Why did you choose Senegal?
I want my answer to be simple. But I also want it to be complete.
The reason I think I chose Senegal was that I might
never get the chance to come here again. Speaking on behalf of all Nigerians is impossible,
so I speak for most of my friend circles when I say, “Nigerians do not go on
vacation to other African countries”.
Realizing on the Global Citizen Year website, that we would
have to choose from 4 countries, my thought process at
the time was, Senegal would be the easiest to settle into. Perhaps because many
West African cultures overlap in certain aspects, 8 months in a Nigerian-like country would stop me from missing home too much. Especially because once my 8
months were up, I would only have from April till August to spend at home before
I was off to college.
Recounting the looks of confusion warping round the faces of
fellow church and well-wishing family members when I told them I would
be taking a gap year in Senegal, was enough evidence to convince me that certainly,
what I was doing was not normal. The only times you could hear Nigerians
speaking about traveling to another African country was for work, or school- unless
of course, you planned to travel to South Africa, Ghana or Kenya. (The holy
trinity of popular tourist destinations).
The reason for our lackluster attitude towards venturing
towards other African nations could be found in (a word used to describe
overlooking what you have so close to you) So asking my mom if we could go to
Senegal or even Mauritius for vacation is something I could only imagine myself
doing after haven finished from a UWC.
Which brings me to my third reason. As an African, I know next
to nothing about other African countries. Before meeting other Africans in China,
I did not even know all the 52 nations on the continent. Nigeria is surrounded
by Cameroon, Niger, and Benin. Three countries I have never visited never planned
on visiting and probably will never get to visit in the next 5 years.
Those are the reasons I would like to give people when they
ask, “Why did you choose Senegal?”
Arriving at California, I met so many people
hailing from everywhere in the world, and a common question we kept asking each
other at Stanford’s campus was, “Why did you choose (insert chosen country)?” But that's not the question they're asking. Usually, you can tell where the emphasis is in a question. And in my case, it always landed on you. "Why did YOU choose Senegal?
Every single time I am asked, all my carefully prepared reasons leave my thoughts and all I can think of is ‘Am I not allowed to?’ Is there some unspoken rule that Africans
should not be traveling to other African countries?
What makes it more frustrating is this question is almost always
laced with curiosity, not malice. So, I get conflicted about how best to express
my dissatisfaction with the accusatory tones, as well as combat genuine ignorance. Moments such as these make me feel as though I
should not be here, or at least there is only a certain group of people deemed
privileged enough to be able to want to willingly visit Africa. Especially not an actual
As I write this post, it's currently the first week of March. So, I have less than a month before I go back home. Right now, my answer is a general one,
it bounces along the lines of “I’ve never been here before” and “ Senegal is
closest to Nigeria”, but my real answer does not stop there.
However, once again, attending a UWC has taught me is that it is not my job to break stereotypes and teach how to be less ignorant. I'm here to learn and grow just like everyone else. So in the end, if I can't answer this question the way I intend to, at least I know why I’m here and God does too, so I’ve
found my peace with that regardless.
Tems – Try Me