Africa in Our Lives: Sam Allen

Africa in Our Lives: Sam Allen

i Nov 27th No Comments by
UW-Madison senior Sam Allen has never taken the conventional path when it comes to his education. The Geography and International Studies major managed to integrate his passion for Swahili with a career path in the Army. He shares what inspired him to study the continent, his takeaways from his time in Tanzania, and his favorite Swahili phrase.

Field of Study: Geography, International Studies, African Studies (certificate)
Hometown: Appleton, WI

Sam near the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro the week before his studies in Tanzania began. (Submitted photo)

What brought you to Madison?

Aside from the vagaries of the college admissions process writ large, I didn’t see the need to move to a coast to receive a world-class education. The gorgeousness of campus and liveliness of student life, combined with Madison’s role as a locus of government and culture, pushed me over the edge.

Were you interested in Africa before coming to UW-Madison?

My parents traveled through the continent for a months-long epic journey shortly before having children, and I grew up listening to their stories from the trip. Far from a basic backdrop on which they projected their own lives, the Africa they knew was in a constant state of change variously thrilling, daunting and awe-inspiring. My mental imagery of Africa was an archetype for my sense of fascination. However, these stories could have remained just stories if not for the opportunities I found in college.

What inspired your combination of majors?

Both Geography and International Studies are useful for explaining differences among people and nations across the globe. But more importantly, these fields of study deal with the most tangible stuff that goes into these differences, namely environment and political institutions, and how they can be changed. The “so what?” factor was very important to me in deciding majors, and I found Geography and IS as useful not only in interpreting the world but changing it.

Sam with fellow cadets and Angolan military officers at the Instituto Superior Técnico Militar, the country’s military academy. (Submitted photo)

How does being a cadet in Army ROTC relate to your interest in Africa and African Studies?

The Army is my raison d’être for pursuing African Studies, the impetus for turning an interest into a career path. Perhaps what keeps most people from pursuing their dreams is a perceived lack of purpose, the feeling that their passion doesn’t quite square with the “real” world. As a freshman, I too feared I would fall into that malaise. So I can’t quite describe my feelings when I read that the Army considers Swahili, among other African languages, “Critical” to its operations, offering numerous study abroad, scholarship and career opportunities relating to it. I’ve been to Africa twice under ROTC, been on scholarship to study Swahili for two years and met role models and mentors who have helped me tremendously along the way. For an organization that has already given me such purpose, that it also empowers me to study what I care deeply about has been an incredible feeling.

What is it like to study Swahili at UW-Madison?

Liberating. I studied French an embarrassing amount of years in middle and high school, and still struggled to string together basic sentences, much less polished, accented ones. And yet in two years at Madison I’m proficient in Swahili (I can still improve in many areas, but am fluent in most conversations). This is for two reasons. One, as opposed to other language programs which focus on test-taking and worksheets (which can be BS’d fairly easily), Madison goes for the jugular and focuses as much as possible on conversation. Two, Madison has a large and excellent African Studies / African Cultural Studies community, full of excellent teachers, speakers, events and students. This makes studying Swahili fun, but also gives it an added meaning and human dimension that studying alone can’t provide.

Sam with an Angolan military officer. (Submitted photo)

What’s one of your favorite Swahili words or phrases?

I’d heard that Tanzanians have a reputation for being formal, best met with a proper “Hujambo/Sijambo” greeting. So I was shocked to ask one young Tanzanian man how he was doing and get the response “Poa kichisi kama ndizi ndani ya friji.” Literally: “Crazy-cool like a banana in the fridge.” Needless to say, that became my response whenever anyone asked how I was doing.

Tell us about your study abroad program in Tanzania. What are some of your most vivid memories?

I applied to a Project GO (“Global Officers”) scholarship to study Swahili in Tanzania via James Madison University, and was accepted for the summer of 2016. This Department of Defense program prepares the next generation of officers with skills in languages critical to the military’s global missions. Most students on this study were cadets, coming from all branches of the military and universities throughout the country. While Swahili was emphasized, we also studied environmental and geographic issues as we travelled throughout the country.

As far as memories, what could top the 24/7 unlimited alcohol cooler at the Kubu Kubu camp in the Serengeti? Still, others include: riding a motorcycle through the savannah to make it to my Maasai host father’s compound before nightfall; kayaking in the Indian Ocean and stumbling upon an island restaurant; talking with the porters in Swahili all the way up Kilimanjaro; snorkeling with parrot fish off of Chumbe, Zanzibar; canoeing Lake Victoria on our way to a local fish market; and making lasting friendships with the other cadets on this study.

If you could bring one piece of your life in Tanzania back to Wisconsin, what would it be?

We were mostly cadets, at similar points in our lives and interested in roughly the same things. But these similarities (and living in close-quarters) had ways of magnifying the differences in our views and personalities, leading to some of the most interesting and intense discussions I’ve ever had. Nothing avoided scrutiny or discussion, and this hyper-awareness made me feel rooted in place and in the moment. It’s this feeling, not only the sense of rigorously preparing to change the world, but being with the best people to do so, that I would bring back.

What advice would you give first-year students at UW-Madison?

Go to your professors’ office hours. Specialize in a field of study. See speakers, go to conferences, get internships and travel. In the liberal arts, you will vacillate between feeling like a philosopher-king and feeling indistinguishable from someone who could have just read Wikipedia instead of shelling out for a college degree. At your worst hour, you will think of three things to avoid feeling like the latter: your relationships, skills and experiences. Do you work with people who make you the best version of yourself, and whom you trust to evaluate your ideas and progress? Have you put effort into a can-do skill that sets you apart from others and makes you eminently useful? And do you possess firsthand knowledge that can’t be found online or in books, that enhances the acuity of your worldview? These tangibles are the force behind your college degree, and act as stamps of quality to both yourself and any potential employer or superior.

