Dr. Craig Hanson is one of our professors here at PBA with an expertise in philosophy, ethics and travel. He has not only been around the world plenty of times, but also has the stories to prove it, so we've asked him to name his top favorite trips and why.
For a few years I traveled with a group of undergraduates to an orphanage in the Ivory Coast.
Our venue there is a seaside orphanage in the city of Grand Bassam. There we stay in an orphanage which holds the distinction of being the last private orphanage to stay open in the wake of the two Ivorian Civil wars at the beginning of the millennium. Their resilience is quite striking.
On our first expedition there I challenged the group to do something that endured. Something that lasted beyond the short stay that we would undertake and which would make their lives better in perpetuity. One obvious need was a better water source for the orphanage. Using a shallow well, their water was brown, germ-filled and outright unsanitary. So the undergraduates got together and decided to help them dig a deeper well to solve this problem.
Upon returning to the states they hit their social media network and ultimately came up with a couple of thousand dollars. They sent the funds to the orphanage, and the orphanage was able to dig a deeper well that gave them access to clean water.
When we returned the next year one of the orphans sheepishly approached me, indicating that there was something that he wanted to say to me. I had to coax him a bit, but finally he said to me “Thanks for putting the medicine in the water.”
Ousmame was a peanut farmer. I estimate that he was 6 feet tall, about 130 pounds, and made exclusively out of muscle and bone. His hands were leathery, his face hardened by the sun, and his eyes soft and gentle.
Ousmame had learned that I was in town, that I spoke French, and that I was a philosopher. Apparently, these three things were all he needed to convince himself to leave his farm and visit me.
“I like to think when I farm.” He explained as we had our first conversation. It bears mentioning that a statement so direct from a Senegalese farmer hides more than it reveals. What he was actually saying to me was “I have been thinking about the world for a long time. I have a lot of ideas. But I don’t really have anyone to talk to about it. Would you be willing to talk to me?”
Of course I would.
Ousmame and I spent a series of several nights in conversation with each other, fueled by green tea so highly caffeinated that I swear it let you see the future. I was astonished by the incredible degree of intellectual agility that he exhibited. I still remember one thesis which he presented to me. “My body,” Ousmame asserted with some trepidation, “is that part of the world I can control with my mind.”
He also presented and defended his own version of what we in the west call “fatalism,” the view which whatever happens cannot be avoided.
To this day I think of Ousmame occasionally. I wonder what has become of him. I wonder whether he has anyone to talk to about his ideas. I wonder what his new ideas might be. And I also wonder what would have happened to him had he been born in a different place, at a different time, with different opportunities.