Lukas Brenard - Senegal

March 17, 2012

While being in country my view of the importance of community has been greatly strengthened. In the daily connections with members of my village the inherent connections between strong community and happiness become clear to me. We live practically on top of each other in comparison to life in America and this brings out the human element of every exchange. For each endeavor involves the overlapping desires of many people.

My friend El Hadj explained to me that for everything needed in the village there is a person to go and see. The trouble and skill come with knowing who and where to go to.

Also all lack of entertainment from expensive gadgets or toys is replaced by the great connections between the people.  Everywhere you go in Noflaye you can sit and drink tea and talk till the sun sets. With such strong tight community boredom and loneliness are scarce. This is not to say that one can’t enjoy conversation in America, I’m sure it’s quite possible. Though much of my community back home functions indoors rather than sitting publicly outside as we do here.  Social gatherings are often exclusive and random strangers are not invited to dinner, unless of course the stranger or the host is exceedingly charming.  From my experience at home people come across as more reserved, less willing to have you stay for dinner, or come eat breakfast with them.

I don’t mean to slander American culture I only wish to reveal a difference that strikes me. It seems that people when they come together thrive quite brightly.

As a fellow I feel it is my responsibility (funny as it may be) to engage in the community as deeply as I can, and bring back some of this tight knit togetherness back home. Something as simple as sitting on a bench downtown rather than at home opens you up to the community around you and to a world of possibilities.  In this way you hold a space for people in the community to join you or at least acknowledge your existence.

To sum up I would like to say that mainly I see community and happiness are strongly connected. Watching and playing in football game, dancing, playing cards, making ataya, conversing for hours on street side benches … all these things strengthen my conclusion. The more a person interacts with others the more content and relaxed they become.

However when discussing a global community my feelings and responsibilities are different. Being a fellow in Senegal has greatly strengthened my understanding of the image and influence America has on the developing/ entire world. Upon entry to my home in Noflaye I was surprised to find that the TV is always on. Images of gangster looking MTV Videos mixed with the news; popular style, bad American movies, and religious propaganda, flow incessantly across the silent living room into my family’s waiting eyes. With information gathered from pop culture and trash movies the common view of America is far from the truth. This should not shock or annoy me for I was so ignorant of Senegal. I thought I could escape the grasp of trash culture and television here. The awe and seemingly supreme reverence given to America is so strong that I often shy away from saying that I am a citizen to avoid being asked to take someone there or answer a question about an Akon lyric. It just seems that many Senegalese have a single story of America which I think is unproductive to global growth. .. I see it as my responsibility to clarify that the US is a large diverse place with many of the same problems such as corruption and unemployment. I see it as my job give a second story to aid in the triangulation of their global view.

Though aside from the indignation I feel towards my country and the image it puts out to the world, this experience has revealed the connectedness of globalization. I being ignorant of reality thought that Senegal would not be as wrapped up in Facebook and soap operas as America is. Yet I know that there is TV all around the world so why wouldn’t Senegal be this way. The existence of global connections such as television and internet show me many growing similarities between my culture and one that I had thought would be much different.  These experiences also strengthen my understanding of the influential role America plays as a nation. Following its lead trials of the human race could easily be won or lost. ..

Overall I see the happiness gained from a small close community and the responsibility required to properly wield a global personality. As people we are all connected through communication and common hungers. Thus we must see ourselves together as what we are, rather than let our greed lead us to what we will become.

Lukas Brenard