This blog is a platform I normally reserve for the important issue of fashion in Sierra Leone, but this week, I’m struggling to find a fashion angle. Unless you’ve been living on mars, you will know that West Africa is suffering the worst ever outbreak of the world’s most deadly disease – Ebola. I traveled to Kenema district last week for an assignment to write about the outbreak. I live in Freetown and before leaving, the epidemic hadn’t really kicked off here. ‘EBOLA!’ (said with a loud voice and chuckle) was something that was happening in villages, places that didn’t affect the urban folk of Sierra Leone’s capital. I knew Kenema was a district suffering huge case numbers, but nothing prepared me for what I saw and heard in one of Sierra Leone’s most brutally affected areas.
From Human Tales of Ebola.
And here is a New York Times video from one of the villages most affected.
Yet again Africa is in the news as the other, as a place of horror and misery. So just a few reminders:
Ebola is not throughout Africa. You don’t need to worry when coming into contact with someone from the continent or someone who has been there recently. Africa is a big continent and Ebola is not everywhere. In fact…
Ebola is currently in three West African countries: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. But…
Ebola is not an air-borne illness. You will not contract it by being in the same plane or auditorium or building as someone who has it or has come from one of the countries where it is prevalent. In fact…
you would need to be directly exposed to fluids from someone with the illness to be exposed. And that means that it is in the affected areas, in direct contact with those who have the illness, that you would be most at risk. And that is just not true for those of us living in the United States. So stop worrying about getting it here. Instead worry…
that those in the affected areas do not have the basic health care we in the United States take for granted. And so while there is indeed not a cure for Ebola,…
with the sort of hospital care we in the US take for granted, treating the disease in early states, many who are dying would be saved. But…
in the affected areas that sort of care is rare.
To learn more please read:
Stop Worrying About Ebola (And Start Worrying About What it Means)
As WHO Warns Ebola Death Toll is Underestimated, How Should Global Community Handle Dire Crisis?
I’m always on the look-out for new information and new takes on the Amistad story. One recent one is Marcus Rediker’s The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom in which the focus and viewpoint is on the captives. And now there is a film based on the book coming from filmmaker Tony Buba. The following description and preview has me very intrigued.
This film, made by Tony Buba, is based on Marcus Rediker’s book about the famous slave revolt of 1839, The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom (Penguin, 2012) and is about a trip made by historians and a film crew to Sierra Leone in May 2013. All of the Amistad rebels were from southern and eastern Sierra Leone, so the filmmakers went to their villages of origin to interview elders about surviving local memory of the case. They also searched for the long lost ruins of Lomboko, the slave trading factory where the Amistad Africans were loaded onto a slave ship bound for the New World. This hour-long documentary chronicles a quest for a lost history from below.
Yesterday I was over the moon after learning that Africa is My Home had been honored with a 2014 Children’s Africana Book Award (also know as CABA). I have long been familiar with this award and have often discovered new books through it. So to be honored with one myself is amazing.
Here’s more about them:
In 1991, Africa Access in collaboration with the Outreach Council* of the African Studies Association created the Children’s Africana Book Awards with three major objectives (1) to encourage the publication of children’s and young adult books that contribute to a better understanding of African societies and issues, (2) to recognize literary excellence, and (3) to acknowledge the research achievements of outstanding authors and illustrators. The first CABA was presented in 1992. Today over seventy-four titles have been recognized and more than 100 authors and illustrators are members of our Winners Circle. Each winning title has been vetted by our awards jury which is composed of African Studies and Children’s Literature scholars.
There will be an award ceremony on Saturday, November 8, 2014 at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC. From this cool slideshow of last year’s celebrations, I’m expecting that it and the other related activities are going to be wonderful.
My great thanks to the committee for honoring Africa is My Home this way.
Two friends who also served in Sierra Leone in the Peace Corps recently returned for a visit bringing along several copies of Africa is My Home as gifts. But what a gift they gave me by sending this photo of Peggy reading it to the people of Kenema Blango. I get weepy every time I look at it.
Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world this summer, consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip. Sadly, taking part in international aid where you aren’t particularly helpful is not benign. It’s detrimental. It slows down positive growth and perpetuates the “white savior” complex that, for hundreds of years, has haunted both the countries we are trying to ‘save’ and our (more recently) own psyches. Be smart about traveling and strive to be informed and culturally aware. It’s only through an understanding of the problems communities are facing, and the continued development of skills within that community, that long-term solutions will be created.
Indeed. From “The Problem With Little White Girls (and Boys): Why I Stopped Being a Voluntourist.”
