It was a surreal experience, seated “VIP” at the community peace building soccer game. To my right, my mother and to my left a chief. Many chiefs. And who was I? As each new dignitary arrived, I would shake hands and flash a nervous grin as they analyzed my seemingly out of place seating. I was rocking a “Ghanian” dress, but one customary to the South. At that, most woman wore jeans and a tshirt. I was only slightly out of place. My time in Nandom, Ghana has been one that I will never forget. With a population of 7,000 – my mothers former peace corps home welcomed me with open arms. It has been almost 28 years since mom stepped foot in the town that defined her 20s and set the path for her future. As the only peace corps volunteer in the remote village, she was forced to quickly adapt – coming from the hustle and bustle of Chicago. I think “remote” is an understatement. We took an hour flight north from the capital Accra and then took another 6 hour drive to get to Nandom. When we finally arrived we stayed at a local guest house, each with our own rooms. Boasting the basic amenities, it was a comfortable stay. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to adapt to changing environments, immersing myself wherever my plane landed next but Nandom, Ghana provided me with culture shock I had never previously experienced. I don’t know what I can say about the sights, sounds and culture that distinguish the town from any other city I’ve been to but it was a reality check. Even though I’ve lived in our nations capital for a mere 6 months, I’ve grown sheltered and safe. Accustomed to routine and the bubble that is Washington DC. Our trip was short and sweet. But my mother had the opportunity to relive her peace corps days while I shockingly lived vicariously through her. It was only fitting I came to visit Nandom at the same age my mother was when she first moved here.
How was visiting one of the oldest and largest slave castles in all of Africa? In one word – emotional. Hearing the harrowing 3rd person account of the Africans that were captured, imprisoned and sent as human cargo to the West was unsettling to say the least. The African slave trade began in the 15th century and continued well into the 19th century. Ghana, known then as the Gold Coast was a major hub for trade, at one point primarily human beings that were carted around the world like cattle. We visited the holding cells that shackled thousands of African men and women who would wait for weeks and months, sitting in their own human waste, for a ship to take them as cargo to a foreign land. It was haunting to know that millions of people had passed through the halls. Many dying before even making the voyage. As I’ve grown older, the question of identity has always been difficult for me. So many aspects of my heritage are a mystery to me as is the case with so many other African-Americans. In addition, having spent 18 years living abroad – no where has really felt like home. Coming to Ghana gave me a chance to understand some of my heritage. Though I will never know if my ancestors passed through the dungeons of Cape Coast, I am humbled by the stories of millions who were torn from everything they ever knew, surviving the torture and torment of captivity, sent across the ocean packed like sardines, and beginning a life of enslavement in a new world. While the days of formal legalized slavery are over, we still live in a society where institutionalized racism exist. We are far from the days of a color-blind society. As we become more politically correct, we ignore the realities of the systematic disenfranchising of blacks and legal ramifications of the very institutions and people who are meant to be protecting us. Now is the time to have the conversation.
My most recent article on Ebola:
Coauthored with a colleague:
I’m in my second week at my new job at the Middle East Institute and loving it. I just wrote a piece on a talk I went to called “After Gaza: Finding A Way Forward.”
Here’s the link:
I will be writing two pieces a week and will upload the links onto my twitter as well as to this blog.
Words cannot even express the gratitude I have for the 16 students who met with me for over two hours divulging deep details of their lives. They interacted with me as open books, not withholding a single detail. While the seminar held was mainly to conduct a workshop on CV writing, I had them talk about a series of questions I had emailed to them before hand.
On Saturday we discussed some of the questions, and it was such a fruitful discussion, with answers I wasn’t even expecting. Comments and stories ranged from sexual assault by male employers to blatant discrimination due to being a Gazan refugee (very different legally in comparison to Palestinian non-Gazan refugees). I am in awe of the perseverance and determination of some of these girls despite cultural, social, family and institutionalized inhibition to their success. My next blog piece will cover what was discussed and how their spirits have yet to falter and how organizations like Hopes for Women gives them the emotional and financial support to accomplish their dreams.
It makes me so grateful for all the opportunities I have in my life and as well as truly inspired. In a country that relishes on Jordanian nationality, in my opinion a response to the diminishing of the ‘Jordanian’ identity (plight of Palestinian, Iraqi and now Syrian refugees) the young women have overcome a great deal. They want rights, equality and the same opportunities as every young woman in the country, better yet in the world. I cannot image the workshop being any more successful and I am forever thankful to have met them
Egalitarian Feminism – taking women’s needs into account, the processes used in the workshops were framed as ‘flexible’, ‘non-threatening’, ‘relaxed’, ‘informal’ and ‘inclusive’.
So I have to admit that I’m pretty nervous about tomorrows workshop I am leading. I’ve been reading a piece by Marjorie L. Devault about “Talking and Listening from a Women’s Standpoint: Feminist Strategies for Interview and Analysis” and it brings up some really good points. I know no one will be in the room evaluating me, and as far as anyone is concerned I could completely disregard her advice. However, this has been a project I’ve worked on for the past two years and the authenticity of it means more than anything to me. One of Devaults points addressed the challenges of being able to capture everything and not create a saturated version of people otherwise “her reality is not fully there in what I write” (103). Tomorrow I will be handing out a questionnaire of about 20 questions ranging from what school they attend to obstacles they have academically or socially. How do I find the balance of learning more about their lives and not creating an abstract that doesn’t address the real issues they face. I hope to avoid trying to create a narrative FOR them or asking questions that are limited in scope and create a one dimensional version of the students. What I’m hoping is the questions will lead to a free flowing discussion that won’t limit the students to 3-4 sentences. One thing I am excited about it that with the help of a HFW volunteer, I was able to have the questions translated into Arabic who prefer their native language to English. Though this will lead to more translation work for me when I get home, I hope it will provide them with more authority on what they want to say. Though the nerves are kicking in, I am sure that with the help of fellow HFW volunteers it will go smoothly.