Monday, December 24, 2012

Africa is a Country blog: "Social Media in Africa's Revolutions"

Read in Africa is a Country, this article about an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art (MoCADA) in Brooklyn, NY:

http://africasacountry.com/2012/12/21/social-media-in-africas-revolutions/


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Getting to Zero, event organized by the Harvard African Law Association

Tracey Masella and Rolande Hodel
On November 30, the Harvard African Law Association hosted a fundraising event: Getting to Zero, in honor of World Aids Day. The Harvard African Law Association’s mission is to “unite African students and students interested in Africa, and increase awareness of legal, social and economic issues that shape and concern the continent of Africa”.Two nonprofit organizations were invited to present their organizations’ activities: Medical Relief Association (MRA) and AIDSfreeAFRICA.
The evening’s Master of Ceremonies was Sedoo Manu; the moderator, Mr. Nana Okyir; Sia Henry was one of the organizers and main point person. All three are students at Harvard Law.
The audience on November 30
Tracey Masella, Board Chair of MRA, showed us a video of the goat farm recently inaugurated by MRA in Kenya. MRA’s mission is to help families affected by AIDS the means to earn a livelihood and lead healthy lives. To achieve this goal, MRA donates dairy goats to families; the milk is easily digestible by HIV-afflicted people and a goat usually provides more than enough milk for an entire family, so there is enough left over to sell on the market. MRA just inaugurated a goat farm: the Goat Hope Farm.
Dr. Rolande Hodel, after obtaining her PhD in chemistry, rather than return to the corporate world,  founded AIDSfreeAFRICA in 2005. She has been active in Cameroon, mainly in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions. The organization’s mission is to help produce pharmaceutical drugs locally and to create access to these drugs to rural populations through revolving drug funds. AIDSfreeAFRICA’s work encourages the creation of sustainable jobs, for example by founding a healthcare clinic in the village of Esu. In the past 7 years, AIDSfreeAFRICA has brought manufacturing equipment, medical equipment and supplies, AIDS tests, condoms, vitamins, medicine, and scientific books to Cameroon, amongst other useful items collected by the organization’s volunteers.
At the event, she mentioned that although it was difficult to change the habits of the older generation in the areas she serves, this generation however believes in her mission to eradicate AIDS and wants their children to be educated in protecting themselves, as they do not want to lose the new generation to this disease.

Hicham Alaoui
Special entertainment was brought by Hicham Alaoui, a young Master Percussionist from Casablanca, Morocco, who is also a first year Harvard MBA student. He blends rhythms from many cultures, on a variety of drums, and his performance was entrancing.


Sedoo Manu
Additional photos of the Harvard Law event: https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/103109390457637139774/albums/5817419475847127745

WomenCentric article about Dr. Rolande Hodel



Dr. Hodel handing out vitamins

Monday, October 29, 2012

Quai Branly Museum in Paris

Paris boasts a modern museum whose core permanent exhibitions are of traditional art in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. The Musée du Quai Branly, located close to the Eiffel Tower, is a modern and "green" structure opened to the public in 2006.
Quai Branly Museum street view
La Rivière
Entering the museum is in itself an adventure--first through outdoor winding paths, in the garden, and then an interior winding path, in itself a work of art called the "River" showing words projected in the ground, moving like water.
It's quite a trip to reach the top, where the entrance to the permanent exhibits is, as well as to the current exhibition, "The Art of Hair."

Below are a few photos of the Africa section. As usual in all African traditional art exhibits, there are many pieces from the Grassland Bamiléké region's prolific artists. However, to my great surprise, there was one piece, not just from Douala, but specifically from Deido, my husband's home neighborhood! (Douala used to be 3 villages: Bonanjo, Akwa, and Deido.)
(bottom) Bow of a boat from the "Deido School of Art" (Cameroon)
Danhomé royal seat
Figurines from South Cameroon and Gabon

Colorful Téké-Tsayi pieces (Gabon-Congo)
The Museum is a little tricky to navigate with its labyrinthine style of exhibitis. What I would have liked to see as additions would be modern artists from these same regions.

