Thursday, December 5, 2019

An African Storytelling Night at St. Olaf College

Yesterday evening, I made a presentation on African storytelling hosted by Karibu, a St. Olaf College student organization. I have done this a number of times over the years.

It is always a pleasure to share the story of the great significance of Africa in human history and civilization, and to illustrate this with evidence from folklore.

I demonstrated the wisdom and creativity of our African ancestors with several proverbs which we reflected upon. Then I told an Ethiopian tale, "The Donkey Who Sinned," from Harold C. Courlander's A Treasury of African Folklore, which made us think about the odious tradition of "might is right" and related social evils.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Culture and Business Between Africans and Americans

As a cultural consultant, I have lately been thinking about the cultural dimension of business between Africans and Americans. This is part of my longstanding interest in the differences between African and American culture. I am writing this commentary in response to reports of a dialogue between American and Tanzanian businesspeople held in Dar es Salaam in June 2019.
The Americans and the Tanzanians discussed the challenges facing American businesses in Tanzania and the steps the Tanzanians should take to improve the situation. The Americans would like business to be conducted according to rules which are transparent, consistent, and predictable. Deadlines should be kept. Changes should be made in the business environment to ensure ease of doing business.
All this sounds reasonable, but we need to think farther. Africans have been conducting business since time immemorial and have evolved their own ways of doing business. The traditional African market, for example, accommodates barter, haggling, conversation about random topics, and much joking. It is a place not only for exchanging goods and money but also for building and furthering social relationships.
When we talk about business, we tend to think about goods and money. In reality, business is an interaction between human beings, who have values, feelings, and expectations influenced or shaped by their culture. Business is easy if the people involved belong to the same culture. Otherwise, there are challenges.
There are different cultures in the world, and business is inseparable from culture. There is not one way of doing business. American business culture is part of American culture. When Americans talk about ease of doing business, they have in mind business as conducted in their culture. It is normal and easy for them, but is it for non-Americans?
Are Africans, for example, comfortable with the American way of doing business? Do they easily navigate American culture? I have no doubt that just as Americans encounter challenges in dealing with African culture, so do Africans when dealing with American culture.
American business culture is rooted in capitalism, whose driving motive is making money as efficiently and quickly as possible. Whatever stands in the way of making money, such as the random conversations I have alluded to, gets eliminated.
In the African tradition, on the contrary, business has more purposes than just making money, and success is not necessarily defined in monetary terms. Business builds and consolidates relationships. Time is not money, but a resource and opportunity for building social capital.
We can carry these African values into the present world and use business to facilitate mutual understanding among nations. If business could help create a peaceful world, it would be a great success, even without tangible or immediate financial gain.
We need to think about creating and sustaining a business culture that is humanistic rather than obsessively materialistic. As the Bible puts it: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”
This article first appeared in Medium.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

A Meeting With One of My Readers

On May 19, I went to meet Luanne Kallungi Skrenes at the 150th commencement ceremony of Luther Seminary. She and I have been Facebook friends for some years, starting after she read my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences.

As a facilitator of programs that link congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, she recommends my book to congregation members.

I am humbled by how Luanne values my work as a cultural consultant. This year, she urged her Tanzanian colleagues to attend my Dar es Salaam workshop on Culture and Globalization.

We were delighted to meet face to face, finally. I was happy to meet her husband, Bishop Thomas A Skrenes. Talking with them was heartwarming. When I told them that I am working on a sequel to my book, Luanne asked what the title was. "Chickens in the Bus" I said, and we all laughed. But that is, indeed, the title.

Meeting my readers is, always, a blessing, and among my thousands of readers have been members of the ELCA. I thank them for any thoughts and opinions they share with me about my writing.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Book Fair in Blaine, Minnesota

On April 26-28, I participated in a book fair organized by Bukola Oriola to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the publication of her first book, Imprisoned: The Travails of a Trafficked Victim. Having participated in many book fairs, I thought this one was unique. The fairs I know last for one day, but Bukola's went on for three days, thus offering anyone who couldn't make it on a particular day another chance.

Though Bukola organized the fair to commemorate the publication of her book, she had invited fellow indie authors to exhibit their books. I was one of the authors. She had not required us to be present for the duration of the fair, except the time when an individual author's work was scheduled to be featured.

I spent considerable time at the fair, on April 26 and 28. I met several authors, some of whom I knew, such as Rita Apaloo, author of African Women Connect: How I started and grew a networking group of African immigrant women for friendship, business, and community. I also interacted with many visitors, including old friends. As usual, I had a great time talking with everybody, sharing ideas and experiences. There is no fair I have attended that failed to enlighten and delight me. This one was no exception and Bukola deserves much gratitude for her unending efforts to promote reading and writers.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

My Visit to Yankton, South Dakota

On April, 19, I traveled to Yankton South Dakota, following an invitation from Michael Schumacher, Administator at A.M.E. Allen Church. He contacted me after reading about an African storytelling presentation I had made in Red Wing, Minnesota. Introducing me, he noted, among other things, how my book, Matengo Falktales, had featured on Jeopardy.

My talk centered on the evolution of culture and cultural differences. I talked about Africa as the cradle of the human race, language and story telling and about how the migration of people out of their original home went with the proliferation of cultures and languages.

I used my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Diiferences to illustrate the reality and consequences of cultural differences in the contemporary world. While talking about the evolution of and social functions of story telling, I shared and disccused several proverbs and the tale "The Monster in the Rice Field" found in my Matengo Folktales.

Audience members shared memorable experiences of cultural differences, and one of them said that she was a school teacher and was planning to take a group of students to Tanzania. I was delighted to hear this and grateful that my visit to Yankton had attracted her attention.

At the end of our meeting, people bought the books I had brought along. I am pleased that the teacher will use them as orientation materials for the Tanzania trip and am humbled that the books are now in the AME church library. I am happy about this, given the historic significance of this church.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Notes on "Song of Lawino"

I have published a study guide Okot p'Bitek's Song of Lawino. Okot p'Bitek, a Ugandan, was one of the African writers who became famous soon after indolence, in the sixties. Song of Lawino is his most celebrated work. It is an extended lament by a fictional character, Lawino, a rural Acoli woman, about her husband Ocol, who has adopted Western ways.

My study guide, Notes on Okot p'Bitek's Song of Lawino, is the second in a series inaugurated by Notes on Acebe's Things Fall Apart, which is used in the United States and beyond, including faraway Algeria. I hope my Notes on Okot p'Bitek's Song of Lawino will have a similar reception.

Each of these study guides discusses the work mentioned and makes references to other literary works wherever necessary, in addition to introducing relevant aspects of literary theory in a manner accessible to undergraduate students and the general reader.

My study guides and other books are available online

Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Meeting With Gustavus Adolphus Travelers to Tanzania

Once again, I received an invitation from Professor Barbara Zust to meet with students from Gustavus Adolphus College she was taking to Tanzania on a one month study program that has been running for many years. We met on January 7 at the Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center in Lakeville, Minnesota.

As in the past, the students had read my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences. and my meeting with them was an opportunity to talk about various issues I raise in the book, and respond to their questions.

Apart from questions pertaining directly to the book, there were several questions about Tanzanian perceptions of Americans and about perceptions of race and racial identity. We also talked about the political climate in Tanzania. I tried my best to clarify media reports which have tended to be unfavourable. I am glad that these Gustavus Adolphus travelers will be able see things for themselves and hear from different Tanzanians.

In the photo on the left, I am flanked by the program leaders: Professor Barbara Zust and Pastor Todd Mattson. I have enjoyed my many years of working on the program with these two friends, deeply touched and humbled by how much they value my contribution.