS and for traveling to Africa. There are 29 African American students on this Fall 2016 voyage, together we represent an extremely small percent of total voyagers and it is reflected in our everyday lives onboard (which I will discuss in another blog). It is important that we talk about issues of race and being a minority on the ship and that as we educate others, we grow from our experiences, especially in port. Being an African American, my thrill of exploring Senegal developed from my curiosity about my past and my eagerness to gain enlightenment on how the country (I am referring to Senegal, Africa is a CONTINENT) was doing now. How would Senegal impact me?
I would love to say that my time in Africa was everything I imagined it to be and more; unfortunately, this was not the case. The first night in Senegal, the group I was with faced tremendous challenges; from taxi drivers trying to scam us for more money to people following us around everywhere trying to be our tour guide even when we didn’t want them to. There would be people in the street smiling, being kind and friendly, but when it was clear we were separating they would ask for money. Anger and disappointment washed over me. How could they call me sister and try to swindle me in the same breath? It’s easy in situations like that to let your initial reaction lead how you view and experience a culture, especially when it is constant occurrence, but since embarking on SAS I take the time to step back, calm down, and look deeper into troubling situations. Slavery. It’s a word that people don’t often like talking about. It’s a word that holds shame and a word that would rather be forgotten. When the Europeans came in search of slaves for work they took people out of their villages, separated families, and took away the lives of many. Those who were left, faced the burden of going through colonization, in which inequality was heavily present. These people are coming from nothing. The poverty rate is extremely high and so is the infant mortality rate. What seems like disrespect and deceitfulness to us, is how they are making enough to go home and feed their families, send their children to school, and for clothes. They were hustling and didn’t have the option not to, which is a chilling and sobering realization. I’ve never felt my privilege so heavily as I did when I stepped off the ship. The lack of infrastructure and public transportation was disarming. There are so man things I have that I take for granted back home, and a friend of mine mention that someone gave a water bottle to a child in a village and the children fought over it. Something as simple as a water bottle means that much to them. We go home and food is on the table, and if its not the refrigerator has been stocked and we have the resources to make ourselves a more than adequate meal. Try to imagine all that privilege being stripped away from you. What would you do to provide for your family? How far would you go? How hard would you fight?
Once I had this reflection, my time is Africa overflowed with genuine smiles and laughter. I saw monkeys and a rhino up close at the Bandia Reserve, had an impactful moment at Goree Island when I walked through the house of slaves and saw the point of no return, and enjoyed drinks with friends by the beach side at a resort in Saly. The vendors persistence never faded and I didn’t expect it to but now I had a better understanding of their struggle so my irritation melted. I actually had a few pleasant conversations with some vendors about their lives in Senegal and what all they are doing aside from being street vendors. It’s amazing how much you can learn from a culture once you destroy barriers and open yourself up to understand certain situations. While Senegal started out being the most challenging port, I’ve grown the most there and it is my mission to go back to further immerse myself in the culture.