For all those interested in traditional (I don't especially care for the term "indigenous"--do we say indigenous art from France?) art from Africa, it is still really worth visiting this museum.
Address: 37 Quai Branly, 75007 Paris; subway: Alma-Marceau
Exhibition starting November 13: Nigeria, Arts Of The Benue Valley

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Institute for African Studies, Columbia University, New York

The following is paraphrased (ever so slightly) from the answers kindly provided by the IAS through Zinash Seyoum. 

The Institute for African Studies of Columbia University (IAS) was founded in 1959 to serve as Columbia University's central forum and resource for African-centered academic research, program development, curriculum administration, student advisement, and local, national and international dialogue, as well as action on the region.
There was not, as far we know, a specific scholar or administrator behind the founding of the institute. It was part of an institutional reaction to post-World War II, characterized by the rise of nationalism in the former colonial empire, the challenges of nation building, along with development, and the Cold War.An environment that called for a production of knowledge to serve government policies and foreign relations at bilateral and multilateral levels emerged. At the beginning of John F. Kennedy’s administration, the US government launched an ambitious program to support the establishment of "area studies;" IAS was created in that context. Some scholars, such as Immanuel Wallerstein, played a key role in framing the  discussion about "area studies,"  along with "Third World Dependency Theories," launching the IAS.
IAS prepares Africanist scholars and practitioners for careers in development, diplomacy, business, governance, journalism, law, human rights, academic research and teaching, through its undergraduate and graduate programs. At the undergraduate level, students pursue the African studies major, which includes an intensive language study, a semester abroad in Africa, and a supervised research paper. The Africa regional specialization at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) remains one of the more popular specializations among graduate students. IAS also hosts conferences, seminars, films and lecture series, bringing together faculty and students with widely varying interests and disciplinary backgrounds. IAS partners with departments, centers, institutes, and student groups across the university to reach new audiences and facilitate an exchange of knowledge about Africa. In addition, IAS administers the Leitner Family Research and Language Fellowship that allows Columbia students to study in Africa during their summer recess. IAS also is a research and academic partner with Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Together, the key players from both institutions administer research initiatives, as well as a dual certificate program in African studies, enabling students to study Africa in France for one semester. The shared research initiatives explore citizenship in Africa and pursued research on recent elections in the region.

Key team members
The day-to-day affairs of the Institute are conducted by Professor Mamadou Diouf (History and MESAAS), who is the director (on leave 2012-2013), Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne (French), who is serving as this year’s acting director, and Dr. Jinny Prais, the assistant director. The students who are active in the center’s activities include: Zinash Seyoum (SIPA), Sarah Sinidal (SIPA), Marina Saleeb (SIPA), and Sam Reichman (Columbia College).
Faculty who have been instrumental in our programs and academics include: Mahmood Mamdani (MESAAS and Anthropology), Gregory Mann (History), Hlonipha Mokoena (Anthropology), Mariame Sy (MESAAS), Abdul Nanji (MESAAS), Rhiannon Stephens (History), Yuusuf Caruso (African Studies Librarian), George Bond (Teacher’s College) and Brian Larkin (Anthropology).

Goals for the future
IAS has two key goals for the year. First, the institute seeks to consolidate their international networks in order to develop an exchange program with French African studies programs and African universities for both students and faculty. Secondly, IAS is developing research and outreach programs in our "neighborhood.” Columbia University is part of Harlem, which consists of not only a large African-American community, but also contains a very large West African community. We would like to focus our work on contributing, through research, public debate sessions, art exhibitions, music recital, food festivals, and other community involvement projects, to place Africans in conversation with Americans in their community, fellow Africans, along with the larger American public by exploring and working through their connections with the region.Some research has been conducted by present and former members of our faculty in each of these issues and continues to be a pursuit of the institute today.
The offices of the Institute for African Studies are located at Knox Hall on 122nd Street, New York, NY.

