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Archive for the ‘Pre-travel’ Category

Calm Before the Storm

T minus 1 hour until Kevin Barry, Lauren Halloran, Cara Harshman, Keegan O’Neil, (a.k.a. four ex-University of Wisconsin-Madison students and proficient Yoruba speakers) and Moses Mabayoje, our resident director at the University of Ibadan, board a flight headed to Lagos, Nigeria. We have been in Washington D.C for the past three days attending our American Councils pre-departure orientation. Diplomats, doctors, security officials and Yoruba professors have imparted knowledge, a bit of fear, some laughs, and most of all overwhelming inspiration to our spirits. We were pampered with Indian, Lebanese, Mexican and Mexican food, heavenly hotel beds and the astonishing views of America’s capitol city. I certainly feel motivated to move there someday, hopefully with a job for the government (but not before I put my time in as a journalist).

Left to right: Moses (our resident director), Keegan 'Kolade' O'Neil, Atim George (Google her), Kevin 'Kolade' Barry, Lauren 'Abike' Halloran, me (Cara 'Titilayo' Harshman), Ashford (Program manager for African Language Flagship) Armine (Arabic and African Language Flagship Program Director), Stella Williams (Yoruba professor/scholar)

One of our workshop leaders, Atim George (you must Google her because it would take 500 words to do her life any justice) taught us lessons about Nigeria I never knew before. She told us that in Naija (what Africans call Nigeria), all things are possible and impossible. In order to understand Nigeria, you must accept paradox, she said.

As American students we will be seeing Nigeria through a different optic. People will run up to us and want to touch our skin to see if it hurts because they believe we used to have black skin but it peeled off. They will bombard Lauren because she is blonde. We are as ready as we can be for this. We wouldn’t have lasted this long if we weren’t flexible and open-minded.

So we are in for more than 20 hours of traveling, taking us to Frankfurt, Lagos for a night, then, our city: Ibadan–just 136 km north of Lagos. Thankfully we upgraded to economy plus…

See you all in Naija! O dabo!

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In hindsight, delay is a blessing

My closest friends and I at my campfire. I'm going to miss these girls.

On a recent drive back from Wisconsin, a close friend and I discussed the happiest times in our short lives–the times with the most sustained happiness. I reflected on the past 22 years. I can confidently say that I am generally a jovial, happy person. It takes a lot to get me down. The junior high years, high school, the first three years of college have all been great. I love my life. But the happiest period, I think I have to say this summer. People: new friends, old friends, family, made this summer the happiest time in my life so far.

Not going to Nigeria enabled me to see many of my friends and family I thought I wouldn’t see for a year and a half. So many new people entered my life this summer. It will be strange to not be with them for my senior year of college, but I am so thankful I had the opportunity to make memories with them. I got to go to Lollapalooza, a huge music festival in Chicago. I got to visit my dad in Austin, Texas. I got to go to New York City. Everything worked out for the best and now I am 2 days away from going to Nigeria!

I don’t know if I believe the saying, “everything happens for a reason,” but I am seriously happy with the way this summer turned out. It would have been good if I went to Nigeria in June, but being in Madison and Chicago was the best time of my life so far and I know it’s only going to get better from here.

The picturesque Chicago skyline from Grant Park during Lollapalooza.


A going away campfire in Madison, WI on one of my last nights there.

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Weekly Òwé

Proverbs are fundamental to the Yoruba language. Yoruba people use these poetic sayings –one or two lines of words– to convey a message with more meaning than a 30 minute conversation could accomplish. A proverb (òwé in Yoruba) can be used to give advice, give warning, express reproach or express compassion. Children start learning them from their parents, grandparents and school teachers when they are very young. Hundreds of Yoruba proverbs exist. I think they are all beautiful and fascinating to learn. When I get to Nigeria and start whipping out proverbs, believe me, the Nigerians will be astonished.

I love these proverbs so much that I am going to start posting a ‘Weekly Òwé’ for everyone to learn. They are all figurative. The literal meanings don’t really make sense, but that’s how Yoruba is. It is a poetic, figurative language, something that doesn’t suit literal translations well but makes it all the more fun to learn. So I hope you find meaning in each one as the weeks go by.

