Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Inquiry Conference Winter 2012

I presented the Kennedy Center's Inquiry Conference this afternoon. It was a great experience and I really enjoyed sharing my methods and experiences with the study of dance and spirituality in Ghana. I also loved being around others with a passion for inquiry based research. I miss it. I really do. Just about everyday I think about what I can do to prepare and plan for another learning experience that is cultural and self-directed. Being in school with a schedule and deadlines and homework dictated by my teachers for my learning is so frustrating honestly! I feel I would be learning so much more if I was given the opportunity to ask my own questions and research them within the subjects listed in the curriculum of my classes. I feel that because I have such a large to-do list now that I am only skimming the surface of the content of my classes. I have no real ownership of my learning and little motivation or passion for the subjects because I'm too concerned with completely my check-list. And who wants to complete a check-list that means nothing to them.

So of course I always fill my schedule with selfish things like researching, learning, experiencing and playing within the experiences and content matter that really means something to me and that is relevant to my life. (Such as Inquiry Conference, proposing to present at the National Dance Education Organization Conference, writing Grants for SDEO members to travel to this conference, choreographing for dancEnsemble and taking contemporary dance technique class everyday-these are all things I do not HAVE to do but do because they are relevant and meaningful to me. I love them because they edify my life and teach me so much!) But with all these activities- the stagnant "have-to's" school checklist and the ambitious-experience-seeking-inability-to say-no list- my life has become absurdly imbalanced! I think the key will be to making what I have to do, what I want to do. But its really hard to get myself to that point when my idea of what I want to do is no where near my school work...its in AFRICA! haha. O man, guess my new inquiry adventure will be to discover how to find thrill and adventure in a university school schedule.

Anyway, here's a link to my slideshow and speaker notes I used for my presentation if you're interested :) Happy adventuring in your daily life to one and all!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Drumming Epiphanies

Anticipating my first drumming lesson in October I began to feel anxious and scared. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t know how my drumming lessons were going to be taught and how I would get along with the teacher. I didn’t know how quick I would catch on, if I would at all or if it would be too difficult for me. There is much I could describe about my feelings of anxiety leading up to the lessons, but I feel these are common feelings anyone can imagine and understand since feelings of inadequacy are common to feel at some point in ones life. Therefore, I want to focus this paper on the thoughts and feelings that I felt during my lessons once they started because I feel they are more valuable to expand upon due to their uniqueness. At least to me personally I rarely feel so enlightened by an artistic experience and while drumming I had epiphanies about ideas on spirituality and repetition that have really affected my life, I think for the better.

My main purpose to be in Ghana was to research the way individual Ghanaians perceive spirituality in dance. So the topic of spirituality was always at the forefront of my brain and the question I most asked myself in regards to this topic was “How do Ghanaians define spirituality?” It seemed their ideas were a world away from what my ideas were. Drumming one night is what led me, I believe, to understand the way Ghanaians define spirituality a little better.

When I spoke with different priests and priestesses in town about spirituality and what their job was at the shrines they took care of I was often given the idea that spirituality was what was unseen. They would talk about juju - the use of evil spirits and evil power to harm someone- and witchcraft and also about river gods and wind gods helping people out with what they petitioned to the gods that they needed help with. The work that the gods and witches do is real to the Ghanaians who believe in these traditional beliefs but the power and methods the gods and witches use to do their work is unseen because it is spiritual in nature.

This idea of spirituality really helped me see how drumming and dance could be viewed as a spiritual experience or activity. This is what I wrote in my journal:

“I gained some interesting epiphanies while drumming tonight and it really just amazes me that while trying to concentrate so hard that my mind could veer off and be so enlightened. …My thoughts turned to spirituality and whether there was significance in the drumming. I soon discovered that I myself believed it was. They always (shrine people) say things that are spiritual are not seen and the way the drums just make you want to move, the way it conducted all the children to gather around, and to dance, it just cannot be explained. There is an invisible connection between people, the human body and drums, and music, heck to art. There’s an unseen yearning to create, perform and it can’t be explained.”

