Monday, May 19, 2008

Reflections & Gratitude

As you all know, I've been meaning to put an end to this poor blog for a long time. Unfortunately, life took hold of me, and almost three months later, you poor readers have had no closure! And so finally...

First of all, thank you to all of you, for your interest and support. You have been a loyal and forgiving audience. Thank you for reading.

Thank you to God of course, for making this beautiful trip possible in the first place.

And thank you to the people of Senegal and Chad for teaching me so much. I only hope that one day, I can repay the favour.

Sometimes, while abroad - most of the time, actually - everything around me seemed normal. It's amazing how fast you can get used to your new surroundings and forget how different they really are from the world you're used to.

And I remember a specific moment, about a week before leaving Senegal, where it all hit me. Where I stopped to think about just how different a life I had been living.

I was sitting in the bare mosquito-infested, concrete-walled room at my friend's family home in a small village where you can only get around on horse-drawn carts. Her family - brothers, sisters, aunts, neighbours - were watching the home's sole TV in a room that doubled as the bedroom for at least 8 or 9 girls who slept on foam mattresses on the ground. At night, they cocooned themselves in their thin sheets to protect themselves from malaria.

And I remember stopping, looking around the room, and letting the magnitude of it all sink in.

For six months, I lived in a country where most people pee, poo and shower in the same hole in the ground.

For six months, I lived in a country where whole families share a single closet, where there is no such thing as intimacy, where front doors to homes consist of sheets hung across a hole in the neighbourhood wall.

For six months, I lived in a country where 90% of jobs are in the informal sector, selling peanuts, on the street or used t-shirts at the market.

I lived in a country where people eat with their hands - and not just the tips of three fingers, but with the full palm, rolling the rice into their palms as if it was Plado before unfolding it into their mouths.

I lived in a country where you can buy freshly cooked peanuts, donuts and shishkabab on the streets.

Where the goats wake you up in the morning and the neighbours' screaming children keep you up at night.

Where the people you meet can touch your heart in a matter of minutes.

Where helping someone in need is not an option but an obligation.

Where saying Salamu Alaikum (May Peace be Upon You) to strangers you pass on the street is similarly expected.

Where women are strong leaders of their families; where men feel a lot but say little.

Where people love freely and fully - without reasons or logic - just heart.

Where colour, music, and life fill the streets. Where rhythm is instrinsic in every person and men can really dance!

My six months in Senegal taught me something about friendship. I built incredible friendships - often with people that didn't even understand me. I've changed my definition of friendship since. A friend is not always someone who knows you inside and out. A friend is simply a person who cares for you, who is there when you need them and who smiles, sincerely. I am friends with the woman who sells peanuts on the path from work to the bus. I don't know her name. We have trouble communicating. But she has touched my heart all the same.

My six months in Senegal taught me something about sharing and sacrifice. It's not enough to give to the poor from your "extra" savings. It's not enough to give away the shirt you no longer want. That's not giving. The real giving is when you sacrifice what you actually want or need for someone else. And Africans do it every day. In Senegal, it is normal to give up what you need for what someone else wants. Sacrifice is a duty; kindness is built into the system.

My six months in Senegal taught me something about tolerance. Life is never going to cooperate with you fully, and if you can accept that, you will lead a much more peaceful life. Things go wrong, the electricity cuts out, the bus is late. So what? There are more important things in life to worry about.

But Senegal and Chad have also taught me about hardship and injustice - about people who spend their lives wishing they could live somewhere else so that they can provide for their families.

About people in such desperation, they kill, rape and torture to keep living.

In Chad, I watched a baby die of malnutrition, his body lifeless on a Doctors without Borders clinic table. I met a woman whose back was still covered in scars from beatings by armed men in Sudan. I felt the evil human beings were capable of, the suffering they endured.

So the next time you're pissed that you're late and stuck in traffic, remember that the roads are safe and that you aren't under constant threat of hijacking.

Next time your mother annoys you with all her demands, remember that she is healthy and not dead thanks to completely preventable disease.

Next time you have the chance to reach out to someone and improve their life in whatever way, TAKE IT.

That's all for now, I think.

But I still have a lot to learn, to live, to take in. I plan to return to this beautiful land - sooner than you think. So keep your virtual ears open - Sudan is next!

1 comment:

mosseiran said...

Hi Heba,
I think you are the right Heba, I read your piece in the Toronto Star.
I think the best way to deal with the issue of Torture is to blow the whole matter out of the water.
Please read the following article, "The Crime Behind the Criminal Wars!" found at
A series of article can be found at
As the writer and researcher of the articles, I should be able to answer most of your questions.
Publicizing the articles is one way to help. Writing about the topic is another.
Maher Osseiran