A sampling of programs dating back to 2004: past author, film, and lecture series, and forums can be found at http://www.ias.columbia.edu/events/archive/archive.html.

Away From Africa post about West African community in Harlem.
Upcoming IAS events include:

Worlds of Work in Africa Series
Give a Man a Fish: The New Politics of Distribution in Southern Africa
(and Beyond)
A lecture by James Ferguson, Stanford University
Introduced by Frederick Cooper, New York University
Tuesday, October 9, 4-6pm
Event Location: 509 Knox Hall
Narratives of neoliberalism’s triumph have tended to obscure from view a startling fact about the contemporary world: that, across the global South, recent years have seen not a retreat or rollback of the welfare state, but rather an explosion of new forms of welfare and social assistance.  Programs of “cash transfers” to “the poor” have become central to both the politics and the political economies of many developing countries.  South Africa is one dramatic case where recent expansion of a system of old age pensions and child support grants means that nearly 30 percent of the entire population will soon be receiving some sort of monthly state social assistance.  These programs raise fascinating questions about the role of welfare in societies where wage labor has never occupied the dominant role it played in the “classical” welfare states of the North.  They may also open possibilities for new kinds of politics.  This paper explores the recent campaigns for a “Basic Income Grant” (BIG) in South Africa and Namibia as a window onto these new political possibilities.  It argues that a new politics of distribution is emerging, in which citizenship-based claims to a share of national wealth are beginning to be recognizable as an alternative to both the paradigm of the market (where goods are received in exchange for labor) and that of “the gift” (where social transfers to those excluded from wage labor have been conceived as aid, charity, or assistance).  Beyond the binary of market and gift, the idea of “a rightful share”, it is suggested, opens possibilities for radical political claims that could go far beyond the limited, technocratic aim of ameliorating poverty that dominates existing cash transfer programs.

A conversation on labor, livelihood, and the politics of distribution with James Ferguson and Frederick Cooper
Wednesday, October 10, 2012, 4-6pm
Event Location: 509 Knox Hall

University Seminar on Contemporary Africa
Apartheid's Art School: Art, Education and the Beauty of 20th Century South Africa
Professor Daniel Magaziner, Yale University
This paper considers the trajectory of the education of African art teachers both before and during apartheid in South Africa. It argues that although the government intended art education to promote the notion of African difference, art educators saw the study and teaching of art as essential to the development of creative, modern individuals. Rather than experience apartheid schools as simply oppressive, these teachers and their students saw them as a potentially privileged forum, where a new African subject was under development. Apartheid's Art School thus asks new questions about 20th century South African intellectual history and attempts to reorder - or break apart - old binaries about the nature of social and intellectual experience under apartheid.
Columbia University Faculty House
Friday, October 19th
6:00 PM-8:00 PM

"Lucas the Baboon Boy, and Other Stories: Towards a History of Popular Racism in South Africa, 1910-1948."
Professor Roger Levine, Sewanee University
Columbia University Faculty House
October 30th
6pm - 8pm  

Ifriqiyya Seminar
"Arab-led Slavery of Africans: The Story of a Discourse.."
Dahlia Gubara, Department of History, Columbia University
Wednesday, October 31st
208 Knox Hall
12pm - 2pm
"Theology of Disorder : Islam, Order and Disorder in the XIXth Century Sahara"
Abdel Wedoud Ould Cheikh
Wednesday, November 28th
208 Knox Hall
12pm - 2pm

Worlds of Work in Africa Series
Slavery By Any Other Name: African Life under Company Rule in Colonial Mozambique
A talk by Eric Allina
Tuesday, November 27, 2012, 4-6 p.m
Event location: 208 Knox Hall

