Even as I compose this blog right now I struggle with getting my mind to focus my thoughts on one thing. Four months into my year off from college and it appears as though I’m receiving an influx of feelings concerning life and what it means to me. Of course it is partly due to newly acquired information that I have been taking in through reading, discussions, and hands on experience from living in a completely different environment. Nonetheless I will attempt to steady my brain if only for a moment to help you understand where I’m presently at mentally, if that is at all possible.
Living here in Senegal, a place quite different from New York City has triggered me to further question what the word endangered (not in terms of extinction) truly means. All throughout the time that I have been a resident of the Bronx I’ve heard the words “at-risk, threatened, and in danger” used to reference the youth that make up a large number of the population. People are always quick to point out that there is a high dropout rate of students in school, gang violence prevalent in the community, and a high consummation of alcohol and drugs among teenagers, etc. They are in danger of following the vicious cycle that has preceded them. Stuck in the same communities they grew up in, no college degree, taking on the same low wage job their parents have.
In contrast Senegalese children are in danger of something different. Many of them do not get the opportunity to attend school because of family matters or set traditions. No education, taking care of a family the size of two and no hope of seeing life outside of the village. Yes, inner city kids have it bad on our own standards but we still have access to a lot of things that kids here do not. Here there is no welfare system to help those that need it, there are no extra-curricular activities for children, no parks, no genuine source of entertainment.
One’s environment plays a significant role in the beliefs that they hold. If all you see is despair and failure, success is not an idea that you can internally foster. Both places face two different issues, where I now feel that the problem inner city kid’s face is lack of motivation; whereas children in Senegal are truly endangered.
When I am not comparing my own upbringing with what I am currently witnessing, I think about how my time in Senegal thus far has impacted me personally. How it has altered the way that I perceived the world before, changed the way I view my college education, and who I am as an individual.
Former fellow Mathew Davis wrote in his last blog, “It was also the first time I ever saw myself as a member of the African diaspora…” When I read that line I could whole heartedly relate to it and how I currently feel now. I attended a ceremony two weeks ago for the termination of a project related to my apprenticeship, and for the first time I realized how much I appreciated being a part of the very African Diaspora he mentioned. As women danced freely during every available break I recall thinking “I look like them”. We shared the same features, the same big lips, skin tone, and voluptuous figure (even though mine might be due to weight gain). For the first time I really felt like I was one of them. It feels good.
I believe that by making the impulsive decision to spend seven months overseas in a developing country, I have already defied the idea of what a typical teenager can do. A young African American woman from the Bronx at that. I’m living life in recline right now as I find myself bouncing ideas concerning development, individuality, and purpose around freely.