All posts by Isabella Nugent

Closing of the Summer

Summer is sadly coming to a close, but our work is still nowhere near over. I feel an odd mixture of the nostalgia you feel when something is over, but also the strong feeling that I still have so much work to do! Several of my projects are in continuous motion, and I understand even the ones in completion will ring with me for years.

One project in particular that is still troubling me is my audiobooks project. I am worried about copyright issues about recording some of the books I’ve read aloud and I’m still nervously waiting to hear back from the author’s agent about getting permission to use his books. I hope he’ll understand the innocent, non-profit nature of the project and be able to bring his wonderfully fun, sweet renditions of the Anansi the Spider stories to a new audience.

I created my final literary analysis of the story The Ancestral Sacrifice by Kaakyire Akosomo Nyantakyi and I feel a little sad that my mini-book club sessions with Alhassan are coming to an end as well. The book was a haunting story of a mentally handicapped boy who goes missing in a sacred forest, causing the Ohum Festival to come to a sudden halt. As everyone’s lives are put on hold, tensions between the Christian converts and the traditionalists in the community begin to boil as the boy’s Christian mother must make an impossibly difficult decision: Should she approach the Stool-house so that search parties can be sent out to find her son? But how can she do this if this may mean condemning herself in the eyes of God? This novel was an emotional weave of the colliding forces of religion, custom, and culture, as a community would sooner tear itself apart rather than compromise with opposing values.

My hope is that the literary write-ups Alhassan and I are creating will be used for fellows in the future, and potentially, UDS and BiCollege students. I am hoping to post our analyses on the Lagim Tehi Tuma website on a page alongside our blogs, to garner interest for this sadly overlooked pieces of literature. After students read the overview, they will be hopefully be encouraged to pick up the novels themselves and help stir discussions. I am hoping that I would even able to get in contact with the head of the English department of both Bryn Mawr and Haverford and talking about including more works written by African authors into the curriculum.

For now, I want to thank everyone who has followed this blog over the summer and everyone who has helped me along the way. This fellowship experience transformed me in many ways to the point where I can’t imagine going back and just dropping the projects and commitments I have made this summer. I will find a way to stay involved with this fellowship even though my period as a working fellow this summer is over and I already cannot wait to see what projects evolve out of this partnership in the future.

Shea Butter, Borderline Incestuous Plays, and Americanahhh

This week is particularly special in my mind because every day was simply books, books, books. Each day, a fellow was assigned to present a book analysis and then open up a dialogue about African literature. We were each told to pick both a fictional novel and a more academic piece that would reflect either the history of Ghana or African experience in general. With two heavy books in my hand, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Shea Butter Republic by Brenda Chalfin, I was thrilled to spend this week engaging in my favorite pastime of reading.

This book report assignment also blended nicely into my literature discussion project with Alhassan as I was tackling the play In the Chest of a Woman by Efo Kodjo Mawugbe at the same time. The play was a fascinating read, a mix between Lady Macbeth and Mulan as a woman dispossessed from her throne disguises her daughter as a man in order for her to win back the power they rightfully deserved. While the cross-dressing and the drama caused when two female cousins begin to fall in love, adds suspense and humor, the play also serves as a fascinating critique of inheritance, sexism, power, and politics.

Meanwhile, Shea Butter Republic was a vastly different piece. This ethnography illustrated the commercialization of shea butter as it transitioned over the years from a nondescript, low-priced product into an expensive luxury good coveted all over the world. Describing how women dominate the production and market of shea butter on both ends and how Northern Ghanaian women struggled once shea butter was privatized, this ethnography reveals the consequences of neoliberalism with a focus on the experience of women.

