At least once a each day while visiting Senegal, I could count on absolutely regretting having made the long trip with my five, young kids.
Okay, maybe even twice a day – depending on the mood of my over-tired, jet-lagged 2 year-old daughter, Emersyn. During her many, daily tantrums I’d long for the normal routine of home and desperately yearn for the noise of the endless Islamic prayer calls to quiet from the mosque nearby.
Leading up to our trip, so many friends joked that we were crazy for taking five kids to visit Africa and, during these times, I was certain they were right.
But, like many trials of parenthood, those fleeting moments quickly fade when something happens that rewards your perseverance through the pain.
I can picture my two oldest boys, Yosef and Lynden, playing soccer with cousins they’d never met before, surrounded by other kids that they couldn’t speak to – the cement court bustling with kids in Reynaldo jerseys.
I’ll remember that, I hope they will.
The thought of Everett, my 5 year-old, learning from a gentlemen on a ferry to Goree Island how to play a beat with a homemade percussion instrument made with two tree nuts and a string. He drove us crazy with that instrument for at least three days.
Some memories aren’t as fun, but are just as vivid.
Like the time, Vivi, my 8 year-old, asked, “Dad, does that family really live on the street?”
In a sober tone, I replied, “They do, honey.”
For the rest of the trip she’d try to flash them a quick smile on our morning trek to buy bread for the day.
In some ways, I wish my kids would forget the mothers and babies on the street, but, in other ways, I’m glad they won’t.
Lastly, I’d get through the trip’s tough patches by remembering my 5 year-old son, Everett, laugh and cup his own breasts when he saw a statue of a naked woman’s silhouette for sale at the marketplace.
I laughed when he triumphantly proclaimed, “Boo-bays!” at the top of this lungs – albeit, to his mom’s chagrin.
Yes, traveling with little kids – particularly those that operate best on routine schedules – can be a pain, will test your mettle and, without doubt, is expensive.
If you have the means, though, make it a point to try.
The world is not small – but it gets smaller by the day. Technology, after all, cares not about borders or walls or language barriers – it provides unlimited access to almost anything or anyone.
When I think about raising more worldly children, I’m determined to help my little ones learn another language – or even a few different ones. As I walked the streets of Senegal or listened to my family at dinner, I was deeply envious of their ability to speak French, English, Arabic and local dialects.
I would bet, in fact, that my kids’ 10 year-old cousin in Senegal could make his way around the world better than I could with his ability to speak so many languages.
Make no mistake, though, when our kids learn about the world – or see it firsthand – they will see some ugliness. They’ll be exposed to struggle – real, dire battles – like hunger and homelessness, disease and desperation.
The world, in places, can be discouraging and cruel.
But, through the bad, our kids will see opportunities to create good.
I hope that my kids will – and do. That thought, without doubt, mutes the memories of my screaming, tired 2 year-old during our ten-hour flight home.
Yes, traveling to Africa was crazy. More importantly, though, the trip was unforgettable.