Category Archives: Africa

Beginner’s Mind

beginners-mind-image-newAs instructors sometimes it can be difficult to remember how disorienting university life can be to students. First year students have unique challenges that differ greatly from the transfer students, while first generation students have their own challenges throughout college.  However, as professors we are quite comfortable in this environment with our own specialty.  The corporate speak for what happens too often in these environments is silo thinking, each person operates in their own silo without interacting with other people. So, how can professors get the feeling of a beginner’s mind? Culture shock.

For two weeks I taught students a short-term study abroad program in South Africa and the theme of the course was social movements in South Africa. This was my 5th time in South Africa, but my first time teaching and leading a study abroad program.  I did not have culture shock while teaching my students. I did have new experiences and of course just visiting the country in this new role was a new experience, but I did not experience culture shock.  I knew the money, local customs, and had done almost all of the activities on the itinerary for my students, which is how it should be for the academic leader of a study abroad. It can make it difficult to remember what the feeling of culture shock is like both for the study abroad student and the new university student.

I felt disorienting culture shock my first time in South Africa, which was only a nine day visit.  I was trying to absorb every single sight, sound, and smell. I didn’t know the currency and felt unsure with each encounter. But! South Africa was a place I’d wanted to go for a long time and I knew a lot about the country. Before my trip there I read everything I could, watched all of the movies about South Africa on Netflix, and scoured YouTube for South African music.  Also, South Africa itself is very British still and you only have to be as uncomfortable as you want to be. You can always retreat into the comfort of familiar food, music, and TV shows.  I mean, I even made pimento cheese spread while I was in South Africa. When I traveled to Namibia and Botswana I was slightly disoriented, but not full on culture shock.

Then I traveled to Tanzania.

I left the massive O.R. Tambo International airport in Johannesburg and I flew into the country on lovely South African Airlines.  I had not fully researched the country because this was a vacation and not a work trip.  I did what most people do for vacation.  I looked up things on Trip Advisor, talked to friends who’d been here, or had connections to the country.  I had my accommodations booked for my time in Zanzibar but I didn’t have a detailed plan because I only booked 3 full days. I thought I was totally good. I had the taxi booked from the Zanzibar airport to the other side of the island where I was staying. I was totally set.

lol…I was not prepared!

When we landed in Dar es Salaam I could tell the airport was smaller than the one I’d just left, but the size of the airport only scratched the surface.  So, with the little research I’d done I didn’t think that I needed a visa for Tanzania upon arrival, but you do.  Thankfully, the visa can be obtained upon arrival and you don’t have to go through your embassy.  The fee for the visa is $150 in USD. And they want those dollars! So, when I walked into the airport I noticed the wall of customs and immigration forms.  “Okay” I thought, “You’ve done this in several countries. No problem.” I was even excited at this point that I had the address for my accommodations.  I thought that it was going to be smooth sailing from there.

However, I started to feel overwhelmed as I tried to make sense of the mass of people in front of me.  There was no organization to the lines. There was obvious confusion with little care being taken to impose any order on the situation.  I stood in one line and a guy came up to me and asked if I had my “yellow card”. No, but I have a letter saying that I don’t need it. He told me that he was just sent from one line to another to get vaccinated. He was coming into the country for business and I thought well, maybe I’ll pass since I’m just here for a few days. Then a man in a military uniform came up to me and asked if I was here for business or pleasure. I told him just three days of vacation. So, he sent me directly to customs. I finally reached my turn for the booth and she went through the process of taking my finger prints. I could barely hear her and she didn’t seem to have any desire or intent to make being understood by me (or anyone else) a priority. We went through this whole process and she asked, “Visa?”

“No”, I replied “I’m just here for only three days.” I tried to de-emphasize my time here as much as possible in that one sentence. It didn’t matter I needed a visa. Like I stated above the visa was $150 in USD. I don’t carry cash at home much less while traveling. So, I asked the lady where to get cash and she told me the ATM. Sounds simple, yes?  Again, I was SO confused. By this time I was shuffled over to the visa area and another man in uniform took my passport. I asked him where I could get cash because I did not think that I could go outside. Well, that’s exactly what I needed to do. So…before even getting my passport stamped I went in and out of the immigration area twice and outside of the airport once.  I went into the ATM room and there was a big dude hunkered over one of the machines.  I walked in and said, “I am so sorry and I hope this doesn’t make you too uncomfortable, but how much money equals $150 USD? I have NO idea!” Without looking up he walked me through what I needed to do. Then I went back inside, asked someone else where to exchange my Tanzanian shillings for USD, and proceeded to complete the transaction.

It was about this point when I thought, “This is how our students feel.”

I know not everyone can travel to a foreign country, but teachers do need to find ways to get outside of their comfort zones and navigate new spaces and systems. If we can be reminded of what it means to be a beginner we do a service to our students.

 

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Seeing And Believing

What does your Africa look like?

spasqualli

What we see should not be what we believe.

