Research post written by Cady Gonzalez (PhD Candidate, Anthropology)

I recently returned to the US after completing nearly 12 months of dissertation fieldwork in Ethiopia’s capital city as a Fulbright Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad fellow. My ethnographic research in Addis Ababa looks at an urban renewal initiative aiming to rehabilitate rivers and stimulate riverbasin economies that speaks as much to issues of managing urban growth and urban natures as it does the political project of state building. Like many of my colleagues and friends, I experienced a rushed and early departure due to the global public health pandemic. Fortunately, my research period was minimally impacted as my year abroad was coming to a close at the end of March.

I first came to Ethiopia in summer of 2016, on a Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship. At the time, I hoped to research among coffee growing communities in the south of the country, but language study requirements restricted me to the city. Being stuck in Addis Ababa meant that I had to completely rethink my research strategy, or in Erving Goffman’s words, I had to open myself up to any overture. What better way to do that then to brainstorm over a cup of traditionally prepared, strong Ethiopian coffee, called jebena buna? After a red-eye flight, I found myself sipping my first cup in a narrow urban green area, between a bustling city sidewalk and the towering wall of Addis Ababa University’s campus border. The enticing smell of roasting coffee and burning incense had lured me to this enclave, which one of its patrons later explained was a small public park built by the municipal government to provide pay-per-use toilet services along with refreshments. The object of study for my MA research remained coffee, but within the context of polluted streets rather than the foothills of high-altitude forests. I explored how the social life and hospitality of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony within the context of development projects, acted as a tool to govern bodies and bodily processes, namely open defecation.

Returning to Addis Ababa in Spring 2019, three years after the inauguration of the public toilets, I found the project changed. While the initiative attempted to tackle a myriad of sustainable development goals, its emphasis on sanitation had receded and the project’s governance was under transition from the water and sewage department to the city beatification and recreation authority. Underpinned by a desire to clean and green the dirtiest areas of Addis Ababa, the project would continue to be sustained by Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s focus on human-centered, green urban planning. Public toilets constructed along the river were swept up by his personal vision for river rehabilitation and the design, implementation, and conservation of urban-natures.

In other words, I found the city not just under construction, but also under renovation, and city residents were expected to take part. Sunday mornings were reserved monthly for neighborhood cleaning, car-free days were scheduled to reduce pollution and a national tree planting day in July aimed to set a world record for the number of saplings planted in 24 hours. Medians along highway corridors were beautified with clay flower pots and shrub trees. Tree removal during road construction resulted in pockets of land amidst construction zones converted into nurseries, where uprooted trees—from seedlings to mature canopies—were watered and nurtured through IV drips.

Although underway since the 1990s, Ethiopia’s urban cleaning and conservation projects have not unfolded according to any uniform logic. In Addis Ababa today, processes of greening, cleaning and caring are part and parcel to Dr. Abiy’s guiding political philosophy medemer—literally meaning to “add up” or to “add to.”  While medemer rhetorically espouses ideals of unity, love and care, its practices of discipline, eviction and taming undermine the social synergy it seeks to generate. Taking the public toilets and their green areas as my point of departure, I spent the year exploring the ways cleaning and caring for a home, city, and nation speak to double-edged processes of controlling others and “living together.”

I spent significant time “hanging-out” at public parks and riverside slums, wandering the hallways of municipal offices, and engaging with urban planners and architects. For the first six months of fieldwork, I walked or rode public transportation past the park above. While the chain-link fence was unlocked, I along with much of the neighborhood was skeptical about the terms of use. Was it open? Was it free? Was it safe? Very rarely was anyone inside; that was until one of the gardeners began to paint the concrete retention wall in a vibrant, geometric pattern.

Once attuned to color’s effects on urban-nature relations, I found the use of art as mirror, critique and provocation to be salient throughout the city due to the political emphasis on beautification. I leaned into my own artistic inclinations to also engage with designers and artists by way of design studios, art competitions and art educational programs—each of which held river rehabilitation, waste management and the design of urban-natures at their gravitational center.