Thanks to the way the drumming led me to free my mind and open up to new ideas I was able to make some interesting conclusions about the definition of spirituality in Ghana and for myself. I concluded that spirituality could be defined as an energy, a power source that affects people, that unites people, that causes us to act and feel certain ways. In relation to art, dance and drumming, spirituality is found in that energy source that causes us to want to move to the rhythms we hear and allows us to build connections and relationships with those we share in performing with and in performing for. I do not know if it was just that my mindset was right for thinking these thoughts but I think the act of drumming had something to do with the way my mind was opened to these new thoughts because of this next experience I am going to share regarding the repetition involved in drumming. I’ll let my journal entry tell the story.

Another spiritual notion came in my repetition. I couldn’t believe how long I could hold on to a rhythm, especially as my mind would wander or I’d become distracted I just had to let my hands take over! I couldn’t understand it. As I would allow the rhythm to come naturally my mind would wander and ponder, sometimes the strangest things, very random and other times I would have an epiphany. But always I would try to regain conscious control, and come back to concentrating on just the rhythm, I’d try to concentrate and count out the pattern as I had organized it in my head when I first started playing the rhythm. But always when I came back to it the rhythm sounded different, like it had changed. No one told me it was wrong I just heard and saw it from a new perspective.

This experience gave me new insight on life. It taught me that as we repeat things in life such as Sunday school lessons, dance routines, we can gain new perspectives and understandings. Because as the experience or activity becomes natural it can begin to appear fresh and new as we continue to pay attention to it. Sometimes what is required is a break, a brief time when we relinquish control just as I did when I allowed my mind to wander and for my hands to do their thing naturally, so that we can return to our concentration with a fresh perspective. I feel this was a spiritual epiphany because it opened my mind to see things from a new perspective that has motivated me to respond differently to repetitive experiences, instead of becoming impatient and annoyed an a repeated experience I will now try to learn something new and glean more from the experience then I did the last time. Or I will choose to take a step back and refresh myself from the repetition so I can gain a different perspective on the situation or activity when I come back to concentrate on it after the break.

This experience also really helped validate my entire experience in Ghana. I really needed the break from school, from sitting in a desk or dancing in a studio. I had been at BYU for three years and it was beginning to seem that the next two years to graduation would be the same old thing as the previous three. But studying abroad in a new culture has provided me the break I needed. And it wasn’t a complete break either, I was still working hard and learning and earning credit, it was just a break from the normal way college is accomplished. And now that I am home I hope I can find a new perspective towards school to help motivate me to finish my undergraduate work strong and with as much interest and life as I felt I had when I first came to college, when it was new and exciting and non-repetitive.

Drum lessons were often the best part of my day in Ghana. Especially at the beginning when everything was new and exciting, as most all experiences are “from the scratch“ (a Ghanaian way of saying “from the beginning“). I looked forward to them so much and was very disappointed when they were cancelled. It was awesome to play in a real authentic Ghanaian ensemble. It felt like a dream many times when I looked up at the dark, starry African sky and just felt and listened to the rhythms of the music we were making. It felt so good to be a part of the group and even with the frustrations of learning I really grew to love Appiah and his drumming buddies because of the time they spent helping me learn their culture and drumming traditions.

But eventually the lessons too became the norm, and sometimes a repetition of the lesson given previously. This is when things became frustrating and I began to lose motivation and concentration because I wasn’t being taught new material but was struggling with the same rhythms over and over with the talking drum. This is when Appiah started to introduce dance parties to the end of my lessons. I think this was a wise choice that matched the principles in my epiphany about repetition. I needed a break from drumming, I needed to dance like my body wanted to when it heard the whole ensemble play together, and even this experience informed me more about the responsibility of drummers.

