One of our Drishti Girls, Chanti, recently traveled to West Africa to visit a family member who is currently living there, working for an international aid organization. Check out her insight from her trip to Dakar, Senegal and her opinions on why traveling to Africa can be an amazing experience for personal growth and expanding your global cultural perceptions.
1. It offers you an opportunity to get WAY outside your comfort zone
If you have never traveled to a third world country before, you will quickly realize that simply being in the country itself, navigating the streets, arranging and utilizing transportation and doing basic things like finding and using a public bathroom adventuresome enough. In Africa, I have found that the smells, the trash on the streets (even, sadly, in the ocean), the exhaust fumes, and the foreign ideas of personal space (lack thereof) can be disorienting and make whatever else I am there to do, even more challenging. Third world travel has has definitely forced me to stretch my ideas of what public space should look and feel like. But ultimately I think that is a very good thing. Just like expanding your body and mind in yoga or any other physically challenging activity, travel in developing countries, you realize that you are able to push beyond the limits you had initially set for yourself, and that beyond those limits lie a new world of insight. For example, once I shifted my perspective to accept these basic discomforts, I was able to see the beauty around me and to interact more genuinely with people. This is a skill that can surely be used in many situations in life and one that will always be useful regardless of the context.
2. You will value U.S. recycling programs in a whole new way
This may seem like a strange one - but I am totally serious! All drinkable water in many parts of Africa comes in plastic water bottles, so the bottle build up is unavoidable. And the problem is that while you are buying and consuming these bottles, you are (well, I was) just constantly thinking about the fact that they would all end up in the landfill and take 450 years to decompose. There simply was not a recycling program in Senegal, as is the case in many African countries. Plastic bags are also rampant, but these are easier to avoid, especially because as a traveller, you generally cruise around with a bag or backpack of some sort in the day-to-day. Worse yet, most trash ends up on the streets or in the ocean, because trash pick-up service can be shotty in many areas, especially in the most poverty stricken areas where high volumes of people live.
This experience, however, makes me appreciate our U.S. recycling system and more committed to be a a diligent recycler!
3. You'll likely return home with a new perspective on a difficult situation in your life
There is nothing like seeing hardship and struggle and poverty on a massive scale to put your problems in perspective and perhaps offer some insight on how to move through them in a new, more creative way.
4. There are still so many places to go that are virtually tourist-free
It is not uncommon to be the only Westerner in a given situation in parts of Africa. West Africa in particular has taken a hit in the tourism industry because of the Ebola outbreak and subsequent reduction in desire to travel to West Africa world-wide. Senegal is virtually Ebola free now and there was never a problem in Dakar in particular so we felt very confident going there. This meant that almost everywhere we went we were amongst a small group of foreigners, which sometimes can mean more bombardment by people looking to make money of tourists, but in general it makes things more relaxed, authentic and gives a more accurate view of what the local culture it really like. The best of course is to link up with a local, so that you can navigate the area well and find yourself in situations that some foreigners may have never been (which in my book is a good thing!) As an example of this, on my recent trip to Dakar, Senegal, we were able to surf some of West Africa's best surf spots in fairly empty waters, which is a real treat for any traveling surfer. By the way, the waves in the winter in Dakar are supposedly really awesome! We caught some pretty decent ones even in the summer, in the midst of the off-season!
5.If you like printed leggings, you'll be in LOVE with African fashion
Your idea of a fashion faux pas will be reinvented after having visited West Africa. Both women and men are frequently clad in brightly colored and wildly-printed fabrics from head to toe. They have pant and dress suits tailor made to fit them and some of the styles are wild! I have to say that in general the women look very beautiful, the bright colors look fantastic against dark rich skin and the cuts the women wear tend to fit their figures well and give a lady-like flair. We of course had to buy some fabric and a few pairs of pants, whether or not and how they will be worn is yet to be determined :)