Africa – Full of Promise

On the 9thof August, I attended Go Eat Give’s Destination West Africa at the Clarkson Community Centre. It was quite a mind blowing experience even for me, having roots in East Africa. I realized just how culturally diverse the African continent is and the special attributes of different regions that set us apart in a special way. Unfortunately, I haven’t travelled vastly in the continent of Africa, but this event definitely piqued my interest to explore West Africa in the future.

The guests arrived in large numbers and dressed for the occasion. The ensembles were quite impressive and most people went out of their way to showcase African fashion with glamour and poise. I interacted with a lot of people who had visited different African countries and some of them even spoke my mother tongue, Swahili.

Conun Drums, an Atlanta based all women’s group opened the event with a spectacular percussion performance of West African rhythms. They engaged with the crowd and had everybody singing and dancing along. The group of four women and two little girls was clad in colourful African attire, embellished with vibrant print and patterns. Needless to say, they have mastered the art of playing drums.

conondrums

Owokoniran Taiwo, a renowned Nigerian musician based in Atlanta, who has been performing for over 30 years entertained the guests with some African tunes. His band is very popular among the Nigerian community and has been known to perform in different events, festivals and weddings. He sang and played the keyboard beautifully. He was accompanied by a skilful drummer. I was surprised to hear him play a popular Swahili song titled Malaika, which means Angel, with such great ease. He sang it like a native. The other Nigerian tunes he sang were very soothing and made me quite homesick. I thought to myself how my father would have enjoyed Owokoniran’s genre of music.

The keynote speakers made great speeches with strong conviction. I was especially moved by the Honorary Consulate of Mali Vince Farley’s and Nigeria’s Ambassador to the US Geoffrey I. Teneilabe’s speeches. They emphasized on the social and economic potential in Africa at the moment and how sustainable trade and tourism will contribute to the growth of the continent. They applauded Go Eat Give’s efforts at promoting cultural awareness and community service with their programs and Teneilabe called for more trips to West Africa in the near future. In the recent past, all that was heard from West Africa was the Ebola Crisis and this negatively affected the region. Teneilabe was keen on reminding the guests that the crisis has been dealt with in the region and Ebola is no longer a threat, which I am sure was a great relief to many.

vince farley

Their speeches resonated with me because they told a positive story of Africa. I have had the opportunity to travel around the world, and I have seen how the danger of a single story can have adverse effects in a society. Most people I have interacted with during my travels have usually had an unfavourable perspective of Africa, thanks to the media. Therefore I have taken it upon myself to always tell of the other positive stories that exist in my beloved continent whenever I get the chance. Also, most people group the continent into one entity, which is entirely false. We have thousands of diverse tribes, languages and cultures. I was happy to see Mr Vince Farley hang a map of Africa during his speech and pointed to different countries where he has visited and worked. It was very educational. He has served as the deputy ambassador in the Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Niger, South Korea, and Yugoslavia.

ambassador of nigeria Geoffrey I. Teneilabe

After the keynote speech the guests lined up to serve the delicious mouth-watering dishes prepared by Chef Okon James from Nations Café restaurants. I was eagerly anticipating the food because it was my first time to sample West African cuisine, and I must say I was quite impressed. My favourite dishes were fried plantain and Jollof rice, a popular fried rice dish in West African countries especially Nigeria and Ghana. Every dish was rich in flavour. I also tried Banku, a popular Ghanaian dish consisting of fermented corn and cassava dough mixed into a paste. Its acidic taste went well with the fried tilapia topped with bell peppers.

Other dishes included Chichinaga (meat Kebab), Vegetable Samosas, Puff Puff (an African snack similar to a doughnut), Ugba (fermented African oilbean seeds), Mafe (tender beef in peanut sauce), Grilled Boneless Chicken Breast, Fried Tilapia, Moi Moi (steamed bean pudding), and Red Red (black eyed peas cooked in palm oil). The dishes vary significantly from what we eat in East Africa. However, I was more than happy to indulge.

After dinner, we enjoyed a Manga African Dance performance by Ramatu Afegbua and her team of agile dancers. They moved the crowd with their ethnic sounds and body movements. Manga is actually a registered non-profit organization founded in 1990 by Ramatu with a mission to teach and preserve indigenous African cultural arts through dance, drums, songs and more. This was my most favourite performance of the day. They executed the true African spirit through dance and music.

manga dance

To close off the event, Sucheta Rawal made some closing remarks, thanking everybody for their role and participation to make the event a success. I extremely enjoyed myself and was honoured to be a part of such a great cause. I believe a lot of people left Destination West Africa having gained so much more knowledge, understanding and appreciation for West Africa, and more importantly, Go Eat Give’s mission.

~ By Christine Okwaro, event planning and fundraising intern at Go Eat Give. Christine grew up in Nairobi, Kenya and has lived in China and Switzerland. Her personal blog is www.thetravellers.de

Nigeria Has a Lot More to Offer Than What the Media Tells Us

Last Thursday, I received another lesson in my cultural education, courtesy of Go Eat Give at its August Destination Dinner. The country of focus was Nigeria, a populous African nation that has been plagued by a lot of social issues recently, resulting in an image that isn’t very flattering or inviting. Leading up to this event, I did a lot of research and learned that Nigeria has a lot to boast about.  To find out more, check out my first blog post here. Although the atmosphere of this event was more serious than the previously held Destination Dinners, I think it was one of the most informative and culturally educational one I experienced.