What urban renewal means and entails today for Addis Ababa is fiercely debated and feeds into tension between new and old, and short- and long-term city residents; religious and ethnic groups; and municipal, regional and national governments. My research shows that it is critical for environmental and political stability to understand how urban-natures and their connected cleaning and greening campaigns, become a right, a source of anger or an object of manipulation and negotiation.

As I begin to revisit my fieldnotes and reflect on my winding research trajectories, my gratitude for my advisors, colleagues and friends is endless. Their encouragement to trust my instincts inspired and fueled creativity throughout the research process and when work felt stagnant, their insistence to “be a sponge” was reassuring. I am also so thankful to have had the support of the Center for African Studies, Fulbright Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program and UF International Center’s Office for Global Research Engagement throughout this research process. Without them, long-term fieldwork would not have been possible.

 

 

Research Post Written by Megan Cogburn (PhD Candidate, Anthropology)

For the past 8 months I have been in Tanzania completing a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research project. My ethnographic research focuses on maternal health governance and the pregnancy and childbirth care experiences of women in rural communities in the central Dodoma region of Tanzania. I am interested in the everyday maternity experiences of nurses, mothers, and wakunga wa jadi (local birth attendants), and how new global and national policies aimed at increasing facility deliveries intersect with their own care desires and practices. While my project was intended to end late March, I like many others, had to return from the field a bit early due to global public health concerns. Luckily, my project was close to its end and I have prior additional field research seasons to build from for my dissertation project.

I first came to Mpwapwa District in January of 2016, through a fellowship with the Transparency for Development Project. I lived in three different villages for 7 months, following community members’ experiences with an intervention aimed at improving maternal health indicators. One of the questions that emerged from this time was what happens to care when it becomes indicator-driven—what does that look like on different levels and in the lives of those giving and receiving care? From this research I wrote an article called, “Home birth fines and health cards in rural Tanzania: on the push for numbers in maternal health,” in press with Social Science & Medicine.

My Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Award supported my return to Mpwapwa in July 2019. I had 8 months to ethnographically explore what counts as care, when, why, and to whom, and with what intended and unintended consequences for the lives of women. I chose the village health dispensary— the lowest tier of the Tanzanian biomedical health system — as well as one district-level hospital and maternity waiting home, known locally as Chigonela, as my ethnographic sites. In addition to these facilities, I also sought to follow women’s experiences as they moved through different ‘middle spaces’ of care, which included the homes, churches, and public spaces of respected elders, wakunga wa jadi, and local healers.

Returning to the same field site 3 years later allowed me to document several changes. Many of which I observed at the health dispensary, where I spent numerous hours helping the nurse register pregnant women, record data, and administer testing. Women are supposed to arrive to the health dispensary early on in their pregnancies—as soon as one feels she is pregnant. They must arrive with their husbands so both can be tested for HIV and STIs, receive a mosquito net, and learn how to prepare for a facility delivery. Due to by-laws banning homebirths, women are not allowed to deliver at home with wakunga wa jadi. Many prefer birth at their local health dispensaries, though fewer and fewer are allowed to do so. This led me to explore the way the dispensary delivery has become the new ‘homebirth’ in interesting ways, leading to novel forms of confessional care at the health facility.

Not all women can access a desired dispensary birth. Commands to go to the district hospital materialize in the stars health workers, or at times, a visiting ethnographer, draw on the top of health cards for all first-time pregnant women, women who have had three or more pregnancies, or previous complications such as caesarean sections. These stars indicate that women must go the maternity waiting home to ensure a hospital delivery. This emphasis on place and temporality —a woman’s early arrival at the hospital—influence much of what counts in the making of ‘good care’ today. However, as women are left to care for themselves once at the maternity waiting home, these same axes of care (time and space) are called into question. The material realities of crowded beds and deteriorating infrastructure pose challenges to daily life at Chigonela, leaving many of its residents to wonder where care is located. The maternity waiting home thus becomes a site shaped by and shaping competing modes of good care and governance. It is a space that seeks to fashion rural, pregnant women into neoliberal, self-caring subjects, at the same time it assumes they cannot care for themselves and are in need of state intervention. The maternity waiting home emerges as a space to rethink traditional forms of governance, (re)imagining the bodies of poor, rural pregnant women, and how best to care.