I can recall one particularly frustrating night and Appiah suggested I dance however I want to the drum he was playing. This release was just the break I needed and when I came back the next day to our lesson I felt motivated and more interested in working hard to get the rhythm I was struggling with. I think part of the reason was I wanted to please Appiah even more because I was grateful for what he had done for my emotions the night before by allowing me to dance and release my tension physically.

There were many times that it was reaffirmed to me that taking a break is important in gaining a new perspective, and sometimes the new perspective is the key to moving forward and progressing. I learned over and over that spirituality has a lot to do with the energies that are unseen that dictate the activities of our universe. I am grateful for these drumming lessons because it helped me stay sane in Ghana, it helped me learn the life lessons I hoped to learn on my cultural adventure, and it informed my research in such a way that I was better able to glean constructive answers from Ghanaians about spirituality in my interviews. Who thought a simple drumming lesson would benefit me in so many ways.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What's in a Ghanaian name?

Time is wrapping up here in Asamang and it is time for my last blog post. Thinking about what I would write about I decided it had to be about something I really loved about this culture. One thing that I wish I could dedicate a whole field study to here in Ghana is the folklore revolving around names. How Ghanaians value the names they give their children at birth, the way they name their towns, the nicknames you get at school, what your name says about who you are. These are questions I would like to study in depth because I have really enjoyed the small taste of what I've been shown here about names.

I'll start with explaining the name I have been given here. I go by Afua Asantewaa Heather, but have also been called or named Boatema, or Miss. Gemperline. The first name, Afua Asantewaa Heather, identifies me as someone born on Friday (Afuada= Friday), and named after a famous heroine of the Ashanti Kingdom (Asantewaa), followed by my given English name. I was given this name by my Mamma Doris (and everyone calls her and knows her by Mamma Doris because she takes care of so many people, even though they aren't really her children, she was a midwife by profession.) Mamma Doris called me Asantewaa because I am studying Ashanti culture (dancing, singing, drumming, etc.) and so I should be known as Asantewaa. I like this name a lot! I am proud of it and it makes me really feel like part of the Ashanti people. People call out random names frequently to get my attention on the street and I usually respond with looking them in the eye, pointing towards myself and saying "Ye fre me Afua." or "My name is Afua." I want them to know what my name really is and who I really am. The second name is Boatema and was given to me by a man who wants me to be his wife, and take him home with me. O by the way this is a normal request for any male stranger I might happen to cross paths with. His name is Boateng, so by giving me the female counterpart of his name he is attempting to win my attention. I was flattered but I just accepted the name and ignored the propositions, but I thought it was an interesting way to see how giving someone a name can be used as a tool to achieve something.

I have little internet time right now so I just want to leave with some of my favorite nick names the younger generation uses. My brother, King, goes by Mr. Slow. He calls his friends on the street Chaley or Boss, he says people like to be called Boss, makes them feel important. My friend Michael across the street is called Oboy, his has a friend we call Stone and another guy in the pack they call Chief, or Nana, because he's the oldest. My nickname to King is Miss. Gemperline because he goes with me for lots of interviews and observations and he thinks I am the boss so he calls me by the more formal name.

We'll see when I return home if i respond to just plain Heather anymore, I am really used to being called Afua.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


For our retreat Rebecka, Katie and I traveled to Accra to stay with a friend we met upon our arrival in Ghana. Her name is Mikayla. She and her husband James and 2 year old son Corbin are living in an expatriate community in Accra because James works for the U.S. Embassy. Our stay with them was very comfortable and Mikayla was an angel to drive us around to fun sites in Accra and to cook us delicious, nutritious, and a whole variety of American food. It was so nice to sleep in an air conditioned room; this really helped reduce my intolerable and constant heat rash. I was grateful for the opportunities we had to relax over retreat, call family, watch general conference, attend the temple and do some shopping but at the end of 3 or 4 days I was really ready to come “home,” back to Asamang.

