“Oh Isa, you have such a good heart.” “You are so brave, I admire you so much.” “You have such a caring heart, going to help the ones that need it the most.” “I am so proud of you, I couldn’t go to Africa to volunteer.”
These are comments I have constantly heard since before I left for Senegal, and I have to admit I feel very uncomfortable hearing them. First off, by the fact that many people referred to my future host country as Africa, a continent composed of 53 beautiful territories and not a homogeneous block of land. I am not to blame anyone, but the way media and education have portrayed this continent and the countries that form part of it. I live in Senegal now. Yes, it is part of Africa, but from Senegal to Ethiopia or Tanzania there are millions of differences and I would like people to recognize my host country as much as I do, because it is so beautiful and rich and it deserves to be recognize as an autonomous country and not be forgotten about it, just as all the African countries deserve.
However, what has hurt my heart the most is the fact that people believe I am saving the world by coming here and that I am a brave soul that wants to help the ones that need it the most. This statement is definitely not true, and I will tell you why. Firstly, you have to understand that my main mission in Senegal is not to volunteer, in fact it is just to live. It sounds silly, but the reality is that I came to Senegal to live and experience the culture. It is true that I work at the school and help with english classes, nevertheless it is not the biggest part of my experience. In fact, sometimes I feel that I am useless at my job, and I get frustrated because I am scared that my broken french and the students broken english will actually confuse them and damage their education instead of helping them. My apprenticeship is probably just a small piece of my daily life in my village and it is not my main mission in Senegal. Spending time with my family and people in my community is probably what means the most to me right now in this place. If you ask me what am I doing in Senegal right now, I would say that I am simply living.
Secondly, what is that about helping those that need it the most? The reality is no one needs me here. Everyone has what they need and I can assure you that people here are one of the happiest bunch of people I have ever met. This idea that everyone in Africa needs to be saved is a lie that western media has created over time and we’ve all fallen for it. I am living in a rural village in Senegal and I promise you that everyone is content and satisfied with their lives. I actually need them more than they need me to guide me through my experience. My host family has become probably the most important aspect during my time here. They are my family as much as my family back home is. I appreciate them so much and they have helped me as much as they can to make me feel comfortable in my village and my house. It is sad to see how when posting pictures with them on social media, people comment on the fact that I have a big heart and that me smiling with them is the purest form of love. Would you say that if I would be posing in a picture with my host family during my time in Norway? Or is it just because they have a different skin colour than me that I start to become kind hearted or inspiring?
I think the major problem here is what the portrayal of this continent has been throughout history. I am not blaming anyone for these comments and thoughts, because it is hard to think that they are not true when all of our lives people have talked about Africa in this way. However, being here has showed me how much Senegal has to offer and I can imagine that there are many countries in Africa that are just as beautiful and culturally rich as Senegal. I do not want people to think that posing in pictures with my siblings is an act of charity, because they are just my family whom I love and care for. I also don’t want to give the impression that I came here to help, because it is not me helping them it is the other way around and I am just simply living and learning every day.