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How much do we really know?

Coming into this fellowship, I thought I had a pretty clear idea of what the program would be about and what my job would be as a fellow. Of course I envisioned that I would learn something, but only on a very scholarly level and although this has been true (in just 3 weeks I’ve learned a tremendous amount of information on the academic discipline of history), but the learning and gaining of knowledge that has been occurring throughout this fellowship has not only been academic. So many lines of dialogue and  communication have been opened during these first few weeks and I can say that the learning I’ve done for extends. Exploring and reading have no doubt been part of my learning this summer, but I think the things that have forced me to think the most critically are the films, the dialogue between my fellow peers and I, and the dialogues we have with our guest speakers and those who have contributed to this program in some way.

For the longest time I always saw films as a luxury; a pleasantry that can distract the mind from things. Although my shift in thinking didn’t happen spontaneously throughout this project ( a change has been coming for years), the films we were assigned to watch definitely proved that this mentality of films is sometimes blatantly wrong. As I watched the film ‘Traces of the Trade’, I found myself upset, in shock, and yelling (along with Mia who watched the film with me) at the sheer ignorance some of the people featured in the documentary displayed.  As I watched them express disbelief and shock at the conditions in which slaves lived in and how many slaves their family had actually traded, several questions came to my mind and in a way forced me to analyze not only the film, but also my conception of slavery.  Again as I watched the film ‘Shankosa’, several of the same questions came to mind.

How had so many people gone through so much formal education, in the case of ‘Traces of the Trade’ and yet still failed to realize exactly how slavery had played out? How could an entire family be so blind to its dark and perverse legacy? For ‘Shankosa’, a few of the same questions came to mind. But the overall looming question that still remained was, “how much do we, as community members and scholars, really know about our past?”

This question ties almost perfectly into my topic of history, but it also ties into my personal life, as well as the personal lives of millions of people in the world. As this fellowship progresses, I challenge myself to explore these questions, and hopefully com up with some answers.


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.

2 Down, Many More to Go

As the second week comes to a close, I’m both excited, pleased, and invigorated by the progress my colleagues and I have made. It takes a motivated student to take of their summer and dedicate it to an internship, but it takes truly brilliant and passionate students to not only participate in an internship, but also dedicate and fully throw themselves into learning and progressing towards a collective goal. I’ve watched my fellow fellows at home contribute so much work and dedication to their topics and it has been refreshing, but I am truly thankful and grateful for our counterparts in Ghana.

When Alice told us we were going to be working with counterparts in Ghana while we were in the United States, I was a bit concerned. How would we effectively communicate was my major concern and now I see that it shouldn’t have been an overwhelming concern at all. From what I’ve observed and seen, the UDS counterparts as well as the fellows here have been completely dedicated to effectively collaborating and communicating (in all honesty the communication in this fellowship has been better than some I’ve had in academic classes).  It’s been truly tremendous and motivating to see everyone doing so well and working so cohesively.

Seeing the collaboration going on brings me to think about something Susan Sutton said in her talk to us earlier this week. She mentioned that every partnership, in order to be a truly meaningful experience, has to have a sense of reciprocity on both ends. This got me thinking as to what each group, the fellows in the United  States and the fellows in Ghana were offering each other and I’ve come to realize that each group offers new and amazing perspective. With the second week closing out, I cannot wait to see what else is in store for us.

Orientation Week in Review

As my Friday winds to a close, I’m looking back on this week and already I can’t believe how drastically my perspective has changed about how I understood the Summer Action Research Program as I unlearn “single story” narrative of Africa.

In the very beginning, Alice asked us to pick one word that would encompass how we felt about our program ahead. Initially, I chose the word “clarity” as I was eager to make my understanding of the culture in Dalun and the future of my project (which at the time was still muddled and up in the air) very clear. However, after listening to Alice’s talk, exploring the Penn Museum, meeting my new project collaborators over Skype, and absorbing the readings, I came to realize that true clarity will never be possible, and maybe that can be seen as a good thing. To walk into a project such as this with a white-savior industrial complex and tell myself that I will be able to “master” full understanding about another culture is incredibly ignorant, and truthfully, finding out new ideas and deeper and deeper layers of our research is both challenging and fascinating.

Already, I am overwhelmed by how much there lies ahead of us. While chanting Dagbani phrases and listening to recordings alone in my bed, I imagined myself conducting full conversations in Dagbani (feeling ashamed that my fellows have to zero down to English when they themselves are fluent in multiple languages) but I know that is still a long, long way down the road. But Alice’s unbounded energy, the enthusiasm of my new teachers in Ghana, the incredibly work ethic of my fellows, and my new friendships with Mia and Fatou only make me more excited to get started. I am already envisioning future ideas for projects, such as a Dalun journal where we would compile stories and entries from members of community where they would share their experiences and advice, and feeding off problems I have already seen in the United States.

As the Penn Museum African exhibit only seemed to display stolen and desecrated objects alongside Lion King movie reels, clearly American education has been perpetuating a twisted narrative of Africa as a catastrophe. However, just as online forums blew up in response to Alice’s talk, quickly criticizing the work of middle class Americans in Ghana, it’s also fair to say that some Americans do care about international partnership and are cautious in the hopes that it will conducted ethically.

We are caught in the web that is trying to tell us the single story of Africa, while desperately trying to change that narrative without doing harm. The first initiative: “Do not do harm,” will ring through my head as I continue on with my research and begin my projects; however, hand in hand with this caution, I will not give up on trying new ideas and pushing the potential of this fellowship.

Planning for Summer 2015


So excited that two BMC students are now on board (soon an HC student to join) and that tomorrow Sumaila is meeting with Dr. Achanso at UDS to talk about UDS students joining the teams!

This is me, Rob (husband) and Dr. Achanso at the Ghana Song Fest in Denmark, Fall 2014.
This is me, Rob (husband) and Dr. Achanso at the Ghana Song Fest in Denmark, Fall 2014.