One of the things I really enjoyed about my research, and its multi-sited focus, was the ability to be with, different women before, during, and after birth. Some of the women I would see at the maternity waiting home were friends or acquaintances from my time in the villages in 2016. I felt privileged to be able to share in the intimacy and joy that comes in meeting one’s infant for the first time. I was also able to visit many post-partum mothers at home, and conducted focus group discussions with women who had been together at the maternity waiting home and delivered at the hospital.

My experience as a researcher in Tanzania was shaped by my own identity as a mother. I am now the mother of two young children. This has added to the complexities of planning and negotiating fieldwork abroad but has also provided my family with amazing memories and new experiences for learning and growth. Some highlights were watching the smiles on my children’s faces when the blue and pink school bus would arrive in the morning and taking long evening hikes together. Before my older son left Mpwapwa, he said that the two things he would miss most are the mountains and stationary shops—the latter of which he frequented more for candy and socializing than pencils or books. Isolating with my children at home now, I am even more grateful for the time and freedom they had in Mpwapwa, and the amazing community who welcomed and sustained us there.

In my unique position as a mother and scholar on maternal health, I have come to value the importance of being open about my experiences with motherhood and scholarship. Final products of research are often missing the mundane, lived experiences of researchers themselves—even though these experiences inherently mold the work we do. Some might think that my position as a mother allows me greater access to the research topics of pregnancy and birth—which it can and does. But, at the end of the day, conducting research as a mother inherently means time away from my children while others provide essential care work so I can carry out the tasks at hand. There are so many mixed emotions that go into these logistics—none of which are unique to me. I think these experiences should be valued more in our writing and reflection as scholars, for the research we do never occurs in a vacuum devoid of our emotions, social ties, and responsibilities. During research, I wonder how our ethnographic care not only reflects our academic training (methods and theoretical underpinnings), but the people we care for in our day to day lives both in and out of the field.

I am so thankful to have had the support of the Center for African Studies and my wonderful advisor and committee members throughout this process. I am also thankful to my friends here at UF, fellow graduate students who have offered me unconditional support and encouragement. One even volunteered her time and resources to help me and my children move to Mpwapwa and lived with us there for a month. The phrase “it takes a village” sounds trite, but collaboration and collaborative practice is key to unmasking powerful hierarchies and making space in the academy for women and caregivers, as many feminist scholars have shown. I believe that collaborative practice can be as simple as a WhatsApp group, such as the one I shared with two of my grad school friends here at UF, both of whom were in Africa conducting research this last year. For over a year, we messaged each other daily, checking in on our research and personal progress, sharing ethnographic vignettes, images, hardships and humor. Our WhatsApp group is not just a testimony to friendship—and perhaps, boredom— but to what ethnography is and might become as we move forward in the 21st century, when, by coming together, we can better care not only for the research process, but for each other.

 

Africa Museum Night: Beyond the Mask

On Thursday February 13, the Harn Museum of Art hosted Africa Museum Night: Beyond the Mask. The event provided attendees with the opportunity to make jewelry, try on kente cloth, visit various booths relating to African Studies, and view exhibitions inspired by artists from across Africa. The event also included a panel discussion, family activity, and reception for The Spiritual Highway: Religious World Making in Megacity Lagos, an exhibit featuring the photographs of award-winning photographer Akintunde Akinleye (Carleton University) that capture the fervor of Muslim and Christian practice in Lagos, Nigeria. Mr. Akinleye spoke about his work along with Dr. Marloes Janson (SOAS, University of London), the organizer of the project.