Profile produced by Kyra Fox.

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Africa in Our Lives: Ryma Azzouz

i Nov 2nd No Comments by
From a young age, Ryma Azzouz knew she wanted to understand the world beyond the borders of her home country, Algeria. Currently, she is serving as a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant of Arabic at UW-Madison. She shares why she loves teaching, her interest in the parallels between African American and Algerian literature, and the best piece of advice she’s ever received.

Field of study: African American Literature
Hometown: Algiers, Algeria

“What inspired my interest in African American literature is its closeness to the Algerian literature and how it also speaks about oppression by another organized group, called white supremacy in the US and the French colonizer in Algeria.” -R. Azzouz (Submitted photo)

What brought you to Madison?

I have the honor to be in Madison as an Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) of Arabic. I assist the teachers of Arabic at the department of African Cultural Studies, I familiarize American students with the Algerian dialects and culture and I am learning more about the American culture as well.

What is your favorite activity to do in Madison?

I have two activities that are dear to me in Madison: being in class with students and helping them overcome their challenges with Arabic, as a language and as different dialects and cultures, and being outside and going to the movie theater watching American movies amidst an American audience. About the second activity, the first time I went to an American movie theater, it was at Union South. I was sitting in my chair, in that big room, with that big, gigantic screen in front of me and hearing American English all around me, as the spectators were patiently and excitingly waiting for the lights to be off and the movie to start. When the lights were finally off, the room became finally dark, but not completely dark since there were very smartly placed little tiny lights parallel to the seats placed on the exterior of the different rows. So, the room was dark and the screen suddenly enlightened with the actions of the movie “Baby Driver.” The sound came from everywhere in the room: right, left, front, back, pulling you with all your senses into the action of the movie. It was amazing and will definitely remain a memorable moment for me, because I was experiencing an American movie with American spectators. I have always experienced that with Algerian spectators and was always wondering, while watching “Star Wars”, what kind of people were producing these movies I was watching with my fellow Algerian spectators. And now being miles away from home and with these people I was thinking about, back in Algeria, is just an extraordinary experience to me.

What inspired you to apply to be a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA)?

What inspired me is my avidity for experiencing the world in its diversity. Since I was a kid, I have always been intrigued by the world and I knew there was so much to discover and that not everywhere is the same as in Algeria. I had books about the Kingdoms of China, the jungles of the Amazon forest in Latin America, the cultures of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Indians of America, the inventions of Europe. I knew growing up that the US is one country were an interesting blend of cultures happened and I wanted to experience that. The Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program offered me the best academic and professional context within which I can explore my avidity for the diversity of the world, by helping American students explore theirs in their study of Arabic. I knew these students are experiencing the same urge as me, for scrutinizing the world and understanding it, beyond the borders of our own cultures and languages.

Why do you think students should study Arabic?

In my eyes, it is very necessary to study any language. It helps you understand the world and it helps you communicate with the world. Arabic is so rich in its semantic and philosophical potential! Learning Arabic might help American students express a range of ideas and emotions in a completely different way. It might broaden and enrich their vision of everything in their lives. They might be agents of a fresh new Arabic expression, which is really cool.

What have you learned about yourself or about Algeria from teaching to an American audience?

I have learned that I love practicing languages with people. I love being in situations where I am or other people are experiencing new sounds and languages. I love hearing either Algerian voices or American voices coming out and sounding differently. In other words, I learned about myself my ability of linguistic and cultural flexibility. This flexibility comes from the huge respect I have for human diversity around the world. I believe that the human race can only reach its sacredness through its diversity.

What inspired your interest in African American literature?

What inspired my interest in African American literature is its closeness to the Algerian literature and how it also speaks about oppression by another organized group, called white supremacy in the US and the French colonizer in Algeria. I was touched when I read that African American authors of the fifties, I think, and while they were living in Paris, they noticed and said how Algerians were the Negroes of the French in Paris and everywhere else. That gave me a sense of a shared agency between African Americans and Algerians.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A piece of advice my dad gave me and his dad gave him: When you reach the bottom and you feel no hope is there for you anymore, that’s when it is exactly the moment to have hope and bounce back.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

In five years? I am so hopeful! I do what kids do when they wish for something really dear to them to come true. I shut my eyes really tight until I wrinkle all my face. I fist both my hands together, making them look like one big fist close to my chest and do what we call in Arabic “Duaa,” prayer, and I say: “in five years, I will be, inshaAllah, a writer and researcher.” There is so much I want to talk about! So many ills I want to heal, through my writing.

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Africa in Our Lives: Rich Beilfuss

i Oct 2nd No Comments by
When he’s not playing unicycle hockey or running marathons, you can probably find Rich Beilfuss in the field working with one of sub-Saharan Africa’s six species of cranes. Dr. Beilfuss is the President & CEO of the International Crane Foundation (ICF), an organization headquartered in Baraboo, WI that works worldwide to conserve cranes and the ecosystems, watersheds, and flyways on which they depend. He talks to the African Studies Program about his fieldwork in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, his experience developing the ICF’s Africa Program, and the partnerships in sub-Saharan Africa that make the ICF’s work possible.

“In Africa and around the world, [cranes’] landscapes are shared with people, and people must be part of their conservation solutions.” -Rich Beilfuss (submitted photo)

Field of study: PhD Wetland Ecology; MSc Civil and Environmental Engineering, MSc Water Resources Management; BSc International Economics
Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin for 32 years (born in Chicago, IL)

What brought you to Madison?