I chose the first one because I think it’s pertinent to the situation I’m in right now. Ki e gbadun òwé náà. first proverb

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It’s all happening.

After two months of waiting, deciphering confusing bureaucratic emails and gloating over the fact I would be in Madison–not Nigeria–next year, it turns out the trip is back on! I will be going to Nigeria for fall and spring semester this year. I leave my hometown of Chicago on September 5th for a two-day orientation  in Washington D.C., then ship out for Nigeria the night of September 8th.

I received this news in a quite nonchalant email from the President of American Councils in late July. Before posting the news here (for the whole world to see), I had to make sure it was real so I wouldn’t put everyone, including myself, through another emotional roller coaster…and it’s true.

Essentially what happened is UW decided not to sponsor the program after commissioning an investigation into University of Ibadan which turned out positive. Gary Sandefur, one of the UW Deans overseeing this whole situation, had a letter drafted to send us students in the program saying that the report came out positive and UW would support our study abroad program there. He sent this letter out to other UW staff involved and magically, overnight, the letter turned negative, claiming the report said Ibadan was not safe enough and we could not go under UW auspices. That is the email I received mid-July, to be followed up with a condolence email from UW Chancellor, Biddy Martin. My hopes were crushed at that point. I started preparing for the prospect of being in Madison this fall: finding a place to live, and classes to take. More emails came from high-ups at NSEP and UW. More hope crushing ensued but I never lost determination to figure out how to get there some day.

Two weeks later, an emailed tagged IMPORTANT arrived in my inbox. It was from Dan Davidson, the President of American Councils, the sponsoring organization for the program in Ibadan. It said the trip is back on for fall and spring semester. I read it, closed my computer and went to teach a software class at my summer job. My head was spinning.

As I understand it now, we are back to the original plan of going as a non-UW study abroad program and transferring credit through Bryn Mawr College. The program specifics in Ibadan are the same– we are still doing an internship, taking clases at UI and living with a family. Originally there were 7 of us going, now there are 4. We will miss the three students who won’t be with us. My professors have assured me that the whole experience will only be better now because everyone in Ibadan kept preparing for our arrival, even though the trip was “temporarily” cancelled.

So it looks like all is not lost, in fact much is gained. I will be actively blogging North of Lagos after all. Stay tuned…

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A glimpse of Ibadan

Through this blog I have been in contact with many new friends, many of whom are Yoruba people from Nigeria. One of my new friends, Tetteh Pecku, sent me a link to his photos of Ibadan, his hometown. I am so pleased he said I could post a few on my blog for everyone to see. E se pupo! These should give you an idea (admittedly a vague one, but an idea) of what Ibadan looks like.

These three images will have to do for now but you can be sure that when I get there I will be snapping away with the four different cameras I’m bringing.

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On Friday, June 11–three days before I was supposed to leave for Nigeria–I received devastating news: my summer study abroad program at the University of Ibadan is cancelled. The feelings of shock, denial, sadness and complete disappointment I felt were overwhelming. Abike, another girl in my program told me over the phone as I was driving home from saying goodbye to all of my friends in Madison. I almost had to pull off the road. I felt everything I planned for for semesters slip away in a matter of minutes. Earlier that day I had received an email with a description of the host family I would be meeting a couple days later–Abike’s news did not seem real because we had no answers. Answers did not come until four days later when my Yoruba professor, Antonia Schleicher sent us an e-mail with a semblance of what had been going on behind the scenes.

The major players in the equation that led to the cancellation are the University of Wisconsin and National Security Education Program. NSEP sponsors the Language Flagship, which is the fellowship the seven other students and I have that was (and someday will be) sending us to Nigeria. Like I said in the video, members of NSEP and UW administrators had a meeting on Friday June 11–the same day I received info about my host family–where UW said it would not send any UW students to Ibadan under UW auspices because they felt the situation there is unsafe. There are a few perplexing things about this decision. First, why did they wait until 3 bloody days before to decide? I still don’t have a good answer to that question, but I am investigating. Also, there is the question on why UW had the power to do this. Since May, we knew the year-long program in Nigeria was not a UW sponsored study abroad program because they said they did not have enough time to evaluate it. We were all set to withdraw from UW and go to Nigeria planning to transfer credits from University of Ibadan to Bryn Mawr College, then to UW. The plan was legitimate and UW even said it would work fine. So then why now are they telling us we cannot go because of safety concerns when we would not be insured by UW anyway? NSEP really wants to see this program happen and so they made an agreement with UW that essentially says ‘OK, we’ll cancel the program for now and give you a month to do your investigation into University of Ibadan to determine that it is safe and people live well there.’ So depending on what UW says come July 16 we could be on a plane to Nigeria within a couple weeks or be waiting indefinitely for NSEP to figure out a way to get us there through another university.

