I attended the Yari Yari Ntoaso conference which was held from May 16-19, 2013. It was held in Accra at the College for Physicians and Doctors, which is a lovely facility by the way, but customer service was lacking. Howver, the organizers made up for it by having a great team of student volunteers who really held the conference together.
The conference theme was on “Continuing the Dialogue” on engaging the past, the present and the future. It was the best conference I ever attended. All the big names in African/Global literature were there. This conference opened my eyes in two ways.
The first way has propelled me to write more, and give attention to my writing. I was mostly using this blog as my first draft. Now I know this blog can be much more. Not just me writing when I have time, but making time to provide information and writing well. This point was particularly important because attendees included great writers such as Ama Ata Ado, Veronique Tadjo, Evelyne Trouillot, Zetta Elliot, Amma Darko, Malme Kabu and other political activist such as Angela Davis. Needleless to say, it was in a sea of perfection. This group was why museums were created…to show and spotlight greatness in society. This conference was on ongoing curatorial dialogue on perfection.
The conference was perfect in two ways. The first way was that the writers were world’s best. They took their craft seriously and they mastered it. But that was not the most important to me. The most important point of this dialogue on perfection was that it took place in Accra; a place where perfection tends to be a foreign word. Where few acknowledge it and where fewer aim for it. I hope this conference left its mark on Ghana’s landscape and start the process of change. How could one not be influenced by Amma Darko, whose unfinished work almost caused me to commit a felony? I need that book.
The second reason why I enjoyed this conference was on the social level. Nina Chachu was kind enough to email me the link for the conference, which I had not heard about. I went through the program and noticed three Haitian names. I had not heard of the individuals before, nor was I familiar with their art. But I took the liberality to email them simply because I was Haitian, and so were they. But I didn’t email to say just hello. I emailed to impose my Haitianess on them. I asked if they could do favors for me, a Haitian, they didn’t know or had heard of. They each answered categorically yes. Why wouldn’t day do this favor? It was understood. It was not a problem. If anything, this is what we do. We travel to foreign countries and bring things back for one another. We take things to Haiti for friends and those we are hoping to meet. It’s part of our socialization…cooking more than enough just in case a non expectant drops by.
Many cultures will claim to have this, in their traditions, but few live up to this the way Haitians do. It’s not “the way of the past” but the way that we define who we are, still today.
Mamle Kabu spoke on identity and how identity is negotiated. She discussed that identity is not only how you define what you want others to think you are but it’s also their willingness to take your word for it by allowing you in or keeping you out. One of the Haitian presenters I emailed was the talented and fabulous Gabrielle Civil. She responded to my email but also included that she was half Haitian. Automatically my expectations changed. My first instinct was “Oh oh.” Would she “real” Haitian? Would we just flow? Would I be able to freely/wholly be Haitian with someone who was half?
Why did I automatically question her half-ness as problematic to my “wholeness?” I struggled with these questions in college when I came into contact with Haitians with different backgrounds than me. It turns out that Gabrielle was as fantastic as I had envisioned, and even more so. But what if my curatorial creation of Haitianess was different from hers? Would I have dismissed her as “not enough”? Would I have been “humane” enough to see that “one” identity did not override others?
I realized that the anxiety of difference is precisely because it is not known and familiar. I “think” I know how a Haitian would act, respond and behave. I don’t know that of another group. And because my self-seeking needs are easily met with the known, I automatically dismiss the unknown. And similar to Mamle Kabu’s story, identity has more to do with those watching waiting to include or exclude. Because who you really are, will come out, flawlessly as Gabrielle’s performance proved.