I didn’t realize I was going to miss Mamma Doris and my life in Asamang so much. I found that showering with a real shower spout left me feeling less satisfied when I finished then I do when I take a bucket shower. I found I missed Ghanaian food! (Not the starch or lack of variety but just the fact that everything we eat at the house in Asamang is easily gluten free and no stress for me! Though I felt very loved at the efforts Mikayla made to make gluten free foods for me, it felt like a hassle and a burden for me still.) I missed Ghanaian people. I really loved talking with Mikayla and James, I received invaluable advice from Mikayla especially, and we had a great opportunity to play card games with some of their American neighbors and that was interesting and fun as well. But I found that I ached to be a part of the lives that were outside their neighborhoods’ gates, where people were living real Ghanaian lives.

I gained great appreciation for my cultural experience performing a field study here in Ghana. Living within the authentic culture and really applying myself to learning holistically about all aspects of Ghanaian culture (i.e. cooking, schooling, religion, dancing, drumming, etc.) has really affected my life and enriched my college experience. Living the culture alongside the people has taught me to love them. I found that the expats here are not here to live the Ghanaian culture. They are here to perform their jobs at the embassy while trying to maintain a lifestyle as similar to the ones they enjoyed back in the states. They are great people and I was happy to meet and grateful for their hospitality and generosity but their comments and frustrations about the culture saddened me at times and I felt sorry that they hadn’t been able to see the culture from the perspective I have, or at least that they weren’t at the moment. I realize their situation is very different. A two year working commitment in another country is loads different from a semester abroad studying as a university student. But I began to wonder if their lives would have been more comfortable and easier if they had adapted some healthy perspectives the culture has to offer. You know you can always wish someone or something would change but really the trick to feeling different towards something is to change yourself. And maybe they have adapted the culture in ways I can’t see in a weekend visit. I know I can’t judge, but I can say I am grateful for the experience I am having working on a field study project and living in Asamang.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The madness in my methods

This week I want comment on the methodological aspect of my research. I am running into some difficulties and advantages I didn’t expect. I have to say before I get into the logistics of what I wish to discuss that I love that I am an amateur researcher. I didn’t come to Ghana with a real concrete idea of how to conduct research or what research should look like. In the prep class I did study research theory and techniques and read a lot of research that has already been done but I am now finding what a limited perspective I have had on the possibilities found within research. I like that! I love that I have so much to learn everyday here and though it is overwhelming I have so much to discuss everyday in my field notes, much more than I anticipated to.

Methodological Difficulties:

I have organized my research and learning here into two venues (1) Interviewing about and observing/participating in spiritual dance (2) Acquiring dance skill in Traditional and Popular African Dance. In the first aspect on spiritual dance I am finding great difficulty in asking questions during interviews about the topic of spirituality. It seems many people are confused by the term “spirituality.” I believe I can create new questions to probe responses of some substance out of my informants that would facilitate answers of significance for my research but the term is so common, personable and understandable to me that it is hard for me to rephrase or explain my questions in another way. My plan as of now is to try out the word “religious”, but I wonder if the organizational connotation of this word will affect the answers I receive. I am so confused about the word “spiritual” because when I ask them questions about spirituality informants, often priests, say they don’t understand it yet their answers are full of terms like “spiritual illness” or “spiritual power.”

In the second venue where I am taking dance lessons and improving my dancing ability I am struggling because my body loves to follow the patterns it is familiar with, that is ballet and modern dance (not necessarily prevalent in Africa). I get frustrated during my dance lessons with King (he teaches me Azonto dance, popular among the younger generation and performed to Ghanaian hip-life music) and especially with Sister Akua (teaches me Adowa lessons in town behind her little shop) because I know I look like a WHITE GIRL! I don’t have the African rhythms instinctual harbored in my body and so I struggle to make my Azonto not look like a step-ball-change or my Adowa to not look like I’m a nervous server carrying a platter of glasses filled to the brim. Another difficulty is that the movement is easy and habitual for my teachers and that makes it hard to break it down to teach me. Especially with Sister Akua who doesn’t speak any English. It is hard to get instruction or feedback from her at all and even if she does talk it’s hard for a translator to hear because of the volume of the music and the distractions of children running around or men watching.

