Here I am, sitting on the edge of a fishermen’s boat in the Senegal River in the Saint Louis Region, right outside the village of Mouit. Birds are flapping and squawking from every which way above me. Normally, birds scare me, and I usually run for cover, but I could not duck this time. I was in awe at the sheer number of them and their reaction as we got closer to their sanctuary. Here humans met animals at the nexus that is the Langue De Barbarie National Park in Senegal. I’ve seen lots of birds in my lifetime of course, and I’ve seen bird preservation sites, but here, I felt intrusive, which was a feeling I had more than once during my time here in Senegal. It was more often than not that I felt like an outsider that was invading the classroom, the town or the habitat of others that were native to this land. But I wanted to learn! About the culture, the land and the language so I tried not to stand out too much but alas, that was not possible. I was different and everyone knew it.
After seeing the swarm of nesting birds, we continued our way down the river. Our Ecoguard guide explained the history of this particular National Park and the logistics of how it was taken care of. Langue De Barbarie was small in comparison to other National Parks. There are ten volunteers I learned that dedicate their time to conserving the park with no pay. I was baffled by the generosity of these people and their passion for preserving the land. However, despite all their efforts it was disheartening to see the amount of trash that was still infiltrating the park’s land and water. This I learned was due to neighboring cities, like Dakar and Saint Louis, throwing their trash into the ocean which then trickles it way into the Senegal River.
Preserving the land is not an easy task and I think back to the parks in the United States where they have huge staffs working together to not only take care of the land but to create educational opportunities for the communities to interact with the land. It sounded like the Ecoguards worked hard to do just that, but I couldn’t help but wonder, where do they go from here?
Sustainability seems like it would be an appropriate issue to tackle in this context however, development is complicated and there is no easy answer to the problems that we face. In Senegal for example, the push is for a significant improvement in education, specifically literacy. But literacy is only one huge area out of many. So the question I have been asking myself is, how can we can tackle more than one issue at a time? Or must we wait and achieve one goal before we move on to the other?
Me being the impatient person that I am when it comes to problem solving, I want to work on more than one thing at a time. Thus, as we have been discussing throughout the course the significance of national languages and the benefits that come with learning in your 1st language, I have thought many times about how we can teach literacy and sustainability at the same exact time. Is it even possible?
This Senegal experience has left me with more questions than answers but I fully accept that there were always be more questions in life, and our job is to let these questions lead our exploration of the world around us.