threads of our fabric

Reflections on navigating between two cultures and understanding the self-awareness process

Lessons from the kitchen | World Pulse February 28, 2011

Filed under: Leadership — Sharon Asonganyi @ 8:55 pm
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Lessons from the kitchen | World Pulse

Enjoy one of my postings as a Voices of Our Future Global Correspondent with World Pulse!

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My Blended Story February 23, 2011

File:Cameroon COA.svgAs I continue work on the Threads of Our Fabric Project, I find myself spending a significant part of time reflecting on my own immigrant’s story. My childhood was left in Cameroon and my identity as a young adult developed in America…  What began as an ongoing personal quest for self-understanding continues to evolve into a life project.

During my interactions with the many young women I have interviewed over the past 7 months, it is as if spirit recognizes spirit at every encounter.  Particularly for those considered the 1.5 immigrant generation, like myself. We instantly bond over shared difficulties and experiences. Over the course of a 30-45 mins conversation (sometimes longer!), we recognize a shared core, a mirroring of souls. Understanding beyond words the journey that brought us to a new country, the many trials and successes of  integrating. Most importantly, the weight of not fully belonging to the land we emigrated from or the one to which we now belong. Though connected in our new communities, there are often feelings of isolation because of how intimately our unique identities become tied to the overall experience. Over time, I have personally found that I have been able to preserve some of my culture. Thanks to my family and being part of the Cameroonian community in various states. However, I had to adjust over time to accommodate my identity that emerged in the context of American society.

The United States

Image via Wikipedia

 

LeThee’Ma Summary – Week 1 February 20, 2011

Wow!!..I was delighted by the active participation in week 1’s discussion. A sincere and profound “THANK YOU!” to all the commentors.Very exciting!!! The launch of LeThee’Ma was quite successful!…  The personal stories and insights were absolutely wonderful to read. I enjoyed hearing your diverse unique voices that had me laughing as I reflected on similar personal experiences. Some of which occasionally left me with a slight case of nostalgia.

For some, immigrating was an opportunity to travel to a safe-haven of acceptance, while for others it brought on new barriers which challenged their previously constructed sense of self. Life is indeed a very interesting journey. To live is to grow and continuously evolve. All of which involves change – a natural part of life. At times we are able to prepare for expected changes and at other times it is unforseen, leaving us having to respond as we progress through it. How do you maintain internal sameness and constancy when you meet the unfamiliar externally?

While reading the comments, I noticed that self-acceptance always resulted in a confident inner strength which provided resilience with each new experience. Some of you have been able to masterfully cultivate a strong awareness of and sensitivity to your beautiful  inner voices.  This ability has enabled you successfully soar over the hurdles of assimilating into a new society. Meanwhile, others have just begun the life journey of listening to your innate feminine spirit wisdom and have experienced the thrills of being true to you regardless of environment.

Inspiration: When a woman is connected to and lives from the strength of complete inner self-knowledge,  her full potential will always manifest itself regardless of her environment.

Question: How do you listen to your inner voice? How do you develop a trusting attitude in its wisdom? What are some strategies that have worked for you?

 

Underneath my fabric

 

 

Threads of Our Fabric February 19, 2011

It is still quite surreal seeing my name in print…Here is an article from the Silver Spring Gazette on a part of the The Threads of Our Fabric Project…Enjoy and thank you for your support!

Silver Spring woman hopes focus groups will connect female African immigrants

Focus groups will connect female African immigrants

by Alison Bryant | Staff Writer

Sharon Asonganyi considers her life a vibrant tapestry.

Threads of childhood in Cameroon weave through fibers of adolescence in the United States. A strand of a career crosses another of family. Femininity knots up with friendship.

“My fabric is so diverse,” Asonganyi said. “It’s the influence of Africa and America in one. When we start adding all these fibers of my fabric, it’s very diverse.”

And it’s this colorful cloth — the events and experiences that shape a life — that Asonganyi wants to help African females living in Silver Spring unfold through focus groups. Threads of Our Fabric, a program Asonganyi founded, will bring together African females between the ages of 15 and 24 to discuss themes such as identity, roles, family expectations and tradition.

Groups of about 10 young women will meet every other week beginning in March to network and connect, Asonganyi said.

Asonganyi said she emigrated from Cameroon to the United States at 13 in 1997 and found herself struggling to embrace a new culture while holding on to that of her home country. Upon first arriving, Asonganyi wanted to blend in with her American peers, she said.

“I didn’t want to braid my hair,” she said. “I didn’t want to be identified with African. I didn’t want to be different.”

But over time, she said she learned to find a balance between her identity in America and her roots in Africa. A balance that’s not necessarily easy to find.

“You’re negotiating all these things … in a new country,” Asonganyi said. “Figuring out who I am, what’s important to me and trying to understand, somewhere in between, their culture and tradition.”

The struggle prompted Asonganyi to form the focus groups that will help other young women experiencing similar emotions to talk and reflect. Sitting together, she said, African females can openly and honestly discuss the challenges with identity and negotiating young adulthood in a new country.

“Our relationships are very important to us,” Asonganyi said. “In periods of stress, women tend to default to relating, and I think that would be something really good in this group — to promote the culture of relating. This is African to African or recent immigrant to recent immigrant.”