Democracy and Elections in Africa Series
Jerry Rawlings and the debate About Political Leadership in Ghana: A Backdrop to the 2012 Elections
A talk by Paul Nugent
Wednesday, November 28, 2012 4-6 p.m.
Event location: TBD


Friday, September 14, 2012

T-shirts with graphics of the African continent

Over the years, I bought several "Africa" t-shirts for my son, all quite nice... Here they are.
Purchased via Twitter

AEF 2012

Edun

Global Peace Exchange

Sunday, August 26, 2012

West Africa on the Hudson

Interviews and research from Bineta Fall and Mohamed Ka, New York

Entrance to Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market
Statistically many immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa to the United States are from English-speaking countries (former British colonies), such as Nigeria, Ghana, with a relatively large influx from South Africa (which is not officially an English-speaking country), along with Kenyans, not shown in the Wikipedia article.
However in New York City, the French-speaking population from Western African countries is noticeable, especially in Harlem. In the 1990s, Harlem seemed to be a mini-outpost of Senegal and Guinea. Gambians (English-speaking) are also represented, as geographically, their country is wedged within Senegal.

Arame Adje, the self-proclaimed "Grandmother of the Community" arrived in 1986 from Senegal. She says that the Senegalese started arriving in the United States in the mid-eighties, during a very bad drought in Senegal. Also, flights from Dakar and Abidjan, were relatively inexpensive, compared to flights from many other African airports. At first, they stayed in hotels throughout Manhattan, and little by little moved to Harlem, where rent was relatively inexpensive in those days. Many were here illegally, but President Reagan proposed a bill to legalize immigrants, while cracking down on new illegal immigration.
Ms. Arame Adje, Harlem, NY
Ms. Adje recounted that in the early days, the Senegalese newcomers encountered some hostility as newly arrived immigrants in Harlem, however, over the years, their contribution to Harlem's revival though the small businesses they created came to be appreciated.

Mohamed Ka's research showed that in the 1990s, immigration accelerated, as not only farmers, who were more concerned with making money than continuing their education, but students also fled Senegal's ceaseless student strikes and unemployment. The Senegalese Association of America was founded (1990), men brought their spouses, and their children attended school. 
Sanna Kanuteh in his shop
Another relative longtime Harlem resident is Mr. Sanna Kanuteh, originally from Gambia, whose shop is located in the Malcolm Shabbaz  African Market. He sells African clothes, jewelry , artwork, and more. He came to the United States in 1990. As per Mr. Kanuteh, Harlem was "empty, had no life" in those days; no one wanted to come visit Harlem. When the Africans came, that changed, and Harlem became a destination for many tourists who came to New York. They could "discover African cultures without having to travel to the continent."
One way of discovering the continent is through the many West African restaurants that have sprung up, especially in Harlem.
Due to the economic crisis in the United States, and the fact that the first immigrants are getting older, many opt to return home to their African homeland. Often the community will fund-raise to help them pay for the trip home, so that they have a small nest egg to start over once back in their village. The Senegalese community is a model of solidarity and assistance to its members, helping pay for children's medical expenses, sending deceased members' bodies home, and more. Faith-based groups called "Dahiras" offer both moral and financial support to newcomers, who are taken care of till they find employment.
Clothing in Sanna Kanuteh's shop

Despite the problems and the woes encountered in a new land, with an unknown culture, the United States is still the place of which people from all over the world will often dream, and will be until there are better chances of a career and even simple survival back home.


116th Street and Lenox (Malcolm X Boulevard) 
Photographs by Bineta Fall

Sanna Kanuteh's shop: Shabbaz Market/ Booth #78, 116 St. & Lenox Ave. (near the #2 train), New York, NY
Post about another Senegalese in New York: Bibi Seck, Industrial Designer

Bineta Fall is of part Senegalese, part Mauritanian origin, born in Ivory Coast and living in NYC since the age of 12, in 1999. She is a graduate student at The New School, pursuing a Master's Degree in International Affairs. She is also an instructor in one of the NYCHA Digital Vans, assisting residents.
Mohamed Ka is  a graduate student at The New School, pursuing a Master's Degree in International Affairs. Previously, he worked as interpreter, journalist and strategist in various African countries and in New York.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

New York in French

This week's post was published on New York in French. For the first time in years, I wrote in French.... and translated into English!

