CAMEROON: Lessons from the Kitchen | World Pulse
I have come to appreciate the NECESSITY of an event planner. The amount of coordination that has consumed my life the last few days has been intense and overwhelming to say the least. What motivates me to continue is that the occasion is a small tribute to GREAT women who tirelessly give of themselves daily without complaint – Sweet African Mothers…
Here is one of my classic tunes by Prince Nico Mbarga…”SWEET MOTHER”
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 immigrantsby 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.”
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.
With the advent of globalization, many more opportunities to travel and seek out greener pastures are available. International mobility has increased profoundly over the past two decades. It is not atypical to find societies that are composed of high numbers of transient populations than locals or natives. Nowadays, it is fairly common to have been born in Kenya, schooled in the U.K., and now currently working in Canada.
My purpose for creating this space, your space, aka “My Kitchen” is to start crafting and cooking solution-focused conversations around a seemingly insignificant issue that emerges as a result of cultural shifts due to immigration – Identity Development.
Intended population = recently immigrated African young ladies (15 – 24yrs). Why? Do you recall your adolescence? Trying on different identities, setting future goals (at times unrealistic), interpersonal relational pressures. Now imagine adding unto this already stressed transition into young adulthood relocating to a new culture, a new language, and new societal systems. It can be overwhelming!!!
I hope you entering my kitchen will not just stop at talk, but will be an opportunity for inter-cultural education, self-reflections, and other-inspiration. Cherishing what makes us unique and helping others learn from us what is important to us…but above all helping younger African sisters become more comfortable in their own skin and more trusting of their inner voice. Guide and support them as is true of the African Woman’s nurturing spirit.
© 2011 Threads of Our Fabric Project