Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bon Retour

One by one, the travel party from the women's basketball trip to Paris and Senegal trickled back into Jadwin Gym.

The team returned from its 11 days overseas Sunday afternoon, and yesterday was the first day back to work for the staff.

As they walked by TigerBlog's office, a few ducked in to say hello and tell a few stories about the experience.

After awhile, TigerBlog began to notice something interesting about all of these stories: None of them were about Paris.

And that's the moral of the whole trip.

The team left here on Sept. 1 and spent four days in Paris. When you start to rank cities in the world for their combination of beauty and history and food and shopping and general interest, then Paris probably ranks No. 1.

Senegal's cities don't rank anywhere near the top of that same list.

And yet here was a random sampling of those who had made the trip with Princeton, and all they wanted to talk about was Senegal.

TigerBlog, back in the 1990s, traveled all over this country with the men's basketball team, going to some places that also aren't quite like Paris. At the time, TB appreciated the opportunity to travel to spots in the United States that he otherwise never would have on his own.

Yes, TB enjoyed his trip to Honolulu. Still, when he thinks back to those days, he remembers being in Wisconsin and Kansas and Iowa and places like that in December as much as Hawaii.

Now multiply that out by about a million, and that's what the women's basketball team experienced.

Maybe the stories would have been less about Senegal and more about Paris had the itinerary been reversed and the trip started in Senegal and ended in Paris, though TB doubts it.

The reality, TB assumes, is that Paris was wonderful and Senegal was life-changing.

After all, as TB heard the stories about the African nation, he could sense in the people telling them that they were legitimately, genuinely touched by what they had seen there.

They all talked about poverty, about transportation issues, about the food, about the games.

Mostly, they all came back to two events.

The first was a basketball clinic that the team put on for local players, for boys and girls players from around eight or so through high school age. Each Princeton player talked about how much they were appreciated, how excited the locals were to work with them, how much they wanted them to stay.

The second was a trip to an orphanage.

It was a place with babies in cribs with mosquito netting and overflowing diapers and young children who were hugging and holding on for dear life.

What is in the background of the average Princeton student, athlete or non, to prepare for that scene?

And how can someone go there and see that and then come back to a place of such privilege like Princeton University and not feel a responsibility to make the most of her opportunity?

And how could any of them ever forget what they saw there?

The answer is they can't.

They can remember with great fondness the sights and sounds of Paris.

They had to be changed by what they saw in Senegal.

From the sounds of it, they were.

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