Asonganyi said she has reached out to churches, African restaurants and stores to track down women who might be interested in attending a focus group.

Fijoy Fisiy, a friend of Asonganyi who also emigrated from Cameroon, said she met Asonganyi through a mutual group of friends from Africa. Asonganyi, she said, had been talking about starting a program for more than a year and a half.

“I said, ‘Well, go ahead and do it because you’re so passionate about it,’ ” Fisiy said.

Fisiy said she did not have the luxury of connecting with other immigrants when she first got to the United States. But she provided emotional support for her younger siblings, she said. And the focus groups will offer females a similar sense of family.

Asonganyi’s success will lie in her passion for developing strong networks for African immigrants, she said.

“I listen,” Asonganyi said. “I think that’s something that’s very rare because everyone is so busy and on the go. I’m not going to judge you. I will listen. And with youth, I think it gives them that sense of value that their opinions and thoughts are important.”

 

Costly good intentions – the Cassava project February 16, 2011

I have been slowly wading my way through “HALF THE SKY” by Kristof and WuDunn. It isn’t a read for the faint of heart. Very descriptive, lively, and at times gruesome portrayals of some truthful atrocities that affect women worldwide and some compelling innovative interventions. I just finished the “Investing in Education” chapter during my train commute this morning and I just have to share this bit with you on how good intentions can become very costly – the cassava project… Enjoy!!!

While empowering women is critical to overcoming poverty, it represents a field of aid work that is particularly challenging in that it involves tinkering with the culture, religion, and family relations of a society that we often don’t fully understand. A friend of ours was involved in a UN project in Nigeria that was meant to empower women, and his experience is a useful cautionary tale. The women in this area of Nigeria raise cassava ( a widely eaten root, vaguely like a potato) and use it mostly for household food, while selling the surplus in the markets. When the women sold the extra cassava, they controlled the money, so the aid workers had a bright idea: If we give them better varieties of cassava, they’ll harvest more and sell more. Then they’ll make more money, and spend it on their families. Our friend described what came next:

The local women’s variety of cassava produced 800 kilos per hectare, and so we introduced a variety that got three tons per hectare. The result was a terrific harvest. But then we ran into a problem. Cassava was women’s work, so the men wouldn’t help them harvest it. The women didn’t have time to harvest such huge yields, and there wasn’t a capacity to process that much cassava.

Cassava Market

So we introduced processing equipment.

Unfortunately, this variety of cassava that we had introduced had great yields, but it also was more bitter and toxic. Cassava always produces a little bit of a cyanide-related compound, but this variety produced larger amounts than normal. So the runoff after processing had more cyanide, and we had to introduce systems to avoid contaminating ground water with cyanide – that would have been a catastrophe.

So we dealth with that, and finally the project looked very successful.

Woman carrying cassava for sale

The women were making a lot of money on their cassava. We were delighted. But because the women were making so much, the men came in and kicked the women out of the cassava fields. The tradition was that women raise staple crops, and men raise cash crops. And the men reasoned that if cassava was so profitable, it must now be a man’s crop. And so the men took over cassava, and they used the profits for beer. The women had even less income than when we started.

Cassava Harvest

Please note that the above humorous posting, pictures, and excerpt does not place fault on my fellow African brothers for seeing and acting on a good opportunity, or the aid workers’ genuine desire to empower our women. Perhaps its simply just a case of misunderstood culture…However, I think one of the moral lessons here has broad application to our personal lives: because you see a specific need or problem, don’t just jump to rectify it…rather, seek to understand the context and the wisdom acquired later will enable you create a practical and sustainable solution…Be good to yourself today!

 

 

 

Opening of LeThee’Ma (Fireplace) February 13, 2011

It is with profound joy for me to introduce and welcome you to LeThee’ma or my fireplace. Many of my favorite childhood memories were night-times in the village, sitting around the fireplace for story telling, conversations, and amazing food! It is with this same spirit that I invite you to join fellow African sisters around LeThee’ma,

…Together we can feed minds, spirits, and hearts…

♥ Week 1 Discussion: First Impression Series – Questions♥

 

 

The Kitchen February 12, 2011

Filed under: Reflections — Sharon Asonganyi @ 8:38 pm
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One thing that is central to my culture is cooking. Not just the act of skillfully putting together ingredients and composing a delicacy that utterly tickles the pallet…but what goes on with all those involved. For example, today, Grandma (Big mami or Ma The) woke up and made breakfast for the kids who typically rise with the dawning of the sun. This is a blessing to the 9 to 5’ers of the week who can get some extra hours of rest. Once my aunt and I woke up, the day’s activities really began. Frying of fish, cooking of egusi soup to be accompanied by water fufu. Everyone always has a task which is assigned by the eldest in the kitchen – Ma The.

As the dishes were being tended to with our hands, our hearts and voices shared news from the week, memories from home (Cameroon), and offered solutions to the myriad of personal challenges in our lives.

Cooking is a life-giving force from the physical nourishment it provides to the spiritual bond of generational sisterhood. In the kitchen sorrows and joys are shared, juicy gossip is exchanged, but most importantly values and tradition is transferred. For example, in today’s story – respect and teamwork.