Black Lives Matter: “There is no social contract”, says Trevor Noah

These days, just like many others, I am keenly following everything on the Black Lives Matter protests in the Unites States, and in the last days the rest of the world including 1000s on the street here in Stockholm. Is now the time racism will finally die? I think of my friends in the US and wonder how they are feeling. I look for Instagram posts about white allyship. I sit with long-reads tracing the history of racism. An eerie feeling rises: nothing of this is new.

The best input so far, I feel, is a heartfelt 18 minute clip by talk show host (and house god) Trevor Noah. He argues that the protests were to be expected as the US social contract was repeatedly trashed when black citizens daily have to fear for their lives by law enforcement.

“Why should the citizens of a society adhere to the laws when the law-enforcers themselves don’t?”, as Trevor Noah puts it.

The social contract is an idea, a thought model for what a society is. I taught social contract theory in my Social Theory class at Ashesi University in Ghana for 10 years, so I immediately liked this way of understanding the situation at hand. The social contract, even in its cruelest, most authoritarian form as expressed by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan has one caveat – when your life is threatened…when your life does not matter to the leadership, the social contract no longer exists. When the society is no longer protecting you, you are back in the state of nature, the “all against all” situation where there are no more any rules – because what do you have to lose if your life is at stake?

To educate ourselves about the history behind the racism we see across the globe and to discuss how that reality is relevant today, the Social Theory class also read Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyesi’s novel Homegoing (I can very much recommend it) which follows the descendants of two sisters from Ghana – one sold into slavery and transported over the seas to the US, one staying in green Ghana. The message that Africans on the continent and those in the diaspora are connected is driven home well-well. In a post from 2016 related to this issue, Ghanaian blogger Jamila Abdulai wrote,

“I’ve been observing the lack of dialogue on the Black Lives Matter cause and racism in America among Africans, particularly on the continent, with great trepidation. Sure, some of us are sharing one or two articles, but we are largely silent on the issue, not uttering a word. Not to mention the fact that there hasn’t so much as been a beep from our so-called leaders either. That’s why I’m writing this. To appeal to your conscious, to plead with you to wake up.”

But maybe there are things that are new, this time around. This time, Ghana’s president Akuffo-Addo did share a statement that I think it is worth reposting.

White people also do better on acknowledging the movement this time around, at least on my timelines. People share resources and hashtags, seem to be learning about racism and allyship just like myself, and express support. I especially liked a post talking about “black people’s joy and thriving” as the goal beyond black lives matter.

While the protests continue, at home we have daily conversations on what it means to be black or white in Ghana, Sweden, and the world today. I know many other families in Sweden have similar conversations. We think about the changes over time and frankly, we are impatient with the slow change.

I watch the clips. I read everything I can find. I unlearn and learn my own role.  I shudder at the evil in this world.

I also smile when I see how many of us support the struggle. Will we live to see racism wiped out, will we experience a broad understanding of that black lives matter and see racism replaced with true humanism, respect for life, and black joy?

A few ways to support the cause in Sweden: (Please add more in the comments!)

Back to Basics: Blogging as a way of Dealing (with Crisis, with Life!)

WFH desk made from a ironing board
DIY WFH desk, made from an ironing board and a computer stand.

My blog has been quiet for a long time, more or less for a year with a few professional updates. I have gotten a few questions on this, and it is not due to lack of content! Actually more has happened in the last year than in previous years: I changed jobs, moved my family to a new (that’s how it felt, but it is my native) country. On top, I revisited everything I knew about relationships. Despite these upheavals (or maybe because of them?) I was no more sure about how to write on the blog or even what the point of it was. Every now and then, I’d read another blog and remember –  with a deep sigh –  my own was dormant, but still, I would not know how to return.

If last year was humbling and full of change and surprise, the Corona virus and ensuing world crisis add a whole new dimension of uncertainty and dread…but also new experiences and hope.

