For Release May 7, 2002

A Trip To The Far Side Of The World

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Back in December I hinted at a special Christmas present from my wife. What that present consisted of was the encouragement and support to accept a position on a Rotary Club International Group Study Exchange trip to Senegal for the month of April. I returned last week from four weeks in West Africa. Needless to say, my mind is still processing everything I experienced! In my mind, I had a good idea of what to expect. But to know something, and to experience something are two completely different things.

Senegal is a country in West Africa, in fact it is the most western point on the African continent. It is smaller than Kansas with a population of over ten million people. It is 95% Muslim. The country become a democratic republic in 1960 after having been a French territory for a long time. The Senegalese people are very warm and friendly and will do almost anything for you! There seems to be no end to their generosity and taranga (hospitality).

Most of the time while in Senegal, we stayed with Rotary club members. Since most of the clubs are in Dakar, the capital city, we spent about two thirds of our time there. We spent time experiencing their culture and visiting some of the historic locations around the country.

By far, the most satisfying and enriching opportunities for me came when we would head out of Dakar and into the smaller towns and villages. This is where we could really experience Senegalese culture. This is where we could really see the many challenges facing this country and how some of those challenges are being met. The Sahal desert area is moving south across the country at the rate of a mile or two per year. Parts of the country have experienced 25 years of reduced rainfall with some of these areas not having raised crops for six consecutive years! With these changing weather patterns, and the constant grazing pressure on the vegetation from the herds of goats, sheep and cattle, itís no wonder that the desert is expanding!

Time and space in this column are insufficient to even scratch the surface of this trip. But I do want to share just a few thoughts that kept coming to the surface during the trip and in the few days since returning home.

We truly live in a wonderfully blessed country. This is a concept that I have often spoken of, but now it has taken on a whole new meaning. Many of the issues that I was reading in the newspaper and hearing as lead stories in the news, when I left April 1st, now seem trivial. We take so much for granted. We expect things, and take for granted things that other cultures will never experience. Things that seem simple, like good health and safe drinking water, are something that many of the villages I visited will still be striving to attain 25 years from now.

We complain about over regulation by the government and what we consider to be excessive taxation. Take some time to think about the infrastructure and services that those taxes provide. We assume that there will be good roads anywhere we want to go and that traffic will flow in an orderly and predictable fashion. This is a luxury that I didnít see in Senegal! At times, roads were so bad that everyone drove beside the road - it was smoother and you could go faster!

To say that we live in a very fortunate country is an understatement of a magnitude that is hard to fathom. Iíll be giving programs around the community in the coming months (after I sort through the 500+ pictures I took), and youíll probably get tired of hearing me talk about the trip. But if there is one thing I want to get across to you, it is that things are much different on the far side of the world!


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