Connecting With It

Christopher LaBorde - Senegal

September 18, 2012

I promised you guys a blog entry. I was hoping I could get it in earlier, but it’s been non-stop over here. So here it goes :]

I am currently in Dakar, Senegal; Africa. It is as close to the west as I can get, while still being in Africa, but it is far from being Western. I can’t believe I’m actually here, I’m actually doing this. Although Dakar is half a world away from Pasadena, It’s hard for me to comprehend that I am half way around the world. The lifestyle is just about half a world away too. But only half. You can see very traditional values and customs mingling with creeping Western influences and lifestyle. But I’ll save that for you guys in another blog, because I’ve already written this one.

I do believe there is something to be said about connections.

Everyone on some basic level, is the same. We have the same needs, the same fears, the same drives. And when you find something that you have in common with another person, or another being, you connect. The harder you try, the further you reach out, the more risks you take, the sweeter the spoils, and the more connections you make.

I would say that this year for me, is all about connecting. Connecting with the world, connecting with myself, connecting with nature and the spirits of others. Connecting Ideas, people, and places. My Global Citizen Year, and all of the connections therein entailed, did not start when I arrived at Stanford, or even when I got off the plane in San Francisco. It started when I opened up that application and committed to plunging headfirst into an abyss of uncertainty. And it will certainly be a wild ride. My oh my how your risks pay off.

Looking back on the uncertainty of it all, I was scared. Rapturous, and bursting with excitement, but scared. But sometimes it takes that push, the adrenaline of fear of uncertainty, to get your ass in gear and JUST DO IT. This summer, we had to engage in a fundraising campaign (Thank you to all of you who helped out J). What am I connecting this to? Oh yes, connections. This Summer, I made the most amount of connections that I’ve ever made in such a short amount of time. I set up a dingy little table with some cookies on it outside of a Vons, with a little sign that said “send me to Africa”, And I just waited. I waited. And finally, it started. So many people came up to me and told me their stories. Stories similar, and different. I was surprised to meet so many people who had either traveled extensively around the world, or had a connection with someone who was. They gave me advice, passing on to me the knowledge that they had gained, as I hope to do when I return from my journey. Spreading my story, I met regular people, eccentrics, an ex-convict and drug-dealer, young lovers, and reconnected with old friends. I had people sing to me, smile at me, pray for me, with me, and I’m not even the praying type. People I’ve never met poured their hearts out, giving me their blessings, their thanks, their love. I found myself at the verge of tears, realizing that these people who I did not know, were willing to give so much to support me, in the hopes that I would succeed, even if they did not have too much themselves. And I know this is not just how it is for me. Our communities are built-in support systems. Look around you, the support is there, the strength, is there.

And then there was Fall Training. This fellow group was the most endearing, well-meshing, potent group of young adults I’ve ever had the honor of being a part of. They were filled with the same friendliness as the ones in my neighborhood who play soccer on the chipped-concrete basketball court outside of my house every night, or the smiling faces of the little ones that ask me for water from my Camelbak hose as I walk through my quartier  on my way to class.  I did not meet one mean person at Stanford. Everyone was so full of life and questions, wisdom and character. We were eager to learn, and the mystery of the looming adventure strengthened he glue that bonded us together. We are now all on that looming adventure, and it is a little less of a mystery (but still very exciting and very, very intense). We were all there, helping each other out, trying to make each other as comfortable as possible, knowing that we were all in the same boat, with all of us realizing how much support we were going to need for the year ahead. Just like the Senegalese concept of Teranga, you take care of people unconditionally, so when you are in need, you will be taken care of. It’s hard to believe that we all only spent 10 days together, I don’t think a stronger community anywhere has been built in 10 days.

The training itself was pretty good. Looking back, I don’t think anything could have prepared us for this, save for an authentic Senegalese cultural immersion camp, but then why not just go to Senegal? And that’s what we did.  We acquired many tools that would help us deal with all aspects of the adventure to pass.

“The beginning of this journey—there are good signs for the road ahead. From here on it is learning, character development, reflection, Friend-Making, and adventure.”

And it seems like there’s been a quite a lot of each of those happening.

We’ve been in-country for less than two weeks, and I’ve already gotten a Jamba-full of perspective, a head-full of experience, and a litter-full of newborn puppies in my home.  I can’t wait to see what the rest of this year holds for me. I’ll keep you updated.

Until then, Jamm Rekk Jamm.

Peace, Peace Only,

Christopher LaBorde

These lives are linked,

These journeys intertwined,

A heart has been touched,

A friendship made,

A mark has been laid,

And the world is changing for the better.

Christopher LaBorde