Finally, Americanah was a heart-wrenchingly beautiful novel about two Nigerian students who fall in love, Ifemelu and Obinze,, and are separated as Ifemelu pursues her education in America, leaving Obinze in Nigeria. As Ifemelu transitions into her new life in America, she is surprised when she is given the new identity of “black” and becomes fascinated with the role race plays in American life, affecting her in her romantic relationships, educational experiences, career opportunities, and the most minor of interactions. As you watch Ifemelu grapple with critiquing race in America with a humorous eye, you also follow Obinze’s journey as he struggles with avoiding deportation in England. This book, tackling love and isolation, absolutely blew me away as I was wrapped up in Obinze and Ifemelu’s worlds for last three days. I’ve already begun recommending this novel to all my friends and I’m very grateful for this reading week to help me discover it.

The Gods Are Not to Blame: An Exploration of Ghanaian Literature

Now connected with my new partner Alhassan, I am taking a very different type of beast for these final three weeks as this project involves more of personal transformation and education rather than a focus on community dialogue. In fact, I am reminded on my classes at Bryn Mawr as I undergo our literature project as it emphasizes reflection, personal connections, and deep analysis.

At first, I was a bit disappointed in myself as I was explained that my original idea of creating a literary journal comprised of stories and poems from Dalun community members wouldn’t be feasible, or even worse, ethically appropriate. I can’t believe I wasn’t able to immediately see the blatant flaws myself. To ask a group of people who I’ve never even encountered in person before to submit personal stories about their life experiences is such an invasive demand, something I would have difficulty asking even from my close friends. I might have stories submitted, but may be created routinely and lack that level of intimacy needed for a community journal to have meaning. To ask a piece of personal literature from someone requires deep trust and strong communication, something that I definitely lack as I am not even on the ground in Dalun. Perhaps this idea may have more traction for future summers when we’re fortunate to work there in person, but for now, I have to put this idea to rest.

Instead, I am excited to begin my literary analysis of Ghanaian works with Alhassan. Our first piece that we’re zeroing in on is the work The Gods Are Not to Blame. The piece is an interesting rendition of the Greek play Oedipus, but set within a Ghanaian cultural context. Oedipus, because of its gore and frankly cringe-worthy moments, has always fascinated in my high school English classes through the Western lens, so looking at it set in an entirely different cultural context was a truly unique experience. I even tossed around the idea of transferring more works from different cultures into Ghanaian context, but decided that it was definitely to great an obstacle for three weeks. But I am still looking forward to my literary debates with Alhassan to enrich my understanding of Ghanaian culture and appreciation of literature in general.

Never Enough Time in Three Weeks

Unlike the first three weeks of the Radio project, the second segment of this fellowship has simply flew away! I feel as though I had just germinated my audiobooks/videos idea yesterday, but already, it is time to move on to new endeavors.

I am very happy with how these last three weeks went, both for selfish and unselfish reasons. Unselfishly, I hope that the four audiobooks and videos I created as the foundation for language-learning stations at Titagya schools will go a long way in improving students’ English pronunciation as well as help them catch the reading bug. However, selfishly, I feel as though I had too much fun recording and making videos of myself reading storybooks. There was something about going back to the old Anansi the Spider folklore that I used to love that took me back to my elementary school years, making me excited all along the way. I am definitely disappointed that I have to move onto another project, but I hope to continue widening this audio library for Titagya Schools and hope to find a different sort of fun for my Literature project.

Other than the bit of grief of ending this project, another element that has stuck in my mind from this week was the roadtrip to the Barnes Museum we all took on Thursday. The Barnes is truly an incredible place. The Fred Wilson exhibit was incredibly striking, as you wander through typical household objects that were now exoticized as museum artifacts while African music drummed in the background. It served as quiet but powerful message on how deeply the cultural appropriation and violence against African people runs in white culture, especially within glorified intellectual circles. I thought it was brilliant to turn the mirror back onto the Barnes, especially as it is so often lovingly celebrated for its honoring of African art.

Although I am a little worried that no amount of letters or protesting would be able to bring to much light how poorly representative the Barnes is to African culture (or how the Africa artifacts that were included were most likely stolen) I am eager to read the letter Alice cooks up about the Barnes and the Penn Museum and I’m ready to offer my help in any way that I can.

