threads of our fabric

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

Me?!?!…Proud to be African?!?!…Abeg!! June 22, 2011

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Pride – Dictionary definition: “A feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired”

I always wonder where this deep affinity and sense of connectedness with anything African developed. Quite a puzzle… I cannot pinpoint the date, time, month, season, or event that was the catalyst for my African Pride. 

During my early immigrant years, I tried extremely hard to be not-African. The wardrobe change was the first effort to assimilate and become identified as an American. Matching was a big faux-pas. This was followed by working on rolling my R’s by watching all-American TV shows to absorb the culture, thought processes, and lifestyle. Over the course of high school, parts of me slowly faded into shadows, hidden from my peers not out of shame, but because it was much easier than having to explain me. Transitioning from a society and culture where I did not have to explain who I was or how we as a people do what we do, was very hard. The norms were drastically different. I found myself constantly answering many trivial questions such as “No, we do not live on trees” or “Africa is a continent and not a country” or “Yes, I learned english in Africa”…It was easier to develop a whole new persona and live a “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy when interacting with the outside world. Ajong was kept for the home and family.

But once I arrived the university, I found myself living with a mini-UN. Women with varied ethnic and racial heritages – Albanian, Native American, Lebanese, Trinidad, Italian, Cameroonian – all in two-neigboring rooms. That was an amazing college experience and we are all still good friends today, celebrating marriages and births. Maybe it takes encountering others who are different to appreciate and value one’s cultural inheritance. It certainly did for me.

I continuously find myself in the mix of diverse cultures. Perhaps the pull and appeal to connect stems from the mutual understanding and similarities of our immigrant’s experience. Learning to create a home in a new world by integrating African origins with present surroundings. I entered the United States through D.C., as a scared, homesick, quiet little girl and have now cycled back to D.C. as a purposeful, driven, and confident woman. Just thinking about my social connection to many different parts of the world always brings a smile to my heart. Life truly is evolution and change. I feel very international with a strong tie to a global community, which is why I am thrilled to be part of the DC Mayor’s 2nd Annual African Festival…”One City: Many Voices” on July 16th (Takoma Recreation Center, 300 Van Buren Street, NW, Washington, DC)…if you are around…stop by, I would love to connect!

There’s a blogger’s village too for fellow insightful thought-provoking word junkies comme moi! So to close, I love my African heritage. Cameroon gave me values, family, and a foundation upon which to grow as a person. America dared me to explore and soar.

 

Enjoy one of my favorite clips about Africa

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CARE 2011 – 10,000 Women Strong Project March 11, 2011

Hello – As I gather my thoughts from an inspirational CARE 2011 National conference that took place in Washington, DC, please enjoy one of the many featured highlights of the experience! More on my thoughts to come!

 

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♥

 

 

Against All Odds February 2, 2011

Filed under: Inspiration — Sharon Asonganyi @ 3:36 pm
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In an amazing bout, this past Saturday night a daughter of the soil gave her homeland another reason to hold its head up high and stand proud. One woman inspiring millions globally to always fight against all odds. Esther Phiri, 24 year old from Zambia became the Women’s International Boxing Association (WIBA) weltherweight champion in her hometown – Lusaka, Zambia. She is no stranger to throwing punches at whatever life brings her way. Fourth of eight children, only girl in her boxing program, a single mother at 16, and a struggling start to her career. However, training, dedication, and resiliency kept her competing from her first match on July 23, 2005 until her amazing feat this past weekend (January 29, 2011). I am quite certain that she probably endured some ridicule for entering a male profession.

 

Esther Phiri (Zambia)

Life’s journey will take us on paths that we never envisioned. Sometimes, the end of our circumstances or current conditions is nowhere in sight. However, like Esther, we can hold on to our dream, nurture the fiery hope within, and throw a K.O. punch right back! Life is yours make of it whatever you will…but don’t give up. Dare to Dream, Create, Live, and Inspire.  

Against all odds – Victory

Thank you Esther Phiri for your amazing accomplishment!

 

 It is truly awe-inspiring to see young African women embarking in untraditional career tracks. Having the courage to pursue their heart’s calling regardless of whether the world sees it as being “gender-appropriate”. Being fearless in living…