We adults know, of course, that Africa is a continent, not a country. Also that it is diverse, full of real people and places that are varied and distinct. We know of its beauty and of its harshness. And perhaps most of all, we adults are highly aware of its complicated historical relationship with North America. Helping American young people reach a similar understanding of the real Africa is as important as it is challenging. It can be tricky when their toys, visits to zoos and theme parks, viewings of movies and television shows, and other encounters leave them with a romanticized sense of exotic animals, unfamiliar cultural practices, and rural settings. Older children may learn of horrific conflicts, dreadful illness, and dire poverty. While books are not a panacea, and some unfortunately only reinforce the same tired stereotypes, others exist that dispel misunderstandings and help children gain a deeper sense of that landmass called Africa.
That’s the opening paragraph in my “Books About Africa” article in the latest Horn Book Magazine. You can now read the whole thing here. Hope it gives you some food for though as well as book ideas.
Historian Professor Joseph Opala receives
Sierra Leonean Passport
Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the United States of America H.E. Bockari Kortu Stevens today presented Americo/ Sierra Leonean historian, Professor Joseph Opala with his Sierra Leonean passport. The impressive ceremony took place at the conference room of the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington D.C.
On 20th May 2013, Professor Opala was sworn in as a Sierra Leonean citizen by H.E. President Ernest Bai Koroma. This was in recognition of his role in documenting the historical link between the Gullah people in the United States of America and Sierra Leone, and for his outstanding contribution in preserving Sierra Leone slave castle of ‘Bunce Island’ as a heritage site . The esteemed historian was also awarded Sierra Leone’s Order of the Rokel by President Koroma in 2012.
Welcoming the recipient, Ambassador Stevens narrated the excellent historical work and research conducted on the Atlantic slave trade in Sierra Leone by Professor Opala thereby drawing significant interest in the subject, particularly the direct historical connection between the Gullah people of South Carolina and the people of Sierra Leone. The Ambassador congratulated Professor Opala on his numerous achievements and hoped that he would use his Sierra Leone citizenship to serve as a Goodwill Ambassador for that country.
Responding, Professor Opala thanked Ambassador Stevens for taking the time off his busy schedule to present him with his new Sierra Leone passport. He noted that he was very proud to carry the Sierra Leonean passport and wished his Sierra Leonean wife, Fatmata, was there to witness the epoch occasion. He thanked the members of the Bunce Island Coalition and the Friends of Sierra Leone for honoring him with their presence.
Professor Opala was accompanied by a fifteen member delegation drawn from colleagues, family and close friends; some of whom came from as far away as Oklahoma City, Atlanta and New York. Before concluding, he presented the Ambassador with gifts and historical artifacts for display at the Embassy.
EMBASSY OF SIERRA LEONE IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Africa is My Home isn’t out till October, but marketing and publicity for it revved up yesterday with Candlewick featuring it at their NYC fall preview and having me do a signing of advance copies at BEA.
I’ve been going to various publisher previews for years, but not as a featured author! It was strange and wonderful. They saved Africa for last and my editor Sarah Ketchersid did a wonderful job presenting it. After that I spoke a bit, several attendees who have been part of my long journey to publication did too and there was applause and a few tears, not all of them mine. I will say again, it has been a very long road to get here and I will never be able to thank enough all those who were there along the way.
Sarah and I then zipped over to the Javits Center. She went to meetings and I went to wander the exhibits until it was time for my signing. I’d been to BEA a few years ago, but it sure has changed since then in that most of the bigger publishers no longer have any books on display. That was mighty strange, but I’m not a bookseller so perhaps this works better for them and the convention is for them, after all, not for the likes of me. I happily spent time at some smaller publishers who DID have physical books on hand.
And then it was time for my signing. I arrived at Candlewick’s booth to discover this big poster:
They asked me what sort of pen I wanted to sign with and provided me with an assortment to choose from. Then the line began to form…
and I began to sign. And sign. And sign. I was incredibly touched by those I knew who came, but the majority were people I didn’t know at all. And many of them said such kind things about the book and the idea of the book. I so didn’t expect many to come to this signing so I was overwhelmed and very, very happy!
Thank you, Candlewick, for my day as queen!
While I can’t show you Robert Byrd‘s gorgeous interior art for Africa is My Home (coming out this fall from Candlewick), I can show you the cover in the following book trailer. And if you are at BEA, do stop by Candlewick’s booth for a more comprehensive look or, even better, come to my Thursday 3:30 signing of lithos (stapled F&Gs) of the complete 64 page book. (ETA: if the following intrigues you, the book is available for preorder here, here, here, or at your favorite local bookstore.)