The past few months I’ve been stuck in a rut. My life has often revolved around external pleasures, like watching movies, eating and sleeping to recover from long, busy shifts at work. The funny thing is, I couldn’t shake this feeling that it’s all an illusion. I use up all my energy at work and feel too burnt out to do much else, just to be disappointed with my pay check at the end of all of it. Maybe I just need to work more hours to be satisfied?
I can’t help but feel as though there’s more to life than what I’ve been told. That’s why I decided to join a service project in Senegal for two weeks this summer.
I arrived in Keur Massar, a large suburb of capital city Dakar. I received a very warm welcome from Ambroise and Delaila Diagne, the couple who founded the school I worked with during my time there (L’École Yonnent Mame Ibrahim). Going into the project my main thought was “Be grateful“. Right from the offset it hit me how different life was in Keur Massar. The first thing I noticed was the lack of pavements. Pavements are something that I’ve always taken for granted and just expected to be there. We stayed just off a main road, but as soon as you strayed from it you would find yourself in a labyrinth of sand paths.
One thing that I noticed was the neglected infrastructure or lack thereof. For example, just to get from A to B drivers had to navigate potholes, jaywalkers and livestock, yet didn’t show a sign of road rage. I was so taken aback by the locals’ attitude: they live in such difficult circumstances yet remain overwhelmingly joyous and hopeful. Most of all, maybe out of necessity, they do everything together. You just can’t navigate the roads all by yourself, nor can anyone else, so you are interdependent.
This prompted a major shift in perspectives (or paradigm shift) for me: in the UK, we have incredibly advanced infrastructure and we are externally very well connected. In London, you could go a whole day traversing the city without needing to speak to anyone or probably even without eye contact with another person. In Keur Massar, although they presently lack the external infrastructure, they possess an inner connectedness that I’d argue we lost along the way: a genuine sense of community, where you need other people and they need you.
I was in Senegal for 2 weeks. Most of the project involved spending time with the kids and helping around the school, or visiting social centres in the local area that were having a positive impact on the community. There was a real air of hope around; I got the feeling that the future is bright for Senegal.
It’s funny. For some time now, I’ve been thinking about my dream getaway: I’d picture myself on a beach on a tropical island somewhere in the Caribbean or maybe having a lodge to call my own by a lake in Alaska. I thought that if I could run far away from it all I’d find peace. Instead, I decided to go somewhere totally alien to me and do something for the sake of others. Funnily enough, it was in this environment that I found peace.