Storybooks in Taft Garden

As I try out different postures and smiles in my laptop camera, at first I feel a little ridiculous, but after a while, I can’t help but relish in it. There was something so exciting about seeing myself in video, involved with a project I can’t help but love, even if it’ll only be seen at a small scale. I wonder if that was what Steve from Blues Clues first felt like. Only kidding, of course.

This week I actually began filming my videos of children’s books being read aloud and I was completely surprised at how much fun I was having! I began my first pilot episode with the English reading of Maddy Beckman’s children’s book, Maddy Visits Ghana. It was an adorable, simple little story, but I got so involved making her words into a fun, accessible video. I set myself up in Taft Garden, partially because it was a beautiful location and partially because I liked to imagine M. Carey Thomas grinding her teeth at the thought of an American-African fellowship project taking place in her private garden.

It a bit more complicated than I first imagined as you had to monitor everything about yourself in the video. How your expressions looked, how well the book was propped up, how clear the illustrations were. I struggled with balancing all these elements at once, but then investing myself in became part of the fun! I added fun music in the background to help get the children’s interest as well as added interesting visuals. Even though I understood only some students from Titagya would be able to access these videos, I wanted them to enjoy it as much as possible.

For now, as I wait in eagerness to see Farouk’s recordings of the stories in Dagbani, I compile a list of future books to record for next week. So far I have lined up a nice stack of Anansi the Spider stories and the story Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters to record for next week. Hopefully, by the end of the project, I will have mastered how to create these videos and the Titagya preschools will have an interesting new way how to get the students more involved in reading as well as new method of practicing their English pronunciation.

If anyone has any suggestions for new books to record, hopefully ones centered around Ghanaian folklore, please let me know in the comments!

Challenging Dagbani and English Alike

As I begin my second project with Iddi Farouk, I can already tell that our future challenges will be a new beast entirely. While the topic of Radio is a much more guiding prompt, the entire language of Dagbani is our base for the second topic. With the topic being so broad, our project is already taking multiple exciting directions.

Sumalia and Farouk have already came up with the inventive idea to create a Dagbani guidebook for future American fellows who are struggling to learn Dagbani. It would act as a helpful supplement to Sumalia’s Skype sessions. I can definitely see how having the words and the grammar rules in a physical copy in your hands would make learning the language much faster, especially for Western learners.

While I can play the role of practicing out these first pilot lessons of the book and editing the work for English grammar mistakes, I still feel that I will lack an integral role to that specific project because I frankly know very little Dagbani at this point. If the lessons are misleading or the material not encompassing enough, I would never be able to notice.

Instead, I plan to undertake my own personal project that would parallel and hopefully add to Farouk’s. Mirroring a Girl Scouts project that I planned out during my high school years, I wanted to create audiobooks and YouTube videos that would be recordings of  Ghanaian children’s books. While access to internet is not always readily available in Dalun, Alice assured me many of the children at Titagya Schools watch videos on their parents phones. The audiobook portion could also be accessible at stations in Titagya classrooms. I was hoping that these recordings would be useful as they would be paired with recordings of the stories recited in Dagbani, allowing the children to practice their English and helping them engage their reading skills as it might increase their interest in storybooks.

For now , this project lies in the research and conceptual stage. I plan to create and launch my first pilot video on Monday by using a storybook created by BMC alum Maddy Beckman which is calledMaddy Visits Ghana. Hopefully, my mentors and the teachers of Titagya Schools will like the idea and I can begin to tackle a wide variety of different Ghanaian children’s books that will help spark a love of a reading.

One Day More

Reading over the latest email from Akua that explained how our broadcast had to be pushed back to Saturday, I feel a touch of disappointment. I was so ready for our work to be broadcasted today, but instead, my anxiety over how it will turn out only grows.