Kente Demonstration

Kente cloth is made from silk and cotton yarns interwoven into strips. These strips are finally joined together on the longer side to achieve the desired length of cloth. Colors, symbols (adinkra), shapes, and other designs can be woven into the kente. The kente cloth is very unique to Ghana.  It is worn typically on important occasions like marriage ceremonies, festivals, graduation ceremonies and the inauguration of presidents. In recent years, the kente is used as academic stoles during graduation ceremonies.

Felicity Tackey-Otoo gave a presentation and demonstration on the kente. Guests were able to come to her stand to watch and participate in the demonstration of the kente cloth. She built two 6x7ft high backdrops and hanged kente print fabrics as the backdrop fabric. The set up was beautifully done and decorated with Ghanaian stools, little drum and calabash shakers.

Ebenezer Tackey-Otoo and Kofi Asabere Asare helped to build the set-up, erect the backdrops for the photo sessions. Ebenezer and Kofi also taught the men how to wear the one-piece cloth and the ladies were taught how to wear the one-piece wrappers and glass beads. Felicity was dressed in kente cloth with glass beads on her neck and wrist. She also added gold trimming as her head, arm and ankle bands. Guests as the museum also tried on the various attires.

She also answered questions related to clothing and textiles dressing in Ghana. The guests were very enthusiastic and wanted to know more about Ghana and very excited about the photo sessions we had s part of the demonstration.

Kente Demonstration Recap Written by Felicity Tackey-Otoo

The Center for African Studies welcomes James Inedu-George, who joins the Center as Architect-in-Residence over the next few weeks. Inedu-George currently works as Architect and Head of Design Services for HTL Africa, Lagos. He is a Mega City Architect, and believes in the positivity of the mega city especially because of the unconventional uses that have architectural consequences. His work also centers on capturing the spirit of African cultures and re-engineering this same spirit into the conceptualization of future (African) megacities. This includes the mining of new typologies of architecture and building from the unconventional uses of todays Mega Cities and traditional African Cities. Currently, he is studying Dogon culture and architecture. In the past, his firm has used Hausa traditions and Architecture as an influence. Inedu-George also seeks to establish how contemporary African architecture can be recognized and valued for its contributions on a global scale. HTL wants to build new forms of Mega City as catalysts to improve the older cities and economics of the day.

As CAS Architect-in-Residence, Inedu-George will give a lecture on February 10 at 6:15pm in 103 FAB, titled, “Nothing Nowhere.” The lecture draws on his studies of Dogon culture and tradition. He will use the lecture to unpack some of the 366 sacred symbols of the Dogon in the context of architecture and design. These symbols are believed to have been left to the Dogon people by their spiritual ancestors and are notable for their connections to modern concepts in cosmology and science.

His residency will also result in the design and construction of a pavilion structure in the University as a mirror for a similar Pavilion to be constructed by students at Cedar Key. This project will attempt to merge the architectural ideas and philosophies of UF faculty and students with those of Inedu-George and his firm. Still in its preliminary stages of planning, Inedu-George intends for the structure to be semi-permanent and mobile. More details to come on how to visit the structure once it is complete.

Follow HTL Africa (@htlafrica) or James Inedu-George (@jymsig) on Instagram.

Martina Onyenwe is a 3rd year Public Health and International Studies dual degree student.  She has a minor in International Development and Humanitarian Assistance as well as a certificate in Geospatial Information Analysis. Martina’s interest in the Center developed because of her passions and heritage, but blossomed as a result of the incredible faculty that she has had the pleasure of meeting and taking courses with. She is excited to guide fellow undergraduate students that are interested in African Studies by having conversations with them about what the discipline entails and the plethora of resources located right here on the University of Florida’s campus.

