John Zimmer speaking in Dakar, Senegal

This month one of our trainers, John Zimmer, had the opportunity to work with the United Nations in Dakar, Senegal. It is a privilege to speak to audiences that make make a big impact on the world. Scroll below to see John’s photos from his visit, read his commentary, view the short video (a must watch!) and learn some incredible lessons on speaking to audiences with a different cultural background.

July 13th: A pleasure and a privilege to have worked with dynamic people in the UN who are doing important work, often in difficult circumstances.

July 13th, evening post: This morning, I visited Île de Gorée, a little island that lies two kilometres off the coast from Dakar. It is beautiful, but it has a tragic past. It is the location from which many slaves were sent to the US, Brazil and elsewhere.

July 14th, afternoon post: A few more pictures from La Maison des Esclave (The House of Slaves) on Île de Gorée. The first two (of me silhouetted in front a door and of some others in front of the same door) were taken at what was called “La Porte de Non-Retour” (The Door of No Return). When a slave walked through that door, it was directly onto a boat and it would be the last time they set foot on African soil.

The last picture is of a tiny, windowless cell where difficult prisoners were kept as punishment. Nelson Mandela visited the island and was shown the cells. Despite protests from his hosts and his delegation, he bent down and crawled into the cell to see what it was like.

July 14th, evening post: Two final shots from Île de Gorée.

The white plaque reads: “The Senegalese people knew how to preserve the actual House of Slaves in order to remind every African that a part of himself or herself has passed through this sanctuary.”

The brown plaque reads: “If anyone tells you ‘Gorée is an island,” that person is lying. This island is not an island. It is a continent of the spirit.” (I was proud to see that these words were written by a Canadian.)

July 18th: Now back in Geneva. On my final morning in Senegal, I went for one last walk down to the ocean. I was soon joined by a dozen or so kids, all boys except for one little girl. The boys huddled around a rock and began betting small amounts on some game, the rules of which were a mystery to me.

The little girl (black sweater in the photos) stood by herself throwing rocks into the water. So I joined her and she ooed and awed as I hurled stones as far into the surf as possible. Then we drew some pictures in the sand. Communication was a challenge as she spoke little French and my Wolof was limited to about 50 words but we got along like a house on fire. Her older brother came over at one point and he spoke French, so that made things easier.

I showed Antigay (the little girl’s name, my phonetic spelling) pictures of our cat and every time, she would say oooh and then kiss the phone. She then showed me a secret handshake involving high fives, finger scissors, fist bumps and ending by pinching all fingers together, kissing them and throwing the kiss to each other. Really sweet kid. It was a great way to end my stay in Senegal.

Photos and text courtesy of John Zimmer @ [link]