Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Stoermer Family Invades Senegal - Reflections

When I started writing these blog posts about my family’s trip to Senegal I realized I really wanted – and even needed – to share their perspective on things, too. I’ve lived here over a year and a half and so many things that shocked me when I first arrived here are now completely normal. Like me, they had never really spent any time in a developing country before coming to Senegal. So I thought it would be interesting to have them write a paragraph or 2 reflection on the trip. While I am touched by my family’s flattering comments regarding me and my work here, I am posting their reflections more for their interesting perspectives on the trip.

My mom’s reflections:

We really enjoyed our trip to Senegal. I cannot even imagine what it was like for her to arrive there and not really know what she was getting into. She did not know the language, culture, money, and so many other things. We enjoyed meeting many of the people Danielle has told us about. So many of them are very appreciative of what Danielle has done to attempt to make their lives better. Also, it was great to see all the projects with which Danielle has been involved – either by coordinating or improving them. Now we can visualize the projects she is talking about. We would not have survived 5 minutes without her. She was a great guide. It was a trip we will never forget!!

My dad’s reflections:

  • Tulip Noir and Palmarin – Max, the owner, was a great host and a guy Craig can relate to!! The Italian food was superb, conversations with Max discussing sports (both ex-jocks) was entertaining. It had a beautiful beach, ocean surf and sunsets. It was truly an oasis in Africa, as we soon found out!! The kayaking in the mangroves was one of the top 3 activities of our trip, our “shore lunch” was extremely unique!
  • Keur Saloum and Toubacouta – Very Fun! Big, fresh water swimming pool, interesting huts that were comfortable to AMERICAN standards!! We had a terrific time exploring the mangroves, native history and bird life.
  • Hotel Relais and Kaolack – Exploring the market was fun, but hot. The hotel is a peaceful get-a-way with a nice pool and a respectable restaurant. Air Conditioning and a TV with one English station (BBC) was FABULOUS!!!
  • Danielle’s village was a step back in time!! Think 100 to 150 years ago to the frontier living of our American forefathers in the Midwest. No indoor plumbing, sparse and very erratic electricity, dirt floors, wood fires for cooking, a water well with bucket, rope and pulley!! Three days and nights were an adventure!! Her host family, local villagers and numerous people she interacts with were very friendly, supportive and THRILLED with Danielle and her contributions to their village and surrounding community!! She has made an impact with the local teaching and religious sectors, developed a master farmer program, built a seed storage facility and restroom facility for the local school, etc. etc. The Peace Corps truly does impact and make a difference in the lives and quality of living, at least from what we saw and experienced.
  • Heading back to Dakar, the capital of Senegal, was an adventure in itself! Local transportation in a 3rd world country is an experience, no details are needed!! Once back to Dakar, we had educational times seeing the local historical sites and culture in the area, some very disturbing, like the slave trading history of West Africa in the 1700 and 1800’s. Overall, it was a great trip and an experience that won’t be forgotten!

Kristina’s reflections:

After returning to the States, I of course got asked the question, “How was your trip?” I didn’t really want to respond to it with the normal response, “It was good!” So I tried out a variety of responses – “It was interesting”, “It was an adventure”, that sort of thing. I mean, I had just gotten back from a developing country, not a relaxing vacation in Florida.

As cliché as it sounds, the trip really was an eye-opening experience. Seeing pictures and video of a third world country is not the same as being in the middle of it. I honestly think I was in a state of semi-shock for most of the trip – more or less until we arrived back in Dakar for our last couple of days. It was all so new – I took it in but wasn’t really able to process it.

As one example, you don’t realize how hard it is to communicate until you arrive in a country where there is no common language besides futile attempts at “sign language” – i.e., hand gestures. Fortunately for us, Danielle is essentially fluent in Wolof, the predominant local language of Senegal, which Danielle learned in less than a year and a half. This was also fortunate for our checkbook since the taxi drivers were unable to scam us “Toubobs” when Danielle was speaking!

As I began processing the experiences we had on the trip, I made a few observations. One such observation originates from the clear gender division of labor. Even though there are still gender gaps in some areas in the US, I realized that I took for granted the fact that I never felt like being a female would impact my chances at success. My heart breaks thinking about the massive gender gaps in Senegal and a lot of the rest of the developing world. But I become heartened when I remember that women in the US fought for decades for the right to vote, for a spot in the work place, for equal pay – so those of us who are now reaping those rewards here can – and should – advocate for women elsewhere.

When I was dealing with diarrhea and vomiting in the JFK airport, my dad asked me if I wanted to go back to Africa any time soon. I said with as much heart as I could muster for feeling so awful – “No.” But, time always smoothes over the rough patches and brightens the highlights. And next time I’ll have an idea of what I’m getting myself into. So now you never know... ;)

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