Martina sustains a focus on West Africa regarding development in health systems delivery, particularly in Nigeria. She will be graduating in May of 2020 and hopes to attend graduate school in Europe to gain a non-US perspective of public health and international development. Her ultimate career goal is to return to her home country, Nigeria, in order to spearhead sustainable, community-involved development in the rural areas of the southeastern region. Before that, she wants to work for a prominent non-governmental organization that works in West Sub-Saharan Africa such as the Aliko Dangote Foundation or the World Health Organization, developing unique solutions to public health and development issues alike.

Savannah Hall is a third year anthropology student, currently focusing her studies on zooarchaeology. She has studied Kiswahili at the University of Florida since her first semester, and continues to cultivate an interest in EastAfrican archaeological research. As a student ambassador for the Center for African Studies, she is excited to spread awareness about the plethora of options that the Center offers prospective students.

In 2017, Savannah traveled to East Africa with Yale University to further her Kiswahili studies. During these travels and with assistance from the UF Center for African Studies, she also conducted research comparing the portrayal of African women in literature to the experiences of modern Tanzanian women. Currently, she is working in the Florida Museum’s Environmental Archaeology department. Her time spent studying and researching in East Africa as well as in UF’s African Studies and Archaeology programs have helped to solidify her career goals. She continues today to co-run the UF Kiswahili table, offering assistance to lower level Kiswahili students.

Upon graduating in 2020, Savannah plans on working short term as an archaeological field technician before ultimately continuing her studies at the graduate level. Without limiting her future opportunities and interests within archaeology, she does hope to eventually partake in East African zooarchaeological and ethnoarchaeological research.

Mandisa Haarhoff graduated this semester with a Ph.D. in English Literature. She became involved in the Center for African Studies through her committee member, Professor Emeritus Dr. Hunt Davis. Dr. Agnes Leslie also connected Mandisa to the Center through the College for Kids Program at Santa Fe and the Teachers’ Institute. She used her artistic skills as a playwright, singer, and actress in these programs to engage kids. Mandisa noted that these outreach events were very critical in shaping her perception of the Center as a link between local communities and the university, as well as improving her education as an emerging teacher.

While at UF, Mandisa tried to stay involved with Center activities by going to Baraza lectures and other sponsored events. She was able to meet many visiting scholars in African Studies by attending events at the Center and strengthened her connections with other scholars from South Africa. Mandisa was a dedicated member of African Student Union (ASU), directing the annual ASU showcase in 2015 and also writing and directing showcase plays for four years.

In Fall 2017, Mandisa taught an undergraduate course in the Department of English that explored Blackness in the African Diaspora through American and South African Literature. The course, “Being and Blackness,” included readings by Achille Mbembe, Steve Biko, Desmond Tutu, Zakes Mda, Claudia Rankine, Paul Beatty, and Bessie Head.

Following graduation, Mandisa will be moving back to South Africa to be a faculty member in the English Department at University of Cape Town. She will be teaching African Literature and Culture. She hopes to continue being involved in community engagement at the University of Cape Town and also remain committed to interdisciplinary scholarship in the humanities through her work in the arts.

Mandisa encourages incoming students at UF to try to be involved in the many different programs and courses in African Studies so that they can be engaged with the community and other departments within the university.

 

CAS News Bulletin- Week of May 14, 2018 

Our own Programs and Communications Officer, Riley Ravary, will bid a eight-month farewell to the Center as she heads to Uganda for dissertation research on a Fulbright-Hays DDRA grant.

Riley’s research focuses on environmental governance on the Ugandan side of Mount Elgon National Park, a transboundary protected area between Kenya and Uganda. The two countries govern the park jointly, but as she learned during preliminary research, governance is carried out and experienced differently on either side of the border and at different institutional levels. Her primary aim is to understand how governance in and of transboundary protected areas impacts communities living near the protected area. While scholars have carried out institutional analyses on the park, Riley’s ethnographic approach will focus on the everyday experiences of the people living there, as well as those of the park rangers with whom residents often come into conflict. She will begin in Kampala, where she hopes to gain insight into the institutional structure of authority that governs the park on the Ugandan side. She will then move to Mbale and Bududa around the center of Mount Elgon and finally to Kapchorwa and Sipi in the northern region of Mount Elgon. Residents in some areas permitted to use non-timber forest resources, but the precise rules governing their access are often unclear or unknown.

