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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CAMEROON: Lessons from the Kitchen | World Pulse June 10, 2011

 

World Pulse

 

CAMEROON: Lessons from the Kitchen | World Pulse

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Status update: It’s complicated… March 28, 2011

Filed under: Community,Education — Sharon Asonganyi @ 1:35 pm
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Race and Ethnicity in America – By educating others about who we are and our cultural heritage, we are able to dismantle some commonly held stereotypes about us…The blending of racial and ethnic identities continues to challenge existing race classification systems used by the federal government of America: Asian, American Indian, Black, and White.

I have Cameroonian, Nigerian, and American cultural influences and ancestries. Now I really do wish that my parents had taken advantage of the opportunity to give birth to me in Scotland. Now that would have made for some great discussions! Regardless, I embrace all of me and how my heritage allows me more cultural sensitivity towards others. Enjoy a clip from Voices of America – Tackling this topic!!!

 

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♥

 

 

African Sisters Development in America January 16, 2011

I have been working on a project called Threads of Our Fabric since July 2010. This project is capturing the diverse voices of African women and girls, both in the diaspora and in their countries of origin. Weaving common themes uncovered in their lives and weaving the threads into an African fabric print of life’s stories. Thus far, it has progressed into phase II which is creating multimedia on different topics ranging from breaking into non-traditional career industries to female violence in several African countries. In the upcoming months, I will be sharing these with you…so be sure to visit often.

I am putting together focus groups in the DC, MD, and VA areas to interact with African ladies ages 15-24 click here for more info or click on the integration tab above for more information. Oftentimes African Refugee and Immigrant services focus either on the parents or the family unit’s immediate needs such as healthcare or legal services, and the developmental needs of African youth are neglected. To ensure the long-term success of any youth, it is very important to prepare them as they negotiate their “self” identities and emerge into adulthood.

These focus groups that will occur in February 2011 will help inform programs for African Girls’ Development in the United States from a cultural perspective. It is an effort to encourage and support recently immigrated young African sisters preserve their ethnic identities, help them understand their unique transition process, and connect them with peers who have successfully adapted to America.

Will you go beyond considering sharing the flyer and information within your network? Will you be part of this GREAT movement of developing youth ambassadors and leaders? Just by sharing, you show you care about their futures….

Select participants from these focus groups will be invited to be part of the inaugural sisterhood and will experience an amazing culturally sensitive and youth tailored integration program! Featured activities will focus on three core areas: Community, Education, and Leadership.

Thank you for being part of this incredible movement. Together we CAN unite our voices and efforts to improve the quality of life for our African sisters in America. Let’s develop youth leaders tapping into the resources available in the U.S., with Africa’s issues in their minds and her future on their hearts.

Thank you!!

What does it mean to Grow up African in America?