The post is about Vickie Frémont's latest "Tour of Recycling" in Peru with the Alliance Française.




Sunday, July 22, 2012

Africa and the Broadway vision - Fela! on Broadway

Last week we attended our first Broadway show (after living in New York city for many years!), to see the much-acclaimed Fela!
I was a fan of Fela Anikulapo Kuti's music well before I ever imagined living in Africa and marrying an African, to boot. French acquaintances introduced me to his music as a student in Paris, and I was immediately smitten.
In the late seventies and early eighties, when I met my future spouse and learned so much more about Africa, Nigeria seemed to be the shining star of the continent, with industry and close to 100 million inhabitants. Unfortunately, politics brought the country down; I still see it as a beacon, however, and I believe it is again on the rise, after I attended the recent African Economic Forum: it is now an even more populous country, with a plethora of highly educated people and oil revenue, I hope, being better routed, so as to serve a larger number of Nigerians.
The Fela! show recounts the stages of Fela's adult life, rendered quite faithfully when compared to the Wikipedia account: going to London to study medicine, and instead going into music; finding his own musical voice, back in Nigeria; discovering Black Power in the United States in the late sixties; returning to Nigeria and engaging in political activities; his wives; his mother's death; and finally, his own death in 1997.
Our expectation going to the show, was that we would relive Fela's music through the years as well as his life. As soon as we saw the female dancers' make-up--reminiscent of The Lion King--we should have understood that this would not exactly be the case. In fact, some elements made one specific African very uncomfortable.
The fact that Will and Jada Smith, and Jay-Z, were the producers, should have been a hint that this was Broadway's take on Africa, rather than Africa itself.
However--far from me the thought that the show is not excellent! It is fun, colorful, full of energy, and the cast is fantastic. The dancing was awe-inspiring, even if it might have been more inspired by West African dance than Nigerian. On the day we attended, Adesola Osakalumi played Fela--singing, acting, declaiming, dancing, and playing the saxophone. The rest of the cast was similarly incredibly talented and just plain fantastic.
I may be alone in my opinion--my friend Atim Oton, born and raised in Nigeria, wrote her very positive take in the Huffington Post.
Watching the show made me curious about additional elements of Fela's life, and the players: I found a few websites which are listed below.
http://questionmarkmag.com/2011/04/throwback-things-you-dont-know-about-fela-kuti/
http://www.theroot.com/views/strange-love-affair-between-america-and-afrobeat-superstar
The real Sandra: http://www.myspace.com/sandraizsadore

If you want to see the show (if you haven't already), there are 19 performances left from today, July 22.... Please let me know your opinion!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

IBM in Africa

As I currently work in information technology, I came across an article about IBM's activities in Angola. This made me curious to find out more about IBM's activities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Not being on the ground, it was not easy to receive information. IBM's Growth Markets headquarters are based in Shanghai, China--a half-day of time zones away from New York, and where the staff appears to be incredibly busy and constantly globe-trotting. I reached out to Bruno Di Leo, General Manager, IBM Growth Markets, who put me in contact with Ms. Vera Rosauer. She provided me with the answers to my questions (listed below). 
I would have liked to have more details, and something akin to personal stories, however, IBM is an enormous organization, and corporate communications are tightly controlled--understandable, viewing the fact that information is often twisted in the media, but the result is that this blog post ends up sounding rather commercial, but it is absolutely not a sponsored post. 


