What has been the most unexpected part of my experience as an African woman/student in the United States? - by Anthoinette Ba-Innimayeh
MY SWEET AND SOUR ALIENNESS
Upon receiving my visa in Ghana and finding out that I would be flying out to the United states in five days, it was all excitement and anxiety. Having experienced all my life what is usually referred to as “Murphy’s law” or “bearer of the guinea fowl head” in my culture, I was ready for anything that could possibly go wrong or right in reverse of the controversial “law”, even though I maintained my usual optimism as I embarked on the journey which will turn my life around dramatically. After landing in this country, the reception was warm, beautiful, and boosted my anticipation for a problem free stay. However, three major things flabbergasted me; the generosity of some people, the conflict of inequality, and the misinformation of the general public here about the part of the world where I hail from.
Firstly, I was awed by the bigheartedness and generosity of my three host families. The fact that they let me in their homes for free and took care of me like family. Friends of these families offered one or two forms of assistance as well in the form of warm clothes, school supplies, a new phone and paying for the bills and paying for conferences, trips and many more. I would never imagine getting this kind of generosity in my country. All of that created a comfort to my initial anxiety of how people will treat me. I am still awed every day when I think about how some people can open their hearts and home to a total stranger. I least expected that much but I am forever grateful to them for making my life easy.
However, it only took a few weeks to discover how dirty, or infectiously sick I was to some other people. The kindness I received earlier almost blinded me to the contrasting stigmatization of my nature (being black and African straight from the land). By being avoided and waved away like an insect, I worried about my ability to deal with that. I must reconcile with my inner pain and anguish to remember that I have been through worse. And, to try to focus on my big goal of achieving that for which I was brought out here to get. It was devastating to find that people would not rent out their places to me. Those who did spoke in a demeaning language to me, cheated me and called me derogatory names and titles in languages they never imagined I would understand.
Besides that, I am astonished to know how, misinformation, misunderstanding and the luck of realistic knowledge most people I have encountered have about cultures across Africa. People are still holding on to events and the knowledge of the 1800s and early 1900. forgetting that, a lot has happened since then and things have changed drastically. The over reliance on the Western media and misunderstanding from those who even took trips to parts of the continent is appalling. In October this year, I was invited by our social science department to deliver a lecture to over two hundred audience consisting of faculty and stuff members. During my lecture, people could not believe the facts and statistics I cited about my country Ghana. Basic things like pictures of the average Ghanaian amazed them. I imagine that people need to do more than just rely on the media because propaganda sells more than being honest in mass media.
Moreover, some of the most misinformed and hateful people I experienced are people of my very own kind- African Americans. I have been told things like “ y’all African smell, you don’t shower good…. our men don’t like y’all because y’all don’t do your hair or wear weaves and y’all don’t look pretty”. I refused to be offended because I know all these things being said are the least of my priorities but on second thought, why is this coming from my own kind?. Those, I will imagine are with us in this era of modern racism and inequality. Now to tackle the bigger picture of racism and inequality in this country, black people would have to do an internal cleaning before having any expectation of racial equality in regard to people of other skin coulors and us.
Over all, it has been sweet and sour as I would not have expected perfection anyway. I am glad that there are some people to look up to and appreciate being here because of their efforts to add beauty to being real humans in a world we share. As for the people making my stay here regrettable, I would say it is all right. After all, this world and this life was not meant to be perfect. I still have some more time to spend here it is my hope for grace and strength to be better than being a sadist to others when I could easily make a better impact. love wins always.
What has been the most unexpected part of my experience as an African woman/student in the United States? - by Anne Achieng
The question on gender inequality is predominantly narrowed down to the cultural aspect of African womanhood. Africa is the land where everyone know that women do not have control over their lives and the only role bestowed upon them is being a motherhood. Even beyond this huge responsibility, they still possess a lot of physical and emotional abuse. Even though some of this perceptions on women still exist in certain places, there has been a lot of development in Africa in terms of women advancement. I did not expect to see the same notions in America. There is still a huge insecurity among women in their potentials and abilities especially in the industry level.