I cannot promise anything, but I will try to return to the blog. I think I can see now how having a presence online is helpful to my professional pursuits, maybe especially when the world – and with it, my career – is changing. It is a place to write about what I see, read, and do. It is a place to practice my writing – as I would say to my students, you can always get better! Writing about something is also a way to learn. And having a blog is a basic and practical way to approach life and its constant challenges. So, let see how it goes. For starters I updated the look and made it easier to read on your handheld device.

Now, what do you want to read about? Drop me a comment!

Sabbatical or Time to Think, Read, and Write

I am lucky enough to work in a sector where there is a tradition to allow a block of time every 6-7-8 years of employment to focus on research. The time has come to me and this spring, Jan-May, I will be 100% focused on thinking, reading, and writing.

It is exhilarating – so much potential! – and scary. I am worried I will somehow squander the time, get derailed by emails, or just get less productive when the walls of structure that I am used to are gone.

Three weeks into the sabbatical, I am still a bit worried, although have read much more research already than I did all of last semester, and asked senior colleagues for help and guidance. I am also walking more, both to lessen the anxiety and to think better. But should I continue to work from my house with all distractions that come with it or should I find an office space away from home? For now, I am taking up colleagues on their offers of co-writing sessions and paying a short-term visit to a research environment in Sweden for focus and inspiration.

Potential Outputs

  • I hope to finish four papers that are almost (some just halfway) done and send them off to academic journals (and attend fewer conferences and workshops). 
  • I also want to publish shorter texts with more popular outlets (and write fewer emails and blog posts). 
  • I also hope to read more, especially classic texts like Nkrumah and Mamdani but also new ones, especially on decolonial theory and higher education, as well as monographs by researchers I know and aspire to write like (and do fewer lists of books and articles I should read). 
  • I want to do two-three sets of interviews to deepen projects already started (and not only rely on previous data I have collected)
  • I want to apply for research funding (and not think too much about what I am teaching next). 
  • Finally, I want to relax my body which has patiently supported a four-hour daily commute for years!

What would you do if you had five months of work time to plan yourself?

Best Nine of 2017 (and worst!)

It is time to summarize the year. These days it is easily done on Instagram and the Best Nine feature. As you can see it is a steady stream of colorful moments, from the top: 1. My sister-in-law Jenny and my niece Sapfo (Ghana style carried thanks to me!) discussing art in the Gallery at the plush Movenpick hotel, 2. My children being educated on how to pluck a chicken, 3. New dress from Kiki Clothing, 4. Chilling with Stonebwoy, 5. A blast from the past – my first visit to Ghana in 2004, 6. Ellen taking a stroll in our backyard, 7. Old dress at work, 8. SOS Tema School children very much related to me, 9. My kids at the Nubuke Foundation wall painted by children under the competent leadership of artist Bernard Akoi-Jackson.

So two moments at work, four with my kids, two with other kids, two in wax print fashion – three if you count baby carrying, one ninth hanging out with a celebrity, two in art spaces, one part remembering the past…

On the blog I have celebrated 10 years of living in Ghana, I have represented Sweden, stayed off social media for three weeks, shared the contents of my bag, been featured on one of my fav podcasts, and joined the debate on rape culture.

Of course, we all know these fav Instagram moments or blog posts are in no way representative of the year we have had, they are simply highlights or slivers of truth.

The nine worst moments were not shared on social media at all, but they were also part of my life. I have been misunderstood and mistaken. I have gone through loss, loneliness, stress, sickness, disappointment, while abroad I was locked into a glass cube at 5 am and saw my train to the airport depart without me (this should be its own blog post as I finally managed to break out McGuyver-style after realizing nobody would come to save me).

The worst moments on Instagram?

Well, apparently you do not like when I share photos of random documents or PTA meetings! But, of course as a blogger and lecturer, I do look at text much more than I do many other things…(Statistics from GabStats)

I am looking forward to 2018 and hope to meet you on Instagram, here on the blog, or somewhere else in this wondrous world. Thanks for reading!