I moved to Madison in 1985 to study Nepali in preparation for a year abroad in Nepal. I returned to Madison for graduate school following my year in Nepal, and first connected with the International Crane Foundation starting in 1988. I have since worked with ICF for most of the past 30 years, except the period when I moved to Mozambique to work for the restoration of Gorongosa National Park.

Tell us one interesting fact about you.

I am an avid unicycle rider and compete in marathon distance races and play unicycle hockey and basketball.

What sparked your interest in Africa?

I first visited Africa (Nigeria) in 1992, after several years living and working in South/Southeast Asia. I was immediately captivated by the warm people, diverse landscapes full of wildlife, and water management challenges in northern Nigeria, and felt I wanted to contribute to solutions. In 1993, I co-organized a conference on wetlands in Maun, Botswana, attended by representatives from 19 different countries in Africa and developed friendships with colleagues across the continent. From that time forward, I have worked in Africa every year, often for very extended periods of time and relocated to live there on two occasions. The spark remains the same for me—the people, the land, and the challenges that need creative, collaborative solutions.

How did the four years you spent at Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique shape your work today?

Living at Gorongosa National Park with my family was a tremendous experience. Prior to moving to Gorongosa, I did my PhD in the nearby Zambezi Delta of Mozambique, so I already had more than 10 years’ experience on the ground in this area before taking the position of Director of Scientific Services for the park. Gorongosa National Park (and the Zambezi Delta) were nearly destroyed during the prolonged civil war, and we were there to rebuild all aspects of the park infrastructure and management from the ground up, restore the beautiful landscape for wildlife, and help people improve their lives. We did a lot of frontline ecological work–we reintroduced wildebeest, buffalo, elephants, and other species, conducted managed fires to reduce the impact of wildfires, controlled the spread of invasive species, and monitored hydrology, vegetation, and wildlife. We also worked with the surrounding communities to engage them in supporting the park in exchange for employment in the park and associated tourism, as well as new health clinics and schools. The Mozambican team we worked with was exceptional—many dedicated Mozambicans who lived under the terror of the civil war were back at the park to help its recovery. Some were leaders with a lifetime of experience to share, others were youngsters from local schools seeking mentorship and opportunities for advancement. I especially learned the value of getting to know a place deeply to find root causes to problems and solutions—it many seem easy for consultants to whisk into places and offer quick solutions to problems, but we found that lasting solutions required a deep investment of time and creativity to get “right” – if ever.

Rich and his colleague in the field in Mozambique. (Submitted photo)

What are some of your favorite memories from your time in Mozambique?

I loved having my family living at the park with me. My wife Katie and I worked long hours and raised our two young boys at the park, but every day seemed like an adventure—seeing giant buffalo and elephants darted with tranquilizers for veterinary operations, collecting crocodile teeth, battling extreme wildfires, conducting night drives to census civets, genets, aardvarks, and other nocturnal wildlife, and taking care to avoid lions, spitting cobras, and black mambas as they moved through our camp. Our home “lawn mower” was a wild warthog. It was an incredibly rich experience for our young children especially.

Tell us a little bit about the work of the International Crane Foundation (ICF).

The International Crane Foundation works worldwide to conserve cranes and the ecosystems, watersheds, and flyways on which they depend. Cranes are revered in many, many cultures and nations around the world, they are large and conspicuous, they migrate across political boundaries, and they require healthy environmental conditions to survive. In Africa and around the world, their landscapes are shared with people, and people must be part of their conservation solutions. So cranes are great ambassadors for sustainable water, land, and livelihoods. The wetlands and savannas of sub-Saharan Africa support six of the world’s fifteen species of cranes, including resident Grey Crowned, Black Crowned, Wattled, and Blue Cranes, and wintering Demoiselle and Eurasian Cranes. African cranes face many threats fueled by rapid population growth and extreme poverty in the region. Endangered Grey Crowned Cranes, for example, are in serious decline due to capture for illegal trade, compounded by loss of vital wetlands in the agricultural landscapes of East and Southern Africa, while Vulnerable Wattled Cranes are at risk from large dams and floodplain degradation. Our innovative conservation programs employ diverse strategies for saving cranes and some of the most important wetlands on the Africa continent.

Tell us about your experience developing ICF’s Africa Program.

As I mentioned above, in 1993, I co-organized a conference on wetlands in Maun, Botswana, attended by representatives from 19 different countries in Africa and developed friendships with colleagues across the continent. Following that meeting, I decided to focus on a few strategic places where I thought there was great need and where we (ICF) could have a strong impact. Much of my work was in the Zambezi River basin of southern Africa, where I focused on environmental flows (strategic water management) and land management for cranes, other wildlife, and livelihoods. I worked extensively in Mozambique and Zambia. I also worked with colleagues in East Africa to develop a program for Endangered Grey Crowned Cranes. The Grey Crowned Crane is the national bird of Uganda, is in the center of Uganda’s national flag and Coat of Arms, and the national soccer team is called the cranes. So that was a great place to start in East Africa. But the wetlands cranes depend on are disappearing rapidly as people try to eek out a living. We also developed programs in West Africa to focus on the Black Crowned Crane, which is in serious decline. Everywhere we started programs and projects, we focused on places where we could build strong local partnerships and engage in issues that we have expertise and experience in—especially water management, invasive species control, and conservation-friendly livelihoods for people.

How does the ICF work with local partners in sub-Saharan Africa?