IBM presence in Africa
 1. What Sub-Saharan African countries are covered by IBM?
Today we have a direct presence in more than 20 African countries, including Tanzania, Senegal, South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and Mauritius. In late 2010, IBM signed a deal with Bharti airtel to transform the 16 different IT environments across airtel's African operations into an integrated IT system, and oversee the management of all applications, data center operations, servers, storage and desktop services (covering Burkina Faso, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.)
 This has resulted in a significant extension of IBM's footprint across Africa and a strengthening of operations in sub-Saharan Africa. 
(Note from the blog author: As per IBM's press room: "With the recent opening of offices in Mauritius, Tanzania, Senegal and Angola and with established business hubs in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt, IBM today is present in more than 20 African countries." 

 2. What type of business does IBM do?
 We are offering our full portfolio of hardware, software and services in tandem with the growth on the continent and the emerging middle class. Our increased presence in Africa will strengthen IBM's ability to provide
solutions and services to a rapidly expanding base of customers and partners in the region.

 3. What are future plans for expansion?
 Geographic expansion is one of IBM's core growth strategies. We are expanding into new markets around the world where there is a significant opportunity for growth. IBM's geographic expansion programme includes many
 parts of the world including Africa, Brazil, India, China, Spanish-speaking South America, Russia, Turkey and ASEAN.
 Also important to our Geo Expansion strategy is co-ordinated investment across all parts of the business. This means having a robust and efficient management system, ensuring our team on the ground follows our IBM's
 strict ethical standards and putting strong leaders in place. Across Africa, we are focused on the industries with the highest potential for growth and in which we have proven experience in applying advanced
 technologies including telco, banking and government.. For example, in telecommunications --- according to analysts, Africa has approximately 400 million mobile subscribers, who are expected to generate between $12 billion to $15 billion in telecom revenue in the near future. 


 4. Who are the clients - private (local, foreign corporations, medium-sized businesses)? Government?
 IBM is engaged with hundreds of customers across Africa--for example:

  • In December 2011, IBM announced details of contracts with five of Kenya's leading banks: Credit Bank, Co-operative Bank, Family Bank, National Bank of Kenya and National Industrial Credit (NIC) Bank. The agreements are amongst more than 20 similar deals that IBM signed with banks across Africa in 2011 worth over $200M in line with the rapid growth of the financial services sector and as technology enables a wave of innovation in African banking.
  • IBM signed a milestone deal with Bharti airtel late 2010 to transform the 16 different IT environments across airtel's African operations into an integrated IT system, and oversee the management of all applications, data center operations, servers, storage and desktop services.
  •  In July 2011, we announced an additional 10-year agreement with airtel to provide comprehensive IT solutions to airtel's employees across 16 African countries. In terms of the agreement, IBM will provide a standard operating environment, help desk and desk side support to enhance employee efficiency and convenience.
  • IBM has signed an agreement with the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia to support the bank in a major program of modernization and business expansion. Under the terms of the agreement, IBM will provide hardware, software and IT services to support the bank in its rapid business growth and its shift from manual financial processes to real-time financial services.
  • IBM's business services consultants are working with the  government of Cross River State, Nigeria to assist with the implementation of two new social welfare and healthcare initiatives designed to help alleviate poverty and increase levels of literacy in the region.
  • The Cameroon Ministry of Finance has selected IBM mainframe and storage technologies to help modernize the payroll processes for government employees in the country. The new system will help to increase the security of the Ministry's payroll system and improve the efficiency of processes such as generating pay slips.
  • The Customs Directorate of the Senegal Ministry of Finance has selected IBM to provide two mainframe servers to help modernize the country's import and export processes.
  • First National Bank of Namibia has selected IBM System z to create a new core banking platform 
  • One of IBM's clients on the island is global textile industry leader Compagnie Mauricienne de Textile Ltée (CMT) which has over 12,000 employees and runs a 24-hour automated factory supplying the fashion  markets across the USA and Europe. CMT needed a solution to increase efficiencies and ensure timely delivery of its clothing products which are often manufactured to meet fast turn-around orders. IBM provided CMT with a new data storage system which has led to a 20% increase in the performance of its operations.
  • The International Card Processing Services (ICPS) of Mauritius is also using IBM solutions to support the modernization of the country's financial services sector. ICPS provides IT platforms for key banks in Mauritius including the Mauritius Commercial Bank. In line with its business expansion plans to provide similar services across Africa, ICPS selected IBM's Power Systems.
5. How many employees? Are they expats or local, and if expats, from where?
IBM does not disclose the number of employees in each country, but we are growing our presence in Africa and have an active hiring program in place to support that. 


