It has been nearly two months since our we lost our dear student Nerea Pérez-Arróspide to a tragic accident in Senegal, where she was living out her passion for improving lives through design. Having worked there the previous year, Senegal had a very special place in Nerea’s heart and she made it a destination once again for her internship during our program. While she was working in the town of Oussouye this summer, Nerea took some time to express her thoughts about Senegal in this piece which she titled The pace of life, a reflection on cultural differences and human values.

We know that Nerea, as well as her friends and family, would love to see it published, so we’re taking this opportunity to share her thoughts with the world and to keep her memory alive. Siempre estás con nosotros, Nerea!

The pace of life
by Nerea Pérez-Arróspide

As you set foot in Senegal, you realize that the rhythm of life is different here. Aside from the frenetic activity of the marché, or local market, everything else seems to move in slow motion. Some people call it laziness, but I see it as a reflection of values.

For the Senegalese people, family is their most precious possession. If they work hard, it is to feed their loved ones. Their definition of family goes far beyond wife and children to include siblings, cousins and even neighbours. Everyone is a brother or sister. I, as a friend and foreigner, may as well be one of them. If a child falls illl, the parents stay home to look after them. If a neighbours’ child falls ill, a family is there to offer a helping hand. Everyone understands and nobody judges. It is imperative to take care of your relatives, even if it means missing work. Can you blame them?

Family comes first no matter what. Work is only a means of survival. The people from Senegal enjoy their life day by day, minute by minute, because sadly, their life expectancy is not so long. The toubabs (the Wolof word for “white people”) that come here to work cannot help but fall into despair when they try to implement the rhythm of the so-called developed countries in this very different reality.

What if we are seeing it all wrong? Maybe they miss some days at work, but bottom line, things get done. Here, everything is possible; there is always a solution to a problem. Sometimes you get caught up in what may feel like a spiral of chaos, and only by zooming out do you realize that it actually makes perfect sense. As Dorothy pointed out in The wizard of Oz, “We are not in Kansas anymore.” We need to adapt and think outside the box.

What if we, as Westerners, are going too fast? We have become such an individualistic society that we cannot even take pleasure in our work anymore. It is probably because we have lost our purpose. What are we working for anyway? To produce more and more, and only for ourselves. We get no satisfaction because we do not share our possessions with the rest of the world as much as we should. We want to accumulate wealth and power at expense of others getting nothing, just for our future’s safety, a future that we may not even get to enjoy. We live to work. In Senegal, people work to Live.

We have stacked our priorities in the wrong order. We do not enjoy our daily lives as much as we should because producing as much as possible at work sucks all of our energy. We barely have time left to spend with our families, so what is the point of working so hard? Perhaps if we looked up from our small, selfish worlds for just a second, we could learn from other cultures and recover some of our most human values.

All photos via Nerea Pérez-Arróspide’s Facebook profile

Leave a Reply