Although my position as the American fellow is useful for our project because of my access to resources and scholars here, I still wish I was on the ground with Akua because now so much is left in the dark. After completing my recorded parts back home, my project has been promptly taken out of my hands. I deeply trust Akua, Uberu, Sumalia, and everyone on our team, but I would do anything to be in the station beside them, to answer questions and just experience the audience’s response firsthand instead of days later.

I am split between worry and excitement about how the audience will receive our work. According to Alice, those who have already read over our script in Dalun enjoyed it and even began engaging with it, as Raymond (I believe) began to point out parts that he disagreed with. At first I was distraught that our project was already stirring up disagreement, but Alice ensured that criticism and conflict is necessary for effective cross-cultural dialogue. I’m ecstatic that our piece is already getting people talking.

However, I’m also touched with doubt as Brandon (a project coordinator from last year) explained to me how often women aren’t even able to call in to the station, one of the many difficulties of discussing gender issue within the community. He told me how he noticed that some people were quick to drop buzzwords such as “gender equality,” but often their actions did not reflect these values.

However, whatever happens on Saturday, I’m ready. I am prepared to handle the reaction, whether positive or negative, as long as it gets people talking. Most of all, I am proud of the work Akua and I have made and I cannot wait to see how this work grows.

Road Behind and Road Ahead

As Akua lets me know that our radio program will be aired in a little over twenty-four hours, I just look back and marvel at how much progress we made in such a little span of time. Something that just began as a small seed of an idea has been watered and nurtured with research and passion until it grew into a project I truly love.

From the beginning, I wanted to create a short radio segment discussing sociological ideas of gender within the Northern Ghanaian context and open up a platform for women’s issues on the radio. I wanted to surround our program around the question, “What is the difference between a man and a woman?” However, the project developed greatly out of the small germ of this original vision. After consulting heavily with Esteniolla, she advised me to take the radio program to the next level and it grew into a script that covered not only sociology concepts, but Ghanaian women’s history, cross-cultural comparison, and ideas for the future as well. My actual project ultimately eclipsed my vision as it grew into something so much more.

With Alice’s edits of my script to make it even more engaging, Brandon’s recommendations of how to explain sociology concepts, Maccarthy’s technological advice, Elizabeth and Esther’s heroic efforts in helping me tackle the prerecording, and Sumaila’s advice and expertise translating, Akua and I were in good hands to make this radio program not only possible, but accessible and engaging.

One of the greatest achievements I think about Akua’s and my project is how all encompassing our script is. Instead of limiting our discussion to universalizing concepts of white feminism, I like to think we showed the intersectionality of different women’s experiences according to the context. I am proud of the broad base of history we provide and succinct way were able to describe gender roles and the unconscious oppression of women.

However, some of the bigger challenges involved the length of the script because it covered such a wide base of ideas. We were caught up in how to divide all the work without sacrificing any important information. The process of bouncing ideas off of each other was also difficult because of the long distance, thankfully we were able to find a common vision and organize our differing ideas.

My goals surrounding the radio project have become more specific, especially after speaking to Brandon, a Haverford fellow who was involved with the fellowship last year. He explained how rarely they would get female callers during broadcasts and the difficulty of working with women. These anecdotes and advice narrowed my goals into having positive feminist ideas reach the women of the community and give them more confidence in their voice, even if they are unable to call in themselves (as their husband might have access to the only phone). The culture of silence for women is strong in Dalun, according to Brandon. I don’t expect women to open up all of sudden just after one broadcast, but I do hope that it helps circulates the flow of ideas about women’s representation.

After the three weeks, I hope to continue the project as our main script will be potentially be split into an ongoing mini-series that will cover the sociology, history, and cross-cultural comparison of gender issues in Ghana. I hope the long-lasting effects will be a greater number of women’s callers and potentially a permanent program for the discussion of feminism on Simili Radio.