The event started with mingling among the 40 or so guests. Guests had the chance to try a few different kinds of African juices, and samplings from an independent wine company called Spodee. The wine was more of a cocktail mix as it was made with moonshine and served on ice, but was still very enjoyable. Waiters walked around serving a traditional Nigerian appetizer, chicken gizzards. I’m not going to lie, while I am normally open to trying new things, there was no way I was going to try chicken gizzards. However, I have been told by the brave souls who did try the unfamiliar snack that it was actually pretty good. Even though some people didn’t try the dish, it still serves as a great example of the cultural education that took place that evening.

Nigeria chicken gizzardOnce we took our seats, a variety of dishes were served both family and buffet style. Some of these included Nigerian meat pies, Kpof Kpof (African style donuts), Moin Moin (bean cakes), Dodo (fried plantains), Edikang Ikong (vegetable type soup), fried fish, oven baked chicken, beef and goat stew, Jollof rice, rice and peas, and a few more. For dessert, Nations Café served a variety of dry tea cakes, all of which looked delicious. I didn’t get the chance to try much of the food, but my favorite by far was the Kpof Kpof and the Jollof rice. Although the food was presented differently than what one would normally see in America, it wasn’t that unfamiliar to me. This definitely shattered some of the pre-conceived notions I had about Nigerian culture, and was a lesson in my cultural education for the evening. Nigeria, although seems so completely foreign, and in many ways it is, it wasn’t nearly as un-relatable as I thought it might be.

Nigerian food platter

In addition to copious amounts of good food, there was plenty of entertainment.  The keynote speaker was Nigerian Ambassador Geoffrey I. Teneilabe. He spoke primarily about the economy of Nigeria and emphasized how important education is to Nigerians. According to the ambassador, there are Nigerians in almost every sector of the professional world, and Nigerians are the eighth-most educated minority group in the United States. He also encouraged the audience to visit Nigeria and to bring business to the country, as it is trying to open up its global economy.

 Nigerian Ambassador in Atlanta

After his speech, guests were surprised by a performance of an authentic Nigerian music and dance called Ekpe, which Nigerians actually consider a masquerade.  According to Nigerian folklore, Ekpe is a mysterious spirit who lives in the jungle and presides at various cultural ceremonies. I don’t think any description I could give of this performance would do it justice, so make sure to check out the video below and see it for yourself. It was, by far, one of the most interesting parts of the evening.

For me, the most prominent takeaway from the evening wasn’t necessarily what I learned, but the pride that was evident in its people despite the bad reputation Nigeria has gotten in the news recently. Many native Nigerians attended the event, and they all had something to say about how amazing their country is. It was very interesting to hear what someone who actually knows the country and culture has to say, and enlightened me in a lot of surprising ways. In my opinion, Destination Nigeria gets a ten on the cultural education scale.

~ By Allie Williams, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia. Allie explores her passion for food, travel, and learning about different cultures though her internship with Go Eat Give.

Nigeria’s place on the world scene: Interesting facts about the “Giant of Africa”

Nigeria, also referred to as the “Giant of Africa,” is located in West Africa between the Republics of Benin, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger. With over 174 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, and the seventh most populous in the world. It is made up of over 300 ethnic groups speaking more than 521 languages, the fourth largest grouping of languages in the world, yet it is only about twice the size of California. Nigeria gets its name from the Niger river that flows through its landscape, and is home to one of the oldest known locations of human existence. Thanks to its size and abundance of natural resources, Nigeria is the most important player in Africa and one of the biggest in the world scene, and is slated to become even bigger in the next half a century.

As of 2014, Nigeria’s economy is the largest in Africa, worth more than $500 billion, and is the 32nd largest economy in the world. It is expected to become one of the world’s top 20 economies by 2050. Much of this economic power is due to its crude oil production industry. Nigeria is the 12th largest producer of petroleum and the 8th largest exporter, brining in billions of dollars annually. This level of wealth is evident in many aspects of its culture. Nigeria is home to 5 of the 10 wealthiest pastors in the world according to Forbes, worth between $10 and $150 million. It is also home to the world’s third largest film industry, Nollywood.

But with the good also comes the bad. Due to its economic wealth and various military dictatorships that have ruled the country since its independence in 1960, Nigeria is arguably one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Its legislators are among the highest paid worldwide, while its people are among the poorest, with more than 100 million Nigerians living in destitution and for less than one dollar a day. In 2013 Nigeria was rated the worst country in the world to be born in based on welfare and prosperity projection. Based on an income of $81 billion per year and the amount of that squandered annually, Nigeria has been deemed the most corrupt nation in the world, due to its government’s tendency of stealing hundreds of billions of dollars from the public.

So how is this contradiction possible, and what is there to do about it? To learn this and more about the “Giant of Africa,” come to our next event Destination Nigeria on August 14, and hear Nigerian Ambassador Geoffrey I. Teneilabe and Dr. Omoh T. Ojior of the Onima Institute, speak about current issues plaguing Nigeria, its economy and its people.

Destination Nigeria flyer

~ By Allie Williams, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia. Allie explores her passion for food, travel, and learning about different cultures though her internship with Go Eat Give.