Saturday, November 18, 2006


yes, i think i posted earlier, not sure if in this blog or maybe my now other blog, about the notion of forming one´s new identity when moving to a new place. for one, this move has generated a plethora of passwords to my already password-filled digilife!!!

but then there is the notion of what it means to be at the institution i am now at (many people, not in this environment, when told, seem to have very definite notions of what it signifies), and yet one has to make sense of it all, and arrive at some personal definition of what the latest migration means for you as person, on all sorts of levels. be that as it may, i do wonder about this thing of being called a student. yes, strictly speaking, i am a student here, but i´ve always found the category so limiting. maybe it is because i´ve never ever only been a student, and in the past always worked while studying, hence an inherent uncomfortability with the term. i think what the word "student" conjures up is someone who as yet has to contribute usefully to society (so, considering the work that i´ve done and have been doing, that the word "rankles" should come as no surprise). assuming this word "student" as part of my professional wardrobe is just uninspiring. the thing is, it is already a given that i have to work extra hard at gaining the confidence of my audience when doing professional presentations since it is that often enough people see me, think i am still a kid, and so wonder what on earth it is that i could possibly contribute. this has always been a problem, so is nothing new. i take the latter as a given and have been able to compensate in some ways. but assuming "student" as part of my identity somehow makes me feel doubly constrained when having to connect with an audience (at a presentation or even just in a meeting). the thing is, that when you see me as student only, conceptually you toss aside any possibility of my having an extensive and varied work history to boot.

the other aspect of identity is that of being African. well, since moving to the UK it is not something which I´ve been made to think of on a daily basis, but was something I was reminded of often enough when in the Spanish environment since, with the boat loads of Africans arriving on Spanish shores almost daily, one just becomes hyper-aware of these things, and starts to question what being African can signify in such a context. I mean, the image is one of economic migration fuelled by abject poverty and often enough war-riddled circumstances. Some (Africans) would argue that that is just a tired and worn-out Western perspective of Africa. But if judging by my daily readings of Reuters press Africa, I do often enough despair at the general picture that I am left with simply because, however much you would want to argue that this is Western myth-making re Africa, there are facts to back up the news stories which are very real, and are of consequence to the peoples of a particular African nation, their neighbouring states, and also to the West´s relationship with Africa-as-continent. So, that the situation is grave in the Horn of Africa, or even graver still in Sudan, cannot be denied. Then, what about Zimbabwe, where this evening I saw on the front page of a newspaper here that the average life expectancy now, there, is 26. Or what about the Congo? The question of identity then surfaces, for me, about what it means to be African, and how others, from other parts of the planet, then perceive one. It is easy to say that if people see you in a certain way, it is mostly due to their ignorance. And yet it is that in learned circles even, I have had a sense of disconnection at times (not always) simply because my audience could not quite reconcile the reality of me (articulate, nourished, does not speak with unfamiliar foreign-sounding accent), with their picture of what an African should be like. To illustrate, an incident which I found rather amusing in hindsight. Once I was presenting and since I was a relative unknown I did feel that people seemed surprised that I was so young and so articulate an African (hahahah). Then, before I started my talk, and since I was rather ill with the flu, I anticipated that, with nerves, my voice would give out, and/or my nose might start running at inconvenient a time. Thing is, on that day I had just conveniently forgotten to carry along paper pocket handkerchiefs as I usually do, and ran to the WC to get lots of hand-drying paper there, and touted that along just in case of the anticipated runny nose. I started my talk, and in anticipation of these possible health impediments to my talk, warned my audience.

I said: "Just to warn you that I´m not feeling very well and so from time to time may have to do the rather undignified thing of... [Peculiar thing was that many in the audience, noticing the wad of WC paper on the lectern, looked at me rather agog, a response which I in turn was puzzled by.] ...blowing my nose [look of relief from audience].

I couldn´t really make sense of the dynamics of the situation until some time later it dawned on me that people somehow had possibly imagined that I would periodically be wiping my arse instead of my nose. (See, you move to the UK and start to use words such as "arse" quite freely.)
You could say that I was being too sensitive; that this had nothing to do with perceptions of Africanness, etc. But how else to interpret it??? At the time I found it all to be rather confusing and unsettling. Now it´s just stupidly if not insanely hilarious.


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