All of our work is in partnership. We have a broad co-partnership across Africa with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (based in South Africa), and we work with local NGOs and community groups in every country where we work—Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique, Zambia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Senegal, and elsewhere. Some of our most interesting partnerships are with teachers and their after school groups and local pastors who mobilize communities to take action for cranes and the sustainable use of the wetlands they depend on. We try to help these communities find alternative livelihoods to farming wetlands, such a bee-keeping, marketing papyrus products, developing local tourism employment, farming fish ponds, and other initiatives. We also try to help local NGOs build up their capacity—sometimes bringing people to ICF in Baraboo for training, sometimes supporting partners for graduate studies or more in-depth training. Last year, for example, we brought over seven colleagues from Zambia for intensive training at ICF and at Louisiana State University, where they learned wetland management skills. Truly none of our work would be possibly without partnerships.

Tell us about one of the ICF’s current Africa-related initiatives.

We have many great projects in Africa, but our work in the big floodplains of southern Africa is most rewarding for me, especially as I feel we are having a deep, positive impact on these landscapes. We have a large project in the Kafue Flats of Zambia. Our goal is to restore the vast floodplain for threatened Wattled Cranes—one of the largest flying birds in the world—as well as many species of large mammals and waterbirds, and to do so by engaging the local community in livelihood improvement activities. We are working with the national water authorities and electric company to improve water conditions on the flats through managed outflows from upstream Itezhitezhi Dam, hiring local communities to remove the invasive shrub mimosa pigra from the floodplain, working with wildlife authorities to reduce legal and illegal hunting of wildlife, especially the endemic Kafue lechwe that is in serious decline. We are helping local communities set up their first-ever bank accounts to manage the money they gain from the project, and providing access to loans for entrepreneurial activities. The conservation challenges in Kafue Flats, as elsewhere in Africa, are immense and increasing, but I remain an optimist given the incredible talent and perseverance I see across the continent.

To learn more about the International Crane Foundation, visit the organization’s website or its headquarters in Baraboo, WI.

Profile produced by Kyra Fox.

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Africa in Our Lives: Dave Bresnahan

i Sep 14th No Comments by
PhD candidate Dave Bresnahan’s first taste of African Studies was through the work of Philip Curtin, one of the founders of the African Studies Program at UW-Madison. Since then, Dave has never looked back. He has traversed the kaya forests of Kenya’s coast, studied Mijikenda-speaking communities’ entanglements with the Indian Ocean, and even served as outreach coordinator at the African Studies Program. He shares his favorite parts of Madison and his post-dissertation plans.

Field of study: History
Hometown: Cinnaminson, NJ

Dave conducting an interview on hunting vocabulary near Kwale, Kenya in 2013. (Submitted photo)

What brought you to Madison?

The African history program, fried cheese curds, pond hockey. In that order.

What sparked your interest in Africa?

I went to small college without an Africanist historian so I did not have any opportunity to study African history as an undergrad. Luckily, my advisor assigned some of Philip Curtin’s work on the Atlantic world in an American historiography class. Curtin, as many know, was one of the founders of the African Studies Program at UW-Madison. That led me to start reading African history books (and a lot of African literature as well) on my own. It was not long before I started thinking about going to graduate school to study African history.

How did you first hear about/get involved with the African Studies Program on campus?

My first year in Madison Jan Vansina gave the Africa at Noon lecture of the year—as he did for decades. That has a way of drawing people into the room. Initially, I attended the usual ASP programs, weekly Africa at Noon lectures, the annual spring conference, etc. In the more recent past, I became considerably more involved with ASP when I started working as the outreach coordinator, which I did until the end of May this year.

Tell us about your current research.

I study the coast of East Africa and the Indian Ocean world, but I am most interested contexts where East Africans turned away from or rejected the cosmopolitan cultures of the Indian Ocean. I am currently writing about Mijikenda-speaking communities in the hinterlands of Mombasa, Kenya. Mombasa is a global port city and has been a nexus in Indian Ocean exchange networks for the last millennium. But the historical decisions of communities immediately adjacent to Mombasa defy the neo-evolutionary logic that characterizes most studies of the region. Mijikenda communities intentionally shrunk the size of their settlements at the same moments their Swahili neighbors urbanized, they pioneered important long-distance trade routes in eastern Africa, but participated very selectively in maritime commerce, and they were very receptive to the ritual knowledge of outsiders, but completely rejected Islam. All despite living just kilometers from a global port city. It is a history of global dissonance if you will.

What is one of your most vivid memories from your fieldwork in Kenya?

My very first time in Kenya, back in 2009, I had the chance to accompany the National Museums of Kenya’s forest conservation unit to put up signs to designate a brand-new UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was an ecological heritage site, patches of indigenous coastal forest called kayas, which are considered “sacred grove” forests. The kayas also happened to be the topic of the MA thesis research I was conducting at the time. At one of the kayas (Kaya Kambe) the elder men in charge of the forest tried to use the UNESCO sign to solve a local land dispute. They attempted to convince the National Museums that the sign should go next to a farm plot, rather than the kaya forest itself, thereby placing the field under their jurisdiction. It turned into a huge argument and by the end a few hundred people had gathered around us to witness the people from the National Museums and kaya elders argue about land rights. It was a big “aha” moment in my thesis research, which was about the political invocations of the kaya forests. I have traveled back to that same area a number of times in the years since and people still talk about the incident.

What advice would you give students who are interested in studying Africa?

Study an African language and then go and study or visit the place where that language is spoken. There is probably no better university in the U.S. to study an African language than UW-Madison.

What would you like to do after you finish your dissertation?