I am working in a team of six students this summer as a software developer and it is really exciting. Within this team of six students, we are only two girls. The rest are men. I had not thought that one day I will be intimidated by the ego of men at a work place. While growing up in Kenya, I have never experienced an outright underestimation of a woman’s intellectual ability. In most high schools, even if they are mixed schools, girls always competed with boys in a fair ground without any degrading of a girl's potential. There are often girls who are smart in sciences and mathematics and I was a good example.
Women are not only less represented in the technological or any industry but are paid less compared to their male coworkers as studies has shown. In spite of hearing this in the news and social media, I had not fully grasped its reality. It only dawned on me during this summer internship. For instance, in most cases my male college are always hesitant team up with the two of us. Mainly because we are women.
I was quick to notice such a behavior because it was a shock to me. It was beyond my expectations as an international student. I am not implying that this crushed me as a woman. It was a wake-up call. To be a voice for other women. It does not matter whether I am a woman or a man, knowledge is to all. This had just happened after I attended a Women Undergraduate Summit with McKinsey Company and on that day I could see through the speakers that there is a huge leap that women have to take to ensure that they achieve their career dreams. On the their book, "How Remarkable Women Lead," Joanna and Susie shows that women two "could stand down their fears and gain the confidence, and single-mindedness to lead, without losing their warmth personal authenticity or creativity."
In summary, it was quite ironical that a lot has been achieved in the issue of gender discrimination but there is still a lot to accomplish starting from America.
In February 2010, I read a novel titled, “Grief Child”. It is written by a Ghanaian writer called Efo Kwadwo Mawugbe. I cried the whole day reading that book and putting myself in the shoes of the main character who suffered an unimaginable grief after losing his parents and suffering through abuse and unfairness. Even nature seemed so unfair to the main character in this novel. It tore my heart apart as I read the book. I could not imagine how I would survive such a life of grief and misery.
Later that year, events started to occur in my own life similarly to the book I read earlier. I still did not believe things could get that bad in my little life. After surviving through my own kind of the grief, abuse and hopelessness, I assumed I could help other people rise through their struggles by simply trying to give them hope by inspiring them using my personal experiences. It started when friends will tell me how strong I have been and that simply gave me more strength to fight on. Most of my friends will seek advice from me on issues going on in their life.
Eventually, I made it formal to help other young people by inspiring them to be thankful and chase their dreams even if there were obstacles that prevented them from pursuing them. When my goal seemed to be working somehow in Northern Ghana, I had a reason to not give up on my own life despite my daily challenges. I then decided that I will live on for others to get an inspiration to live and also help to make this shared world we live in a better place. I could have wasted my life by suicide or reckless living due to how bad my situation got, but I realized I could channel all that in a more positive way even if my struggles still give me heartaches.
Now, I have a reason to live for and to die for if that is what it takes to make other people's lives better. Until you become a victim of some kind of sufferance, you never know how important it is to survive, lend a hand or to have hope. Hope is one thing that can prevent future calamities or better still control them as they befall. As I stand on the balcony remembering all my tougher times, I appreciate all the little things that gave me hope. I see myself as a soldier, who will lead the battle against mental slavery, and seek justice for the underprivileged women and children in Ghana. Considering, how far I have come regardless of the forces that dragged me towards doom, everything is possible under this sun that lights up the earth.
I am very thankful for all the opportunities like meeting people who motivate and also inspire me. This makes my life more meaningful. Through the Peace Corps in Ghana and some volunteers, I have gained a lot more confidence and strength that the mission I put my life on can be made possible. It is more than awesome to have the Africa’s Tomorrow scholarship to help me achieve a more powerful weapon- a higher Education. Which I can use in the battlefront of empowerment, inspiration and giving hope to other underprivileged people especially women and children in my country Ghana.