Hello Readers

Some of you might know that I live on the African continent. Those who need to refresh their memory on what the African continent looks like, please look below.
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It is said that the shape of the African continent can be found on the African elephants ear. I’ll leave that for you the readers to judge.

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I recently came across a video blog based on peoples opinions of South Africa. With the following pics I will show you some of their answers.

Our Roads

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Our Animals

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Our houses

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Our People

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As a South African I did not know how to respond to these opinions. If you the reader have agreed with these opinions, then please let me show you, my South Africa.

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Yes, we do have amazing wildlife but they are on Game ranchers, away from suburban areas.

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Everything…

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Akon calls for Rebranding Africa

Al Jazeera interview with Akon, musician/activist, published on Jan. 24, 2015.


What comes to mind when you hear “Africa”?

Are you going to study abroad some where in Africa?  This might be a good video to show your friends and family when you break the news.  Over and over again students tell their families that they’re headed for a semester in South Africa or another African country and the questions start regarding safety, animals, or modernity. However, each student who travels to an African country has the chance to stop the single story being told of the African continent and her people.

Remember, if you are studying abroad, you are going there to learn and not save anyone.  Be open-minded. Be a student.


Africa Invents

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Africa Produces

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The reason every book about Africa has the same cover—and it’s not pretty

As part of Africa Week here at NMMU I attended a lecture last night by UCT Professor Harry Garuba about Textualized Literature. First he spoke about Textual Territories which are areas of the world that have been written about so much that the writing has forever altered our perceptions of the place. He gave the example of Robben Island being inextricably linked to Nelson Mandela that the perception of the island will always be viewed through the “Mandela lense”.  Then he made the argument that Africa itself is an over-textualized territory.  First, Africa was written about by people who “discovered” various places in Africa.  They wrote tales of discovery.  There were diaries by missionaries, memos from colonial administrators that wrote back to their home countries of the manners and customs they witnessed.  These might be considered amateur ethnographies.  Literature of this first type that has reached canonical status are: Heart of Darkness, King Salomon’s Mines, Mister Johnson, Out of Africa, and Tarzan and the Apes.  These books participate in othering which is a process where the authors define identity by what they are not.  They identify themselves at the norm and everything else is negative or abnormal (white/black; good/evil; Christian/heathen; civilized/primitive or savage).  These texts and pieces of literature were published by the colonial powers about the land and people they were occupying in the colonies.

The next wave of literature then writes back to the empire.  African writers read the canonical works of literature and answered back with their own form of ethnographic novel.  Nobel Prize winning author Chinua Achebe said that he wrote because he didn’t see himself in the books he read for school.  As he was growing up he noted that at first he imagine himself as the explorers finding finding his way through the jungle.  But then he came to realize that in the book the author would have written him as one of  the dark faced cannibals not the explorer.    Achebe’s generation of authors wrote deeply contextualized pieces to show themselves through the books illustrating their own rich culture with long-standing traditions.  This generation was writing back to the cannon and presenting a unified front.

Following that wave were authors who wrote back from the perspective of further marginalized people.  So, homogeneity gives way to heterogeneity and differences within a culture are given room to be exposed.  In this wave class and gender are discussed. Some of the books in this category are: So Long a Letter, The Joys of Motherhood, Woman at Point Zero, A Man of the People, The Beautiful Ones are Not Yet Born.

Then comes the 3rd wave or post-independence writers.  They are struggling with the current realities of African life and culture throughout the continent.  There is disillusionment with the current situation because the promised life that they were fighting for during apartheid or colonial domination has not come true as it was imagined.  These authors are posing what could be called a Marxist challenge to their current governments.  Professor Garuba argued that literature from South Africa should be considered interconnected to the literature from other countries on the continent.  These new writers are offering plural truths which allow for levity and a new lightness of being.  He postulated that the next concern for African cultural literature are authors who are represented as African authors but who no longer live in Africa.  It seems simple that this will happen because publishers find it easier to deal with a local author rather than one who is on the continent.  However, these authors call into question the authenticity not of their individual voice but their individual voice being held up as representative for a whole people once again.


Africa, an infographic

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Africa’s True Size


The colonization counterfactual

Rachel Strohm

One of the questions I’m often asked by friends who haven’t studied African history is what might have happened to the continent if it hadn’t been colonized.  It’s interesting to look at the following map of African politico-tribal units circa 1844 by Swedish artist Nikolaj Cyon in the light of this question:

Alkebu-lan[click for full size – it’s worth it!]

I haven’t been able to find any firm documentation on the origin of the name Alkebu-lan, although a variety of questionably sourced websites suggest that it’s an Arabic phrase meaning “land of the blacks” – supposedly an original name for Africa.  Cyon notes in a presentation that the map represents the culmination of an alternate history where the Black Plague killed significantly more Europeans than was actually the case, presumably reducing the amount of early colonization which would have occurred.  Thus, while many of these territorial groupings appear feasible to…

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