After I finish my dissertation and hit “submit” (to send it off to rest in Memorial Library’s electronic dissertation database) I would like to throw on some running shoes and head into my backyard mountains in Missoula, Montana.

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Africa in Our Lives: Kweku Brewoo

i May 25th No Comments by
Kweku Brewoo is a recipient of a 2017 University Staff Award. As part of the University Staff Congress, Brewoo contributes to improving campus climate for all members of the UW-Madison community. These efforts come to life through events and programming like Africa Liberation Day, scheduled for May 30, 2017.

Field of study: Environmental Sociology

Hometown: Accra, Ghana

What brought you to Madison?

I came to Madison at a young age. My father was pursuing his PhD degree here at UW-Madison. I have grown up in this wonderful city since then.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

I enjoy staying active and busy whenever possible; and I’m a big fan of Anime.

What has been a highlight of your time at UW-Madison?

A highlight of my time at UW-Madison was graduation. To have graduated from a prestigious university such as UW-Madison is an amazing feat. However, sharing my achievements with classmates, friends, and my mentors across campus was the icing on the cake.

Kweku Brewoo, financial specialist in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is pictured in his office in the Education Building on April 4, 2017. Brewoo is a recipient of a 2017 University Staff Award. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

Tell us about your role in the University Staff Congress.

I served as representative of district 104. My goal was to better understand the workings of the university and help make the voices of my constituents heard on issues that were important to them.

What are some initiatives you have worked in the University Staff Congress?

Discrimination in the workplace was a big topic tackled by congress. Representatives voiced the concerns of their district and worked to find resources and effective processes to address the problem. I was happy to be a part of these discussions because I believe every member of the university should feel safe no matter where they are at.

What should the campus look forward to during the Africa Liberation Day celebration this month?

I am most excited to hear from Fabu Phillips. I have had the opportunity to listen to Fabu on several occasions, and it is always a delight to hear this poet laureate. Moreover, I am excited to see University members of all backgrounds come together in community and learn about one another.

Why is the celebration of freedom in Africa important?

The celebration of freedom is important everywhere. But specifically to the continent of Africa, it’s important because it commemorates the perseverance of the African nations, and their will to overcome hardships and move forward. As the former President of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah once said, “freedom is not something that one people can bestow on another as a gift. They claim it as their own and none can keep it from them.” I think this is especially important when celebrating this day, and understand that it is through our will and perseverance that we all become free.

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Africa in Our Lives: AliBaba Sanchi

i May 24th No Comments by
Field of study: English language and Linguistics.

Hometown: Sokoto, Nigeria

What brought you to Madison?

I am here as a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant and a Cultural Ambassador to share the language and culture of the Hausa people here at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

What is your favorite activity to do in Madison?

Well, I guess it would have been more fun if I had had students to teach. But all the same I enjoyed the outreach programs I engaged in because it afforded me the opportunity of meeting people/students and talking to them about Hausa language and culture. Each time I gave presentations, I pretended not to understand English so as to teach my audience how to greet and introduce themselves in Hausa and only after they had introduced themselves would I speak English. The expression I got from them each time was just priceless.

International Night at Hamilton Middle School

What inspired you to apply to be a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA)?

There are only few English language teachers in north-west Nigeria, and most of them are not interested in traveling this distance or to another part of the world. In July 2014, a student I taught at the undergraduate level returned to Sokoto after he had completed the Fulbright FLTA program at the University of Indiana, Bloomington. When I met him, he told me about the program and encouraged me to apply, telling me how important it was to tell the world about Hausa language and culture. That meeting prompted my application for the Fulbright FLTA program and I got selected, after a rigorous screening, to participate in the program in the year 2016.

Why do you think students should study Hausa?

Hausa is the third most widely spoken language in Africa, after Arabic and Swahili. This is because the language is spoken in more than 10 countries in Africa with a significant number of speakers in each country. Learning the language is thus gaining access to the culture of the many people who use the language on the continent. Also, our world today is multilingual, multicultural in nature and having the knowledge or speaking more than one or two languages brings opportunities to the present competitive job market.

Furthermore, research over the years has shown that people who speak more languages have more competence in their native languages. This is because, the ability of learning a second language and its cultural values and traditions opens up the mind of the learner to the power of language, enriching and exposing them to various cultural background, traditions, tribes and race found in various regions across the world.

How has speaking multiple languages impacted your life?

Obviously, I would not have had the opportunity of participating in the Fulbright program if all I knew was to speak, write and read only Hausa. Learning the English language has opened to me this great opportunity, I must admit that I have learned a lot from this experience: I have interacted with more than 400 other Fulbrighters from all over the world; I have attended classes with American students and have made some friends that I will always cherish; I have been taught by American professors who are some of the best in their fields. Even more, I have had the opportunity to enhance my use of English, and I am sure my community in Nigeria will be the better for all these I have gained.

AliBaba talking to students on World Thinking Day

What have you learned about yourself or about Nigeria from teaching to an American audience?

For me, I have come to understand my strength and weakness in the teaching profession. In terms of teaching, I have learnt an entirely different approach to language teaching. At first, it was difficult for me because I was taught by a different method, the same method I had been using for the past 13 years. Here, I have learned what I would deem a more effective approach to language teaching.

What would you like to do next year after finishing your Fulbright FLTA?

I plan to continue to search for knowledge. I love building young minds, and that is why I took to teaching immediately after my undergraduate studies, and to continue to fit well in such a career, you need to continuously learn new teaching trends.

What activities, foods, or places would like to experience before the end of the school year?

I have helped myself to some delicious American foods, although they are mostly too sweet. And who would come to the United States and not visit Hollywood, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and New York? Not me, definitely.

