Claire Amsden - Senegal

September 24, 2012

I believe that there are many worlds in this universe. Each person’s experiences and perspective create a personal world that only they can fully understand. Today there are over 7 billion of these personal worlds. And of course, there is the world in full, the world as it really is. The full world will never be completely understood from the perspective of just one personal world.

Each personal world is as unique as the individual who owns it. This can be a beautiful thing. In one personal world God can be as alive and present as the sun, and in the next the word God doesn’t even exist. But both are real experiences within the personal world, and thus both can be true at the same time. With open minds and hearts, pieces of personal worlds can be shared. However, more often than not, people don’t make the effort to see things from different perspectives, which results in judgement and misconceptions. These misconceptions keep people from knowing, respecting, and loving each other, and the world that we all share.

As a foreigner in an unfamiliar world, I’m constantly being presented with misconceptions. To sample just a few:

Senegal to the average American – Umm where is that?

Ok fine. Africa to the average American – Malaria epidemic, starving children, the typical place to send aid during school fundraisers, poverty, tribal communities, lots of war and conflict, sad

Senegal in Claire Amsden’s eyes – One of many diverse countries on the continent of Africa, HUGE wealth gap (exemplified by the beggars she passes on the way to school, who sit in front of a mansion with a Mercedes Benz that gets washed every morning), home for 8 months, land of Teranga (hospitality), overwhelmingly hot, full of community and family, potential

Claire Amsden to the average Senegalese she passes in the street – toubab/foreigner, overflowing with money, American celebrities like Kim Kardashian, a guest

Claire Amsden to herself – a well-meaning soul in a foreign place, not interested in American pop culture (would NEVER watch the Incredible Kardashian Family TV show … unless her host sister in Senegal happens to love it), wants to help the people of Senegal help themselves, thinks everyone is connected to each other, not able to communicate personality in broken French, dying to feel at home

All of these are misconceptions, even the things I think I know about myself. There may be truth in each phrase, but they don’t complete the picture. Each concept above is too complicated to explain in a handful of words. This year I’m hoping to break down some of these misconceptions little by little. My own misconceptions and those of the people I meet. And in the vulnerable, empty space these misconceptions leave behind love and understanding will be born, and the world will be that little bit more lovely, peaceful, and understanding.

Claire Amsden