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As Long as We Remember...

August 8, 2007

Enlightenment in Africa - Part Two

Derek Shackelford

Writing this has already extracted some feelings and observations regarding the immersion experience. I would also like to reflect theologically on the experience with regards to the villages, conversations that transpired between the natives, and personal reflections.

The first stop on our trip before proceeding to West Africa was Paris, France. I have never been there. This was exciting for me. The culture and history is very rich. It has had a profound impact on the rest of the world through the centuries. I have been fascinated with Napoleon Bonaparte because of his leadership qualities. Although his methods of governing were questionable at best, Napoleon left a lasting imprint on the city.

I was also aware of the influence of music on the French culture, in particular jazz. Some of the most renowned artist tour Paris. Also, some of these artists have lived there for short periods of time. This demonstrates that music is universal and is not just limited to one audience or one particular group. It gave me a deeper appreciation for jazz and especially those who have performed frequently there.

One of the most exciting parts of my tour was the opportunity to experience the ambiance of Paris. It has an atmosphere that is quite unique. Paris has what is called flavor.

There is a distinct difference between this city and the parts of the world that I have visited previously. Its people can seem to be abrasive because of the nature of their conversational tone. The people are up close in their conversation posture. In American culture this can be deemed to violate personal space; but, in French culture, this type of space simply means that they are comfortable with the other person.

We had the opportunity to visit the Musee du Louvre. It is rich in culture. The sculptures were very well carved and the paintings were done with precision. This museum granted the opportunity to experience art, lectures, paintings, and sculptures.

One of the more interesting points about this museum was the influence of African culture, which has had great impact on the entire world; and Paris is no different. Its influence can be seen in all art forms.

Although France used Africa as a means of colonizing and domination of the region, the influences of African culture can be seen in Paris today. City buildings bear witness. This cannot be minimized because it is evident everywhere.

After experiencing Paris for three days, it was off to West Africa. The trip to Senegal was the pinnacle. When we landed there I could feel the sense of connection in my spirit. All the stories that I have heard reflected on this experience. Although I was thousands of miles from home, spiritually it did not feel like a foreign environment. The people were warm and friendly. Their work ethic was amazing.

When we arrived at the airport, the people who were assisting with luggage worked extremely hard. One thing that I did not anticipate on the trip was the level of request for money and food.

The airport facilities were not comparable to the United States or Paris. They were substandard, yet the people were still friendlier and appeared to be in a state of happy bliss. This perception could be off base because I have never experienced this level of poverty; but it appeared that - in spite of these circumstances - the people were still rich in spirit. People were selling just about anything from fruit to clothing. The little children were even attempting to sell products just to earn some change.

Our hotel was the same one that President Bill Clinton stayed at during his visit to Senegal. The Meridian Presidente is known as the place to stay for tourists.

Prostitution is extremely open in the country. Since this a place where tourists stay, prostitutes are highly visible. Security at the hotel is provided by military police. They are there to protect the sense of order and keep the property peaceful. They are not there to arrest people, unlike in the United States where illegal activity leads to incarceration.

As we settled in for our first night in Senegal, exhaustion was setting in from the plane trip; but an air of excitement was also present. It was due to my anticipation of what I would finally get to see the next day.

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