6. What are the differences between working in Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world?
Across Africa, we are noticing an increased growth within the middle class as well as a surge in using innovations in telecommunications including mobile money. Also the financial sector overall has embarked on a
modernisation strategy.


Additional IBM sources:

http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/presskit/34710.wss 

http://citizenibm.com/2011/11/a-new-model-to-cultivate-global-leaders.html 

Wake Up Madagascar tour

Razia Said is currently on a US tour, "Wake Up Madagascar". Information can be found on her Facebook page.
Next stop is Toronto on Tuesday, July 17, at Lula Lounge Toronto, Canada. The concert will be at Le Poisson Rouge in New York on Saturday, July 21.


As always, the main goal is to raise awareness of illegal logging in Madagascar. More information can be found at http://www.wakeupmadagascar.com/.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

An American in Ghana

My curiosity was piqued when my colleague told me about his daughter, Emily Silver, who just returned to the United States from a semester abroad in Ghana, Africa. She is 21 years old, and a double major in Dance and Arts for Children, studying at The College at Brockport (NY State). She studied dance for most of her life, and now hopes to channel her childhood passion into a fulfilling adult career. 
After meeting her (and after hearing about her from her proud father!), I asked to interview her for this blog, as she demonstrates much passion, not only for life and dance, but also about her time in Africa.

Emily, what brought you to Africa? 
During this pivotal time in my life, I have done a lot of self reflection and come to recognize that my friends are my world, I am interested in the less glamorous walks of life, I enjoy finding hidden treasures and that I am a self proclaimed extremist and wouldn't have it any other way. I thrive off of challenge and I enjoy seeing, learning and exploring the path less traveled... I suppose that's how I ended up in Ghana.

Ever since I entered college I have planned on doing a semester abroad. However, I started thinking about going the less conventional route, once I joined the Sankofa African dance ensemble at The College at Brockport. While having my first taste of African dance, I also closely befriended a Ghanaian going to The College at Brockport, pursuing his MFA in dance. After years of being fascinated about his heritage,  enthralled by the electrifying spirit of West African dance and overcome by the traditional drumming rhythms, it
eventually seemed like a natural exploration for me to embark upon--even if it was a bit of a stretch, and certainly not the typical European trip most college students opt for.

Where did you stay?
For most of the semester, I stayed at the prestigious University of Ghana, in the International student hostel amongst international students from all around the world, as well as some Ghanaians. However, I spent most weekends exploring all of the surrounding
regions in and near Ghana, sleeping in the most remote rural villages literally straight out of National Geographic, and even eventually at my friend's house from my home college in Brockport, New York.


What were your activities while there?
Emily trying her hand at fufu!
For most of my time in Ghana, I was a full time performing arts student. This meant in addition to the brutal hike in the blazing heat to the dance studio (a converted barn), I was also dancing between 3-6 hours a day learning some of the many traditional, ritualistic dances West Africa has preserved and still uses in a very spiritual context. In addition to my dance studies, I spent a lot of time traveling, making foreign and Ghanaian friends, patronizing Ghana's remarkable beaches, braving the chaotic marketplaces and adjusting my palate to Ghanaian food. Most of my experiences were uncomfortable to say the
least, but once I was able to get past that, a whole new world of possibilities, friendships, culture, food and recreation was opened up to me.