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Africa in Our Lives: Sam Landes

i May 22nd No Comments by

“Morocco” by Victor via Flickr

Sam Landes is recent UW-Madison graduate. He has a certificate in African Studies and studied abroad in Morocco during the 2015-2016 academic year. 

Major: History

Field of Study: 20th Century History

Hometown: Pittsfield, Massachusetts

What brought you to Madison?

I wanted to leave the east coast, and go somewhere where I wouldn’t know anyone. I had toured several schools in the midwest, but loved Madison almost immediately upon arrival. To be honest, it was the city much more than the university that captivated me. I wanted to be somewhere with good music, good food, and a reasonable amount of nature around me, and Madison delivered those things.

Were you interested in Africa before coming to UW-Madison?

Indirectly. One of my interests at that time I graduated high school had been studying the histories of countries that had suffered from European colonization, a list which obviously includes many African nations.

How did you decide to study Arabic?

Having grown up around people who believed in varying degrees of Zionism, I had been presented an image of the Arab World that often times was ill informed, simplistic, or offensive. I wanted to learn Arabic so that I could talk to people from that world directly, and no longer rely on outsider perspectives and misinformation to paint a picture of Arabs and Arab culture.

Have you studied abroad? If so, where? Would you recommend it to other students? What was your favorite part of your study abroad experience?

I spent my junior year studying in Fez, Morocco, an experience I would suggest to anyone, especially those studying Arabic. The best part about my experience was the constant stream of challenges to my worldview and lifestyle living in Morocco. Where do I go to get vegetables? Who do I talk to on the street if I need help? How do I navigate these social cues I have no experience with? What does it mean to be a conscious consumer in a foreign country, and moreover, am I conducting myself with respect for the people, culture, and spaces of that country? Learning to ask these questions and answer them honestly probably was the most valuable thing studying abroad taught me.

What is your most vivid memory from the time you spent in Africa?

My most vivid memory of being in Africa is of a train ride my friend and I took along the northern coast of Morocco on the way to Tangier. As we moved farther north, the land got greener, and grassier, and we got occasional glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean out of the train window. After spending so much time in Fez, which is surrounded by brown, rugged, rock strewn hills, seeing that green was such a relief.

What is the most interesting thing you learned while you were abroad?

The most interesting thing I learned abroad is undoubtedly Darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. It gets a lot of flack for being very far from its parent language, but is fascinating in so many ways. It draws linguistic elements from European languages like Spanish, French, and English, but also from the dozens of languages spoken by the Amazighi peoples, who lived in North Africa long before the Arabs invaded from the east. It is beautiful, fun to speak, and dynamic.

What are you reading now?

Right now I am reading The Kaiser’s Holocaust, a book about the German colonization efforts in Namibia, which resulted in the mass slaughter of the Herero and Nama peoples. It also discusses how many of the tactics used by the Germans in Namibia would later influence the men who perpetrated the Holocaust.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Consider other possibilities. This advice was given to me by Wyl Schuth, my TA from one of the classes in my Freshman Interest Group, Rock, Soul, and the Sixties. Put another way? Don’t accept the reality you’ve been given– fight for a better tomorrow for yourself, and for everyone around you.

If you could give potential freshman one piece of advice before going to Madison, what would it be?

Take classes that you think will be interesting! Don’t limit yourself to your requirements! Learn about the subjects that speak to you!

What was the most surprising part about college?

The thing that surprised me the most about college was the discovery that I can handle myself in times of intense stress. When the time came to write ridiculous amounts of pages, or to keep my cool when my travel plans went horribly wrong, or to cram for tests in subjects I knew little about, I was able to step up and do what had to be done. It was not an easy road, and there were certainly times when everything very nearly blew up in my face, but I made it through, and am a much more confident person because of it.

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Africa in Our Lives: Brad Paul

i Apr 17th No Comments by
Brad Paul’s field diaries have taken him across Mozambique and Ethiopia to study working life and the on-the-ground impacts of international development projects. He shares his favorite travel experiences and advice to students in this AFRICA IN OUR LIVES.

Field of Study: History
Hometown: Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; grew up mostly in Maitland, Florida

“Most projects rely heavily on collecting quantitative data… I believe one-on-one interviews, group discussions, personal journaling, community photo documentation and other forms of ‘on the ground’ chronicling can tell us an equally important story.” -B. Paul (Submitted photo)

What brought you to Madison?

My family and I moved here two years ago after spending the previous eight years in Maputo, Mozambique. It was a very difficult decision to leave Maputo, but we decided it was time to be closer to family and my wife has roots here. She is from Fond du Lac, WI, and is also a UW-Madison graduate.

What inspired your interest in Africa?

For as long as I can remember I have been interested in Africa. The reasons may have changed over the years, but it has been a constant since childhood. Africa always seemed to attract less popular attention, so I wanted to find out why. In some respects, my academic research and professional work has been organized around this question. I am interested in comparative history; for example, industrialization and the emergence of segregation in South Africa and the American South at roughly simultaneous junctures. For the most part, however, I am mainly interested in everyday life and what we share as people regardless of where we come from. My colleagues and friends, whether from Mozambique, Malawi, or Madison, like to watch sports, spend time with their family, or enjoy a beer. Whatever is on the passport, we are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends. Yet, we have complex and different histories. Discovering these commonalities and differences is exciting and worth the time to understand and pull together.

Tell us about your favorite travel experience.