For my future projects for Dagbani and Literature, I think this creation of a platform for story sharing will be extremely useful as each of my topics involves cross-cultural communication and storytelling from the perspective of different contexts. With my new experience in cross-cultural dialogue, I feel more prepared in tacking my future projects, as I will again explore the different relationships of the experiences of American and Ghanaian people.

As my broadcast is yet to air, I am still left with so many questions. I am most concerned with whether or not our script will be accessible or useful to the public. Maybe they are already familiar with these ideas, or maybe the culture of silence is so strong that these concepts won’t truly take hold. I am both excited and a bit nervous to see the audience’s reaction Thursday morning to see what changes have to be made, but despite the challenges ahead, I am just proud of Akua and I for helping a advance platform for women’s voices.

On Air in…3…2…1

After researching and shifting through narrative after narrative, I finally began creating my script for our future radio program. Trying to pinpoint which information was important and which was unnecessary was an uphill battle at first, but after awhile, I was able to shape a radio script that encapsulates everything I want to say. Intertwining the experiences of Ghanaian women with white American and black American women, I hope I was able to accurately capture multiple perspectives on feminism for our cross-cultural discussion.

As I was writing and editing the first drafts of my script, I was also struck by the readings and videos we were assigned this week. One of my most powerful reactions came from the documentary, Traces of the Trade, that was about a white family who decide to travel to both Ghana and Cuba to somehow make amends for their slave trading ancestral past.

There was something disgusting about the movie I couldn’t shake. The simple ignorance that white people can somehow apologize for slavery (and then expect acceptance!) was absolutely baffling to me. There is no apologizing for slavery, especially because it is not a relic of the past! The suppression of black people, both Africans and African Americans, continues to this day, especially in light of the Charleston Church shooting. The comparison of the white terrorist being lead out peacefully under the protection of police compared to the brutal killings of black Americans for simply selling cigarettes is proof of how we cannot expect to say, “Sorry!” and let go of our past of enslavement. That past resonates through every day in this country and continues to suppress black Americans in new ways.

Through Rachel Dolezal, white people would do anything to defend a white woman’s right to appropriate black identity. With the Charleston shooting, the American media would go to any lengths to avoid pegging a white boy as a terrorist. As I watch white culture continue to oppress black voices, I am more determined than ever to launch a successful radio program where Ghanaian callers discuss the importance of race and gender. I’m excited to see where this project goes and see as these issues are brought to light.

First Project Begins!

So much to do, yet so much has been done! As Akua and I begin to collaborate on our first project, I am daunted by the task ahead while still bouncing with excitement to see the final product.

As soon as Akua and I began our one-on-one correspondence, we began to center our three-week project around the idea of a Simili radio program focused on feminism and gender issues. Last year’s fellows created this truly engaging program surrounding the idea of “What is the difference between a black person and a white person?” that sparked a fascinating community dialogue about race. Instead of making the mistake of imposing Westernized ideas onto a group of people, we want to explore a platform for community voices, while offering the initial probing questions.

We began our research and already I feel we have made real progress. Akua has found plenty of valuable information about the history and significance of the Simili radio station while I have studied Ghanaian statistics about gender inequalities and a study on the positive effects of Simili Radio for rural areas.

One of the most interesting pieces of research I found so far was a personal essay written by a male Ghanaian teacher about his experiences with gender inequities. He retold this disturbing story about a young girl who was taken out of school to marry a 55-year-old man while her twin brother was allowed to continue schooling. He went on to encourage Ghana to change its legal age of consent to at least 18. I really was grateful to find a voice directly out of the community, but now I’m searching for personal narratives from women as they directly experiences these inequalities on a daily basis.

As the project continues, I am turning my research towards the writings of African feminists, sociologists, and philosophers to help me pose the question, “What is the difference between a man and a woman?” I want to present the case of how gender is a social construct and how gender roles are imposed on us at a young age, but I want to find these studies from the perspective of African female scholars.

Even though there is much work ahead of Akua and I, I am excited see the possibilities of our project become physical.