 

My Week: Teach, Do Research and Work-Family Balance?

This week, I have a demanding and varied set of tasks ahead.

Monday, I will be welcoming guests to Ashesi University from Kenyon College, Ohio, US (Their 2020 plan is interesting and impressive). I am the Global Liberal Arts Alliance liaison for my institution and the visit is happening as part of that alliance. I will also be working on a research project on social media in the Ghanaian elections with a  colleague to-be-presented at the upcoming African Studies AS-AA conference end of this month. I have a phone call related to the upcoming Uppsala University Global Alumni Day, I am part of organizing in Accra next month (UU alumn? Register here). Monday evening we have the Town Hall meeting at Ashesi for the fall semester.

Tuesday and Thursday I am teaching Written and Oral Communication at Ashesi to 80 Freshmen. This week, we will be talking about referencing in academic writing and how to use technology like Grammarly to write better. I will also grade their reflection paper. You can follow the course on social media under the hashtag #AshWOC. See posts for instance on Twitter. Instagram.

Wednesday, I’ll be working on a research project on higher education in Ghana and increasing university fees. I have a research assistant who is a former student and we have a meeting with an administrator at Ashesi who I think can help us. In the evening farewell dinner with the Kenyon delegation.

Friday morning, I will be talking to high school students at SOS Hermann Gmeiner International College here in Tema about diversity, using my own life as a starting point. I will also have a phone conversation with my mentor. In the afternoon, I will pick my daughters up from school. I am aiming at having a balance between my professional and family life, but rarely have time to pick them up from school, so value this opportunity to spend time with them and connect with their teachers.

Saturday and Sunday I will lay flat! Or something very similar like floating in a pool, resting in a hammock, or watching cookies rise in the oven.

What is your week like?

My Week Following The @Sweden Curatorship Experience, #SMWiAccra

So last week, I had the honor of being the curator of the twitter account @Sweden. With a click, I increased my following by 10 and was the seven-day temporary face of my native Sweden. In a tropical setting. I thought I’d sum up my experience and also share what this week, following all the excitement, was like.

Monday, I woke up sick, with a swollen (!) nose. Had I been in a fist fight? The doctor said it was rather a sinusitis infection in my nose and I was on antibiotics before I knew it. I am not sure it was the curator experience that made me sick, but it was a day lost to pain and rest.

Tuesday, my children both started their new school. I accompanied and excited three-year-old to Nursery school and my husband took our six-year-old to Primary 1.

My school girls! ????? #maryjane #sisters #schooluniforms #mahjong #vamlingbolaget #233moments

A post shared by Kajsa Hallberg Adu (@kajsaha) on

On Wednesday, I was well enough to share some of my thoughts about the @Sweden experience on the Citi Breakfast Show on Ghanaian radio station Citi FM. IN an interview with the brilliant Bernard Avle, I talked about 

  • Traffic (I was late to the studio)
  • Knowing my audience
  • Missing my TL
  • Thinking about Swedishness
  • Wanting to be a Ghanaian citizen

Find the full program here, I come on around 9.40am.

In the afternoon, I met with a researcher, Hanne Geirbo from the interesting research project Learning Flexibility. We spoke about social media activism, solar energy adoption and strategies for infrastructure challenges.

Last, I attended the Social Media Week Accra, and was a speaker under the heading “Social Media: The Ghana Case”.

I tried to give a quick overview of how blogging has developed in Ghana since BloggingGhana started in 2008, but also to critique the use of social media as heavily entertainment, one way, consumeristic instead of appreciating the true revolution of social media and harnessing the promise of social change. I suggested we support each-other ventures more, create and use more hashtags to curate content and campaigns, we produce more content.

On Thursday, I met with my Ashesi students for the first time. Ambitious, fresh-faced future leaders make me so happy. I also finalized the contract with two final year students who I will supervise on their papers. Two very interesting projects, I will tell you more about later.

