Cherishing Time with Students From the Ivory Coast

 

DSCN2505Stepping off the plane into a warm African summer night, I inhale deeply and let the new air fill my lungs and expel my weariness. Despite the past 48 hours of near-continuous travel, I can feel the thrill of somewhere I’ve never been. We have arrived in Abidjan, the capital city of Ivory Coast, or Cote d’Ivoire, in West Africa. Our group navigates the quiet terminal, and we are greeted by several friendly Ivoirians and an enthusiastically beaming man named Craig. Craig will be leading our group of campus ministry students for the next 5 weeks, and his enthusiasm will never waver.

After our luggage is artfully jammed into two small vans, we all pile together with the windows down. As this pseudo-air-conditioning streams over us full of new sights, sounds, and smells, my excitement builds. Everything zooms by a dim blur in the darkness: low buildings, signs in French, unfamiliar foliage, a glimmer of the bay. It’s all a newness in ways I cannot yet fully comprehend. As we near our destination I’m looking forward to what the morning, and every day following, will bring.

Much of our time is devoted to building relationships with the students at Cocody University in Abidjan. These young men and women make their country come alive for me in a way scenery alone cannot. They are eager to welcome strangers and to share their lives with us. Many are several years older than our own group of college students. This is because for several years Ivory Coast had been experiencing political upheaval leading to a civil war. The universities had been closed, and students had only recently been allowed to resume classes the previous fall. A wall at the back of the Cocody campus was covered in a mural depicting the sorrow students had felt, and reminded us of the recent tragedy despite the peace now surrounding us. It was easy to feel the students’ frustration at the time they had lost in the prime of their lives.

Frustration, but not bitterness. There is an acknowledgement that it happened and a sadness for the people and their country that had suffered, but mostly I could sense an eagerness to move forward. The students were focused on what they could now become. When asked about their education they speak of their goals of becoming translators, teachers, and businessmen and women. The past few years of their lives may not have been spent how they imagined, but that was no reason to let their dreams die. I wondered if I would have this much drive and positivity had our stories been reversed.

It was impossible to share so much of our time with these students without absorbing some of their energy. We would sit and chat on the tiled steps outside a classroom or eat a meal at the outdoor cafeteria as they laughed at how much we enjoyed a sweet dish of fried plantains called aloco. To beat the midday heat we would spread fabric under the shade of a large tree or gather in small groups as they attempted to teach us songs in French. Despite our unplanned presence in their lives, I never felt like we were an inconvenience. They made us feel welcome, and no one was too busy for a conversation. I couldn’t help but compare this to home. In our western world, everyone is so busy with schedules that allow for little spontaneity. The relaxed atmosphere I was experiencing with the Ivorian seemed to make it much easier to make and maintain friendships. I began to imagine how I could take this back with me. I should not feel guilty about grabbing coffee with a friend instead of studying for my classes. Time with those I care about is just as important as preparing for my future.

Living in Cote d’Ivoire I discovered a hopeful focus on the future without the compulsive forward drive I’ve felt at home. I fear this drive can cause us to miss out on the present, and a depth in relationships that is invaluable to true happiness. By living for both the present and future, the Ivorian students were enjoying a fuller range of what life has to offer — a combination of living in the now and dreaming of the someday. In a land where time is to be cherished, but not strangled, I gained a new perspective on how to best spend my own.

About the Author: Kelsey is a 20-something living in the heartland of the United States where she studies international business and Chinese. She has a passion for traveling and helping others. One day she hopes to work for the economic growth of developing nations, and publish stories on her experiences.

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2 responses to “Cherishing Time with Students From the Ivory Coast

  1. Amazing how you can understand what we went through and how we feel about all that happened. Part of this positivity comes from seeing American Students on our campuses. It reminds us that we are valued and not forgotten. Nice article Kelsey!

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