Tough one. So many. Visiting the village (Sergoit, Kenya) my wife, Tina Lloren, lived in during the Peace Corps was pretty powerful. The mayor, the school headmaster, the faculty, and the entire student body welcomed us and showed us their new chemistry lab, which they named after Tina!; Traveling throughout the “cashew triangle” of Mozambique; Visiting Robben Island; watching a giraffe just casually cross our path while on my first safari in Kruger National Park; Outside of Africa, living in Greece for a year as a kid and later, as an adult, traveling to Cuba and the former Yugoslavia were pretty remarkable.

An image of “Brad’s bar” in Mozambique, named for his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts. (Submitted photo)

What led you to study work culture in Mozambique?

My academic background is in labor history, so I have long been interested in issues of workplace organization, trade unions, and economic and social life. And, my work in Mozambique presented a good opportunity to pursue some of these themes in a variety of settings, including cashew factories, community maize mills, among soy farmers, chili growers, and in coconut and tree nurseries. I was the research director of an NGO that provided services to smallholder farmers and rural wage earners. The NGO had a very gifted group of agricultural and business advisors, but often struggled when it came to understanding a particular project’s influence on everyday life. There were consequences- mostly positive, but some negative- that often escaped the balance sheet. My emphasis on looking at work- something most everyone is engaged in at some level- hopefully gave us a fuller understanding of the communities in which we were operating.

Tell us a bit about your current research.

I have just completed a study of three malt barley grower cooperatives in Ethiopia. Then idea was to better understand what happens when small farmers’ embrace commercialization. In this case, the cooperatives have contracts with a multi-national liquor company that is sourcing its barley from Ethiopia. My work is less concerned with the specific economic indicators, although these are terribly important, and more with how daily life is adjusted to accommodate the time and material demands of market-based agriculture. I have also been working with the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) here on campus to develop some qualitative research and oral history projects centered on the issue of land tenure in Wisconsin farm communities.

How did you come up with the idea for your Field Diaries project?

In my experience, within the world of international development there is a tendency to minimize the value of qualitative research in measuring a program’s effectiveness. Instead, most projects rely heavily on collecting quantitative data as measured against a set of pre-determined indicators. I’m interested in promoting a different evaluation approach. I believe one-on-one interviews, group discussions, personal journaling, community photo documentation and other forms of “on the ground” chronicling can tell us an equally important story. Field Diaries are one way to do this. They are simply daily journals, recorded by project participants, which provide useful information about habits, customs, recreation, work and social life of farmers, workers, managers, and community members alike. Field Diaries can be read and interpreted in multiple ways. For me, the interest is on working life. But in the hands of another writer, from another discipline, the final product might look quite different with respect to key themes and findings. I’ve always loved the oral histories of Studs Terkel and the kind of field research done by someone like the anthropologist James Scott, so I think Field Diaries in just another form of pulling these ideas together. The approach has always been there, but perhaps the application to international development work makes them somewhat unique.

What are the most-thumbed books on your bookshelf?

Walter Rodney, History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905; Charles Van Onselen, The Seed is Mine: The Life of Kais Maine, a South African Sharecropper, 1894-1985; C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South; Studs Terkel, Working; Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men; E.P. Thompson, History of the English Working Class; Currently, John Higginson, Collective Violence and the Agrarian Origins of South African Apartheid, 1900-1948.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in studying Africa?

Do it! After Asia, Africa is home to the largest percentage of the world’s population; the continent has shown positive economic growth in recent years; it is urbanizing at a rapid rate, but remains an important bread basket; and the history, literature, music, and popular culture is incredibly rich, and for most westerners, at least, largely unknown. If you are not from Africa, time to learn. If you are African, learn more!

Profile produced by Kyra Fox.

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Africa in Our Lives: Karin Barber

i Apr 7th No Comments by
Karin Barber knew she wanted to study Africa when she first set foot in Uganda as a recent high school graduate. Since then, her study of African popular culture, religion, and verbal arts has spanned the continent, most recently focusing on Nigeria for a project on early Yoruba print culture. We look forward to hearing her keynote address this weekend at PLEASURE AND THE PLEASURABLE in Africa and the African Diaspora.

“Creativity, imagination and invention are pleasurable – and these are the hallmarks of African life on the ground, no matter how dire the circumstances.” -K. Barber (submitted photo)

Field of study: African Cultural Anthropology
Hometown: I don’t really have a hometown as my parents were abroad when I was born and I grew up in several places (Sweden, Northern Ireland, Yorkshire). But I have lived in Birmingham UK for the last 30 years so I guess that’s the nearest thing.

What sparked your interest in Africa?

After finishing high school, I did Voluntary Service Overseas (the UK counterpart to Peace Corps) and was posted to Uganda. From the moment I set foot on the tarmac of Entebbe Airport I knew my future was sealed.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

I’m a secret playwright. During the years that I taught Yoruba language and culture at the University of Birmingham I wrote and directed 11 or 12 plays in Yoruba – performed by my language students each year. Some years we were invited to take the play on tour to African Cultural Associations and schools and colleges around the country. The plays usually featured the trickster character Tortoise (ijapa) – the tortoise-shell costume was made by my late mother, who was an even bigger theatre enthusiast than I am – and also a Skeleton, a Snake, a Babalawo, several Chiefs, and one year we even had an Ostrich in pink tights who entered to the sound of bagpipes. It was amazing fun.

What is your most vivid memory from the time you spent in Nigeria?