I was depressed at first and unable to find happiness. A week later, I am doing much better and my spirits are high. I’ve reckoned that another few months in the U.S. is not all that bad.

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My name is Cara. In Nigeria, people will call me Títílayò (pronounced Tea-tea-lie-oh) or Títí for short. I am 21 years old. I study journalism and Yoruba language and culture at University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am days away from leaving the U.S. for a year to pursue these two areas of study at the University of Ibadan, one of Nigeria’s best universities. I am going with six other UW-Madison students, all of whom have been taking Yoruba with me for the past 2-3 years.

To reiterate what I said in the video, I’m going live in Ibadan, a big city about 150 miles north of metropolitan Lagos (hence the name of my blog) for one year. My head is spinning with all little things I still need to purchase, friends I want to see and American amenities I want to soak up before I depart. Some of you know me and what my trip to Nigeria is all about, but for those of you who don’t–or for those who know but still can’t wrap your head around the fact that I will be in Nigeria for a year–let me explain how I got myself into this.

When I arrived in Madison for freshman orientation, I had no idea what I wanted to study. Before sitting down to sign up for classes, my orientation group heard an African professor speak about the richness of discovering new languages, especially African languages because UW has the best program for African languages in the country. He encouraged us to check out the First Year Interest Group Program (FIG). FIGs are classes first semester freshman can sign up for to make the transition from high school to college easier. They are two or three prescheduled classes that are all interrelated and consist of the same 20 students. Sitting at the table with my peers, I wrestled with the plethora of political science, psychology, literature and spanish classes available to take. Nothing really excited me. My mind kept returning to the FIG called “The African Cultural Expedition” that included a Yoruba language class, a Yoruba culture class and a global cultures class. I felt like this FIG was my calling. I had been to Angola in high school to do teacher training workshops and help build schools and NGO called RISE International raises funds and materials to build. The idea of studying something that I would not be able to do any other time in my life and that would enable me to function independently in Africa one day captivated me. In Angola, I picked up speaking Umbundu pretty well, I thought, Yoruba shouldn’t be too difficult. I knew that signing on to take Yoruba would be something that would change my life forever. And how it has. Now, six semesters, four 20-page papers in Yoruba, and hundreds of vocabulary words later I am going to Nigeria to utilize and strengthen my Yoruba skills.

In Ibadan I will live with a family. I don’t know anything about the family yet, but I am thankful for this arrangement because it will be more of a cultural and language immersion than living in a dorm would be. The year in Ibadan is broken up into three sessions. Over the summer, the students in my program and I will take intensive Yoruba language classes which will amount to 40+ hours a week of instruction. In the fall and spring we will attend a few classes at the University of Ibadan and do an internship in our area of study. All of my Yoruba teachers at UW are from Nigeria and tell me about all the opportunities I will have to do journalism internships. I will most likely be working at the University’s radio station (speaking all Yoruba of course), or a TV broadcast station in Ibadan.

The reactions I get when I tell people I’m going to Nigeria for a year vary. Everyone is initially astounded to hear me say a country other than Spain, Italy or one of the more usual study abroad countries. Many look at me like I’m crazy. They are totally confused and dumbfounded at why I would ever go to a country like Nigeria where the only news from there that reaches the U.S. is about fighting, corruption and unrest in the oil-drilling areas. Some people think Nigeria is Nicaragua and feel like idiots when I tell them I’m going to Africa, not Central America. After I give the whole spiel about me speaking Yoruba people are very encouraging and excited for me. For them and everyone else I say thank you. All your words of support and skepticism invigorate me; they keep me realistic about the weight of the trip and experience I am embarking on.

It’s one week away. I’d better finish packing…

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