One other methods difficulty I have that occurs with both venues is my electronics and video recordings. But I don’t think I need to bore you with those details, I’m sure we’ve all experience technical difficulties even in countries where electricity is usually always reliable and compatible with your devices.

Methodological Advantages:

I have one main advantage I would like to mention. I was not expecting to have King as a translator, guide, teacher, cinematographer, informant or brother and I am truly grateful for his service and knowledge. He has helped me secure so many great opportunities to observe and participate in dance experiences. He is a great translator and he understands my project very well so my interviews though confusing at times are always fruitful thanks to his explanations and help. This last Thursday he accompanied me to a festival in Effiduase with Nana (the Priestess from the Obene Ne Bene Shrine here in Konya who invited us to come). He spent the whole time translating for me, and videoing much of the dancing that occurred. He was very competent with my electronics and captured exactly what I needed. And the best part was I didn’t have to worry about what I was recording and could just participate and observe with one less thing to worry about. I could not get so much information for my project if it wasn’t for his service.

Our Azonto dance lessons are fantastic too! He is very good at breaking down the difficult steps and he encourages me but also challenges and pushes me in my ability. And because we live in the same house, setting up times and making dance lessons happen is much easier than it is with lessons outside the house. Additionally, he is a great friend and if I didn’t have him around to tell me to relax when I needed to I don’t think I’d be having as great of a time as I am having here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pleasantly Surprised

It’s hard to remember what exactly I thought about Africa or what I expected a field study to look like before I traveled here. But since I’ve arrived I have felt pleasantly surprised. There have been moments I’ve felt or seen what I expected too, but I have had many surprises! And maybe that’s why I am so pleasantly surprised, because the surprises make this adventure so exciting and rewarding.

I remember telling myself before I came that I shouldn’t have expectations. A good friend told me one of the most common reasons for sadness is unmet expectations: so I decided I wasn’t going to have any expectations. Also, I wanted to remind myself I could always be honest with my feelings and I would go to Africa and I could like it if I wanted to, or I could not like the experience. I just had to go, I had to have the experience and then I could know whether I liked it or not, but in any case I was going to be honest with myself.

Well if you haven’t caught on yet, I love it!!! I like to think it’s because I didn’t set too many expectations for my experience here. I just expected myself to live, be real with myself and others, and work as hard as I could to perform my research and course work and have a cultural experience as well. This attitude has really helped me thus far.

I’d now like to share some of my pleasant African surprises:

  • · I got an A + on my Twi assignment last night! I really struggle with Twi and so I’ve been taking lessons from my new brother King and the other day he said something about how I was learning slowly. I was offended because as my teacher he really expects a lot of me and we do not miss lessons often and if we do, o does he take the time to make them up! SO last night I made 11 Twi sentences on my own. I surprised him with it. He looked over it. Then laughed and said someone helped me with the sentences because they were fantastic! I had done much better then he thought I should. I had performed at a higher level then he thought I could. HUZZAH! Success! Let that be a lesson to anyone who wants to call me slow, it makes me work harder. I am grateful for Kings high expectations.
  • · I can feel productive and calm even just sitting down and chatting with my new Ghanaian friends and family. I don’t feel a need to “go-go-go” all the time. I can actually relax. Who knew?
  • · Ghanaians don’t lie when they call you sister, everyone really is a big family! I find it so easy and normal to call Momma Doris “Ma” and “Momma” she really is my mother here.
  • · I have little dance lessons all the time. But not the kind I would have expected in America. I planned to learn Adwa or Kete traditional dances but here I learn a lot of hip-life (popular) dancing. I love it! And I look like a crazy white girl who’s trying too hard, that was something I expected though.
  • · I didn’t expect to have so many traditional worshippers to interview or observe. There are at least 5 or 6 shrines in walking distance for me to visit. I was not expecting that at all and I love that they are so accessible and that so many people want to share and teach me about them.