Bracelets Emily brought back from Africa

What appealed to you the most?
Initially before coming to Ghana, I was most intrigued by the prospect of experiencing dance in a natural, ritualistic context. However, I very soon came to realize that almost all of the aspects of the Ghanaian lifestyle are quite different, and especially interesting when coming from a mecca like New York City. The kindness of the people, the deeply ingrained sense of community, the structured chaos, the lack of time orientation and appreciation of the simplest of things are all concepts that are a bit foreign to a New Yorker, but I was lucky enough to both observe and experience them. I found the resourcefulness of the people inspiring, the lack of materialism astounding and their contentment with so little thought-provoking. What appealed to me most in Ghana was the happiness that was apparent in places that many Americans would consider to be impoverished and in need of support and development. They may be in need of basic
resources, but there is no shortage of spirit.


What appealed to you less?
After spending about 5 months in Ghana I started to realize about midway through my experience that luxury and Western influence and comfort could actually be found-- although at a steep price. Every so often my friends and I would go out for foreign food of Thai, American, Indian and Italian influence, and on the weekends we would sometimes frequent European style night clubs. Although it was interesting to see cultural diffusion apparent all the way in Ghana, I felt like my time was best spent living like the Ghanaians who were certainly not experiencing luxuries like these. I think there is something to be said about acknowledging that Ghana is a lot more than the rugged huts and naked babies. However, at the same time, I was here to live and experience life in a way I cannot back at home, which made me believe my most impressionable experiences would be more
authentically Ghanaian.

Any regrets?
When first coming to Ghana I first interpreted the characteristic friendliness and helpfulness of the natives as aggression and forwardness. One of the major problems I experienced as a naive traveler was using individual experiences as my marker for generalized impressions. I would have one negative interaction that would then close me off to the more plentiful heartwarming experiences. Too many times, I believe I was rude and short with the natives because I was fearful of being taken advantage of, when their attempt at conversation and offers for assistance were completely genuine as Ghanaians generally are. My only regret is not softening my New Yorker hard shell earlier in the experience.

Any "Africa" plans going forward?
As of now my main goal is to successfully complete my last year of college. This being said, I think about my time in Ghana--maybe too often... And I still have too many unanswered questions; my adventurous spirit is still untamed. I sometimes think about visiting
Ghana in a few years, seeing the friends I thought I'd never see again and hopefully seeing the development that Ghana can desperately benefit from. Nothing would bring me more happiness than reuniting myself with the piece of my heart that I definitely left there.

While in Ghana, I also became really fascinated with the drastic differences in lifestyle, race, development and natural inhabitants between Ghana and South Africa. I am fearful that the seeds have been planted for my newest worldly curiosity; I doubt I'll be content until this curiosity is satisfied as well.

Message to Americans about Africa?
Back in NYC!
Let me be clear and say that my message to Americans does not come from a condescending place. I speak from my own experiences and observations and admit to being quite ignorant myself, before venturing into Africa. I would say that to acknowledge the side of the story that's less explored - be careful not to make generalizations - do not see the HUGE continent of Africa as one entity - be open to alternative styles of life... They work for many. And be wary about looking down upon developing countries, for we have lost a sense of the very fundamentals that bring them eternal happiness and contentment. Try saying hi to a stranger, walk them to their destination if they are lost, don't be so short with people, ask them about themselves, walk slow sometimes--just because you can, talk to your friends for hours, turn all the power out... What are you left with? Share everything you have with everyone. Ask yourself if you are richer or poorer. Realize that as Americans we have options- but have we always chosen the better
option?


I appreciated Emily's thoughtfulness and the fact that spending this time in Ghana probably did not turn her assumptions upside down, as she already had an open mind and heart, but at least modified them. My hope is that many more Americans will visit Africa and realize that it is not as foreign as they thought.


In the NY Times Magazine, another take on Africa, by a Maine native of a different generation, Monica Wood.