I thought I knew what to expect. From talking with my host teacher, I knew that the classrooms would be pretty bare. I knew that the electricity might go out and the toilets would be. . . different". But vague descriptors don't prepare you at all for what you see and experience on a trip like this.
The classrooms were incredibly simple. A chalkboard at the front, a single light overhead, and thirty or so desks in neat rows facing the front. There was no computer (in many classrooms, there are no outlets). There was no artwork, or slick motivational posters on the walls. Plaster may or may not be covering the cinder block walls. There was limited restroom facilities available. I was expecting to feel bad for them. But I didn't. I felt embarrassed.
I felt embarrassed because we simply don't know how good we have it. We have schools with electricity and classrooms with 20 outlets or more. We have water that is easily drinkable and toilets that flush. We walk to school on paved sidewalks or drive on paved paved streets. I asked my host why he didn't drive around one particular building. He said because he would get stuck in the sand. Where we would call roadside assistance, he would have to rely on neighbors and an unfortunate teenager passing by to help him push the car out.
My house is full of junk. Stuff that my family has accumulated over the years and no longer uses or needs. In fact, we have so many material things that in the past, I've used a local storage facility. I'm not alone. In the past few years, self-storage has boomed in popularity as Americans have generated wealth and materials. It is one of the fastest growing areas of real estate.
But it's not enough. We still have too much stuff.
If I need help moving that stuff out of my house, I can hire junk removal professionals to come and take it all away and relive my stress. Yet, here in Senegal, I can watch a horse pulling a cart piled with 15 college kids going to college. I can watch 90 kids file into a barely-lit classroom with no complaints. I can watch people live their lives who rely on sharing, on community, on Terranga, and make the most of it.