Today, Friday is for research and preparing for next week. I will also fit in some meetings. This evening, I’ll be seeing my friend to celebrate her birthday.

 

I feel like this week was as intense and interesting as last week, but I was back on my own social media accounts and I had missed the people I am following and learning from. The Sweden curatorship, made me rethink what I publish and how much I share my personal life. While I have a high sense of integrity, and usually post quite minimal “this was my day”, “this is my breakfast”- content, I now think there is also value to sharing more personal details and life circumstances as that goes to the heart of the prospects of social media: bringing people closer together by showing how diverse and how similar we all are.

Do you think it’s useful or interesting to read about other people’s daily lives?

The Week When I Increased My Twitter Following by x10

This week I have the honor of representing my native Sweden as the curator of the Twitter account @Sweden. It is every week run by a new Swede or person living in Sweden (this week a Swede outside Sweden). 

The initiative aims to showcase “the country of Sweden through the mix of skills, experiences and opinions it actually consists of. Through the stories of the various curators, not one Sweden is conveyed, but several.” Housed by the Swedish Institute, the project is a co-initiative with VisitSweden and you can read more about the project Curators of Sweden and see a list of more curators here.

I opened my curatorship with a tweet+video from our garden:

 

On my personal Twitter account @kajsaha, I have 12 000 followers, but this week I have 127 000! I hope to make good use of the exposure! During my week I will discuss

  • Swedishness,
  • my best online tips,
  • weather (that’s what Swedes like to talk about!),
  • identity politics,
  • why I chose to research migration in West Africa,
  • and of course, share some breakfast photos.

I also hope to use my social media skills to have a very interactive week!

See my posts on Twitter.com/Sweden

Welcome!

Daydreaming Heaven with Elsa on the island of Gotland

Ohhh! I just discovered one of Sweden’s most prolific lifestyle bloggers, Elsa Billgren, has bought a summer cottage on Gotland, the island I am from in Sweden.

This means I can get real-time, high-quality photos of my alternative life (should I have been a successful blogger/decorator/celeb). Elsa recounts her second-hand shopping, cottage decorating, fantastic family life, divine dinners with friends, charming garden ideas, professional DIY-projects with beautiful photos to go with. It is the absolute heaven for daydreaming!

An example is this post which highlights a perfect day in the adorable town of Visby. I mean, this is for instance exactly what I would have eaten…

(butter fried fish at Bakfickan with lingonberry jam and mash)

 

These are the very cobble stones on which I would have walked, dressed in loose jeans or something striped…

(old town Visby, S:t Hansgatan)

 

…and this is absolutely where I would have gone to do my shopping, ok, window shopping.

(Akantus).

I am so happy and grateful. Thank you, Elsa, for bringing all the colors and details of my daydream to me in a convenient blogging format!

Photo credit: Elsa Billgren.

I am attending Nordic Geographers’ Meeting #NGM2017

On Sunday, I’ll be in Stockholm for the 7th Nordic Geographers’ Meeting. I am excited to be presenting my work to a completely new audience – geographers, and a wider audience of social scientists – as I usually meet with Africa scholars or Migration scholars. The theme is “geographies of inequalities” which is almost a perfect topic to capture student migration out of the global South.

At the meeting, I hope to:

  • get some new ideas on how to take my work to the next level (Where do I publish?  What are others doing on students and migration?) and
  • pick up some clues on how I continue to do relevant interdisciplinary research. (What methods should I use?  Who can I collaborate with? Who else is interested in my work?)

I’ll be presenting two papers out of my dissertation research for the following two panels:

Session A3: Youth and Inequality: Perceptions, experiences, and aspirations. (PDF details)

Conveners: Prof. Katherine Gough of Loughborough University and Dr. Thilde Langevang of Copenhagen Business School.

