Archive | January, 2013
19 Jan

I found this graphic to be pretty informative. One of my pre-departure goals is to learn more about colonial history, and the implications it has for current politics and African development.


Begin at the Beginning: Oral Traditions

19 Jan
World Literature and Thought: Volume 3: The Modern World to 1900 (p 513-560)
Do not follow the vanquished into the bush.” –Kenyan Proverb*
Let’s start this cultural learning project the way that any good Arts student would: with the stories of the people. One of my textbooks has a chapter titled “African Oral Literature” which consists of tales, riddles, proverbs, songs and poetry from various countries in Africa. Many of these works date to the 18th or 19th century, but the storytelling tradition continues into the present, “repeated from generation to generation, contain[ing] materials and forms that are inherited from earlier times.”
Oral literature is neat, because each storyteller can change the material with each performance, and it is an expression of the community/audience it is performed to. This also makes it a complete pain in the butt to study in books! Stories can be transcribed, but the musicality of the words is lost because often the audience interacts with the reciter, creating a harmony of competing voices.
Here’s how my textbook sums it up: “Rather than expressing [traditional values and the community’s understanding of the world] by direct, unvarnished statements, oral narratives are indirect, subtle, and complex, arguing… “not only with regard to how people should or should not act to be useful members of society, community and family, but also in regard to how such actions give meaning and power to the very being of all within the community.”
Reading this assortment of stories and proverbs was very interesting and entertaining, but I could never escape the feeling that I was missing some crucial knowledge. From What an Old Man Can See Sitting Down – A Young Man Can’t See Standing Up (Yoruba, Nigeria) to How the World was Created from a Drop of Milk (Fulani, Mali), “I don’t get it!” was always my first thought. Clearly I’ve got a lot learning to do in the department of cultural understanding.
I’ll give you a short example, in case anyone can provide some insight or wants to discuss the topic:
Eshu, God of Fate (Eshu is a Yoruba trickster god, as well as a god of fate.)
Eshu turns right into wrong, wrong into right.
When he is angry, he hits a stone until it bleeds.
When he is angry, he sits on the skin of an ant.
When he is angry, he weeps tears of blood. Eshu slept in the house –
But the house was too small for him:
Eshu slept on the verandah –
But the verandah was too small for him:
Eshu slept in a nut –
At last he could stretch himself!
Eshu walked through the groundnut farm.
The tuft of his hair was just visible:
If it had not been for his huge size,
He would not be visible at all.
Lying down, his head hits the roof:
Standing up, he cannot look into the cooking pot.
He throws a stone today
And kills a bird yesterday!
* Do not press one’s victory too far.

Identity Crisis

19 Jan

One of the first Junior Fellowship assignments is to create a Personal Development Plan, which has been problematic for me. Why? Because you have to know what kind of person you want to develop into, in order to plan for it! GAH! I don’t even know who I am right now! Diagram time…ChartofMe

What is Beyond Complicated?

19 Jan
International development is complex.” I’ve heard that phrase about as many times as “Eat your vegetables,” but what does it really mean? How does one begin to understand this complexity, and how does this understanding direct real-world actions?
To be honest, I don’t think that anyone -not even the “experts”- fully understands all of the inter-related systems within the development sector. But if I’m going to be even remotely useful while working  in Africa (more precise location to be announced in March) this summer, I have to at least have a beginner’s understanding of the complex systems I will be immersed in. But before this gets tooo wordy, here’s a diagram to explain the confused mush between my ears!
Basically, people tend to work with ideas and problems that are either simple, complicated, or complex. Hopefully my drawing makes enough sense that I don't have to define each individually.
Basically, people tend to work with ideas and problems that are either simple, complicated, or complex. Hopefully my drawing makes enough sense that I don’t have to define each individually.
International development work is often complex, because it deals with many components and people, each with intertwining, continually changing relationships and influences. The second drawing shows just a few of the things that I will have to consider this summer. There’s no way I’ll ever understand it all, but I will try to learn all that I can, and I will begin with books… The goal is to get  my thoughts further than Simple and Complicated ideas, to a more sophisticated understanding of Complex concepts: moving my brain-space beyond Complicated.
I have already been reading a couple of books, so I’ll post summaries and learning-points here. This will mostly be for myself, but if anyone else is interested or is doing similar learning, I would love comments, feedback, and suggestions for things to read next!
Eventually my learning process will have to evolve, and in May I’ll have stories to tell about my on-the-ground experiences, but this is where I’m going to begin.
I know an itty-bitty bit about all of these things, and practically nothing about how they interact in real-life systems.
I know an itty-bitty bit about all of these things, and practically nothing about how they interact in real-life systems.
Yours in anticipation of mind-blowing awesomeness,