Russell Bollag-Miller - Senegal

September 9, 2011

Firstly, for those of you who are choosing to follow this blog and read about my thoughts and experiences, I thank you very much for taking an interest either in me, the mission that I have for this year, or maybe just for the cool stories (hopefully) that I will relay. The overarching goal that I have for this year is to (as a fellow Fellow put it) “add another gear to what is the machine of my mind.” I hope to return in April with an entirely new way to view my role, not only in my life, but also in the context of the world.

Secondly, and specifically within this blog entry, I hope to relay a lesson and message that I learned prior to my departure for Senegal. During our training, the other fellows and I were asked to watch a video that explained “The Danger of a Single Story.” The message that was conveyed in this video was a cautionary one. It stated that in general, when someone hears a story about a person or place it is habitual that he or she will jump to conclusions.

An example of this – that is described in the video – is a conversation that takes place between the speaker Chimamanda Adichie, a Native woman of Nigeria, and her college roommate. The roommate asked Adichie if she would play some of her Nigerian tribal music. The roommate was surprised when a Mariah Carey CD was promptly played. This example resonated with me because I have been brought up with an understanding that Africa is an impoverished continent where essentially everyone is illiterate, half of its population are child soldiers, and everybody is starving. (For the record, during the eight days that I’ve been living in Senegal, I have not concluded one meal where I didn’t have some form of a food baby in my stomach.)

This is not to dismiss that these issues do exist, but the bottom line is that these sorts of assumptions are made all of the time. Whether it is due to a lack of research, a common “cultural understanding”, or a series of subconscious conclusions. So with this idea in mind, I urge you to enjoy what you read here because it’s exciting! I cannot articulate how thrilled I am with the experiences that are to come. But in terms of you, the reader and audience, interpret my stories as that: stories. Minuscule snippets of MY thoughts on Senegalese culture and Western Africa as a whole.

Don’t tell people that because I was totally scammed by a vendor who had me pay way way way too much for a stupid little wooden carving of a warthog (which was probably made in China) and was missing an ear, after I thought I had done a great job at bargaining by cutting the initial price that he offered in half, that all Africans are liars who want nothing but your money. My experiences are mine and are by no means the most accurate assessment of a culture or a continent.

So again, its really moving to see the number of you who care enough about me to read what I have to say and to follow what will be happening during this year. I can’t thank you enough. But please, I hope that you take all of my stories with a grain of salt. Remember that though I may sound like I’m stating an undeniable truth, it shouldn’t be all that you read to come to any definitive conclusions about this extraordinary place or its incredible people.

*For anyone who is interested in watching the video mentioned in this blog entry, I highly recommend it! The link is located below:

Russell Bollag-Miller