The Ghosts of Past Volunteers

Thiaroye, that is the name of the ghetto in which I live. I am the only white person here. But there have been others. Through time I have even gotten to know their faces. Their true identities however, remain blurred by the impressions of others.

Sometimes jealousy rises within me when people talk about them, these past volunteers. We are all more or less egocentric at heart: at times my soul wishes to have been the first, to be even more special.

Most of all, my heart yearns not to be judged by the actions of others?

“Ajwad* was wonderful! He was so open, people loved to talk to him! And he learnt Wolof in no time at all!”
Should I be talking more to people? I need to study more Wolof…

“Louise* was so rude. She never listened when I tried to help her. She was not accepting of our culture.”

“Marcia* always made me laugh! And she was so good at running, when we played soccer we would always win!”

You should have seen…you would have liked…

It is normal to be compared to others, who like you have come to help, to experience and to have fun. At the beginning of my stay here, their ghosts haunted me often. What would they have done in this situation? Was I like her?

Time is the only true ingredient that brings us forward in life. Almost three months in Sénégal and I realise how naive I was… Somehow I also realise how the shadows of past volunteers have helped me to understand my role here, in this beautiful but so completely confronting country.

It is they who helped me understand a bit more how I was supposed to act towards Senegalese society, culture and customs.

In the past, there have often been several volunteers working at once, but the Ebola ‘sensation’ (even though Sénégal is completely safe and devoid of it) has prevented the influx of volunteers. Being alone however, is something enriching in itself: it forces me to integrate into the culture and to leave behind everything with which I used to be familair with.

Volunteering alone gives you the best opportunity for discovery, not only of a country and its culture but also of the people who live within it.

*(Names of past volunteers have been changed.)

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