This long-term research engagement will allow Riley access to the park that she has been unable to gain in the past and enable her to follow the people through their everyday movements as they negotiate resource access under Mount Elgon’s international governance structure. In addition to her research, Riley hopes to do a workshop on ethnographic methods on Mount Elgon at Makerere University. She will also immerse herself in the community of Ugandan scholars who study Mount Elgon; her research will thus develop out of shared insights. Riley looks forward to reinvigorating UF’s long affiliation with Makerere University and renewing our commitment to collaborative scholarship.

Guest Write Up by Netty Carey

Melody Mullally is a senior Undergraduate student in Anthropology, History, and Botany. In spring of 2017, she participated in the University of Florida’s study abroad program in Ethiopia, researching Stone Age archaeology with Dr. Steven Brandt. While visiting Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, she worked in the National Museum at Addis Ababa University. There, she studied Stone Age technology and experimental archaeology, tested theories about modern human dispersal, and managed lithic artifacts in a cultural resource context. While working in Sodo, a region in Southern Ethiopia, Melody familiarized herself with field sessions in African Archaeology and learned applications of Geographic Information System technology (GIS), excavation methodology, data assessment, and archival work. After the study abroad session came to a close, she travelled to Axum, Mekele, and Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia. There, Melody’s fascination with Ethiopia in general was solidified, and she began the complex process of learning about Ethiopia’s extensive and mysterious history.

Melody’s prospective post-graduate research centers on the examination of state formation of the pre-Aksumite and Aksumite era in Northern Ethiopia. She wishes to examine cultural and technological transmissions of this time period, between the Nile Delta, migrations and diffusions from across the Red Sea, and contacts with the Greco-Roman world, as these factors played an essential role in synthesizing the identity of Ethiopia within the archaeological record. She would like to employ elements of cognitive archaeology and ethnoarchaeology to assess state formation and increasing social complexities that contributed to the birth of the Aksum Empire.

Additionally, she Melody aims to employ archaeobotanical approaches, such as food production and agricultural complexity arising in conjunction with societal complexity in Northern Ethiopia. In tandem with researching the pre-Aksumite and Aksumite era, she is interested in community archaeology, community outreach projects in the Tigray region, and cultural resource management in general. She has also participated in a bioarchaeology project in Italy through the University of Pisa, and is currently president of the Ethnoecology Society at the University of Florida.

 

CAS News Bulletin- Week of April 16, 2018

Please join the Center in welcoming Raeann Meyerhoff, our new Administrative Support Assistant. Raeann is a recent University of Florida graduate and has a B.A. in International Studies with a focus on Latin America and the Caribbean. Raeann started out on an African Studies track as a freshman, and took Anthropology of Modern Africa with Dr. Kane. For the past year, Raeann has worked as a paraprofessional at Einstein School in Gainesville, aiding students with speech-based learning disabilities.

Raeann grew up in High Springs on the Sante Fe River, which has cemented her a lifelong interest in the environment. She hopes to enroll in the Florida Naturalist Program through University of Florida while working at the Center. This program is offered for professionals and adults interested in learning more about Florida’s natural environment. In the program, she would get to go on fieldtrips and learn about different ecosystems found throughout Florida.

Raeann also enjoys travelling, and she has traveled to South Africa, Peru, and Mexico. She has also visited most of the continental U.S. with her family on visits to state and national parks. Currently she is planning a trip to Japan and would like to go to Egypt in the future as well. She plays violin and guitar, and enjoys going to concerts, plays, and supporting the arts.

Stop by the Main Office soon to say hello!

 

CAS News Bulletin- Week of April 9, 2018