I was there for 11 years, so the memories relate to a big chunk of my life. In Okuku, where I spent three years doing my first fieldwork: on a tranquil early evening after a rainstorm, threading my way through the golden laterite paths between compounds, with woodsmoke rising and the sound of pestle and mortar. On my first trip with the Oyin Adejobi Theatre Company, terrified half to death as I stepped onto the stage in front of an incredibly exuberant crowd. At the University of Ife, where I taught in the Department of African Languages and Literatures: eager, attentive, responsive students with vast repertoires of Yoruba orature at their disposal (one student, a poet, wrote his essays entirely in proverbs). Getting to know wonderful, creative people: among them the writers Akinwumi Isola and Oladejo Okediji, the artists Muraina Oyelami and Agbo Folarin, media poets Tunbosun Oladapo and Lanrewaju Adepoju, actor, playwright, poet and satirist Jimi Solanke… and many, many more. It was a privilege to be in that environment.

Tell us a little bit about your current research.

I have just completed a short history of African popular culture, which will be published by Cambridge University Press. This is an attempt to trace transformations in popular creativity across the continent, from as early as the seventeenth century up to the present day, and to understand how popular genres were created in response to changing social, political and economic circumstances. Now that I have finally managed to let this project go, I’m turning back to an archival project I’ve been working on for some years: a study of early Yoruba print culture, looking at Yoruba-language newspapers, pamphlets and books from around 1880 to around 1930. It’s deeply absorbing and reminds me every day how huge the field of Yoruba textuality is, and what a great pleasure it is to add a little more to the very little that I already know.

What subjects or topics do you most enjoy teaching and why?

I always enjoyed teaching Yoruba language and culture because it was intensive and because at the end of each lesson the students were conscious of knowing more than when they came in. They had to overcome their inhibitions and be willing to risk plunging into the unknown. This released incredible energies. The classes were punctuated by gales of laughter and the students bonded with each other, sometimes permanently so that they continued to call each other by their Yoruba names years after graduation. I also enjoyed teaching a course on African popular culture, especially at graduate level, because the material is so fascinating and so many genres have been brilliantly documented and analysed by scholars.

What would you tell students who are debating whether or not to study Africa?

“Out of Africa, new things are always appearing”. This is a highly diverse continent, constantly producing the unexpected, a place of originality, and a place where there is just so much to be studied and understood. People will also be very kind to you. Go there once and you will debate no longer.

Why is the study of pleasure in Africa and the African diaspora important?

Because creativity, imagination and invention are pleasurable – and these are the hallmarks of African life on the ground, no matter how dire the circumstances. External views of Africa, especially by media and policy makers, tend to emphasise crisis, disease, dysfunction, destitution on the one hand, and the fragility of “remote” and “exotic” cultures on the other. These are undoubtedly serious challenges that need action. But people’s lives are more than the crises they live through. The resilience and creativity of everyday life might be a good starting point for understanding what is involved in dealing with adversity and building a fulfilling life.

Give us a teaser for your presentation at PLEASURE AND THE PLEASURABLE in Africa and the African Diaspora.

There’s an infallible source of pleasure which is available everywhere in Africa and the diaspora. It’s absorbing, participatory, can be indulged in anywhere, and is free of charge! What is it? It’s language.

Visit the conference website to learn more about PLEASURE AND THE PLEASURABLE in Africa and the African Diaspora.

Profile produced by Kyra Fox.

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Africa in Our Lives: Adélékè Adéẹ̀kọ́

i Mar 31st No Comments by
PLEASURE AND THE PLEASURABLE in Africa and the African Diaspora presenter Adélékè Adéẹ̀kọ́ is no stranger to African literature. From exploring the verbiage of spell casting to the role of orature in slave rebellions, Dr. Adéẹ̀kọ́ shares his expertise on the study of pleasure in Africa.

“It’s about time that Africana Studies owns up to pleasure.” -A. Adéẹ̀kọ́ (Submitted photo)

Field of study: Literatures (Anglophone African, Yorùbá, African American, post-1900 Lit Theory)
Hometown: Pickerington (Ohio, USA); Ìjẹ̀bú-Imuṣin (Nigeria)

How did you first become involved in the study of African literature?

I had the fortune of being introduced to serious literary studies at Nigeria’s University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) by teachers who insisted that literatures bear social responsibilities that the critic is duty bound to unravel and disseminate.

What is the most-thumbed book on your bookshelf?

It’s a toss up between D. O. Fagunwa’s Ògbójú Ọdẹ Nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀ and Isidore Okpewho’s The Epic in Africa.

What has been the most exciting moment in your academic career so far?

When my daughter came home after her first day in middle school and said her Language Arts teacher said she was my former student.

Tell us a little bit about your current research.

Reading up heavily on animism and language for the purpose of writing a book on speech acts in poetry. I hope to be able to correlate earnest written poems about social insurgency and verbal elements of incantations, spell casting, divination, panegyrics, and other ordinarily “magical” uses of words.

What subjects or topics do you most enjoy teaching and why?

At the present time, that will be topics in Afropolitanism. Conceiving and teaching this literary slogan as an aspect of contemporary World Literature enables me to teach how Africans inhabit the world and the world exists for Africans.

What would you tell students who are debating whether or not to study Africa?

What are you waiting for? You cannot have a better standpoint for understanding the world.

Why is the study of pleasure in Africa and the African Diaspora important?

It’s about time that Africana Studies owns up to pleasure. Need I say more?

Give us a teaser for your presentation at PLEASURE AND THE PLEASURABLE in Africa and the African Diaspora.

If death’s sting hurts so much, why do the living find so much pleasure and purpose in funerals!

Registration is now open for PLEASURE AND THE PLEASURABLE in Africa and the African Diaspora! Visit the conference website to learn more and register.

Profile produced by Kyra Fox.

Click here to view more “Africa in Our Lives” profiles.

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