Session description
Rising unemployment and sluggish economic growth are widely predicted to further widen income and wealth inequality worldwide. Young people, in particular, are being disproportionately affected with the OECD claiming that youth have replaced the elderly as the group experiencing the greatest risk of income poverty. This has widespread implications for the opportunities and constraints young people face as well as impacting on their aspirations for the future.This session will bring together papers which explore how young people’s lives and aspirations are being influenced by the inequality they experience and imagine both in situ and in faraway places. Papers are welcome from societies across the globe where young people are being affected by real or perceived high levels of inequality. Topics which may be explored in the session include, but are not restricted to, the implications of rising inequality at a range of scales for young people’ perceptions, experiences and aspirations of: Mobility and immobility /Education and skills training/ Work experiences and job prospects/Housing and home

Here my paper “Migration aspirations among university students in Ghana” will discuss my choices to focus on university students and not youth in general as well as aspirations and intentions and not migration per se . I also will share some results from the survey I did with university students in Ghana, in particular looking at social backgrounds of students and their view of migration. (20/6/17 1.15-3.00 pm. Room: William Olsson, House Y)

Session J7: The Politics of Movement. (PDF details)

Conveners: Dr. Nancy Cook & Prof. David Butz, Brock University.

Session description
The politics of movement  entanglements of power, social inequality and mobilities – is an abiding preoccupation in social geography and critical mobilities studies. Both scholarly fields identify mobility as a fundamental structuring dimension of social life. They also demonstrate that the capacity for movement under conditions of one’s choosing is a valuable resource that is unequally distributed in social contexts structured by hierarchies of power. In other words, movement is socially differentiated; it reflects and reinforces structures of power to configure inequitable social hierarchies. Critical geographers and mobility scholars are tracing the ways in which relations of gender, race, class, sexuality and citizenship shape discourses and practices of mobility that produce beneficial movement for some people and too little or too much movement for others.

For this session, I will discuss some thoughts around what a global South student really is in relation to mobility in my paper “Conceptualizing academic mobility and mobility exclusions from a global South student perspective”. Based on the data I collected for my dissertation research I will suggest some trends in the politics of movement from a student point of view. (19/6/17 at 5.15-6.45 pm in Room: U26, House U)

I am also looking forward to keynotes, especially with Dr. Brenda S.A. Yeoh who has a distinct global South perspective in her work and meeting new friends – and at least one old! I want to thank my good friend Michael Boampong who sent me the initial info on this conference, and who is also attending the conference as well as and my department at Ashesi University which made this trip possible.

Hope to meet you at #NGM2017!

My Children Speak Three Languages: Here Are My Thoughts About It

My brother reads to my children. In Swedish.

In our family, we speak three languages: English is the common language that all of us speak, then I speak Swedish with the kids (which my children’s father can understand some, but cannot speak it), and the children’s father speaks Fanti, an Akan language ( which I only have a basic level of understanding and proficiency) with them. People around us speak either English or Fanti or other dialects of Akan, in school, my daughter is taught in English. We Skype with my Swedish family in Swedish maybe once a week.

Swedish is hence the language my children hear the least of.

My thoughts around teaching them my language are:

  1. It is extremely important to me they speak my mother-tongue. It is the lauguage in which I can express myself best and it is the carrier of my culture. My children speaking Swedish is non-negotiable and I am envisioning them speaking Swedish fluently as adults, on a level high enough it would not immediately be possible to tell they did not always live in Sweden.
  2. If I, their mother, speak Swedish, they will too. I therefore try and speak as much in Swedish with them as I can. Honestly, I constantly disappoint myself and end up speaking English much more than I intend to, but I try to be forgiving, switch to Swedish when I realize I am rattling on in English and say to myself that “tomorrow is a new day…”
  3. To increase my children’s Swedish vocabulary, we read books every day. I try to read to them every night I am home for about 45 minutes (5 nights a week). We have many children’s’ books in Swedish, but I also do direct translations from books in English (and the one in French!). We also converse around pictures in the books.
  4. Mixing languages is ok. The Multilingual Children’s Association agrees and calls it “harmless and temporary”. If my children speak mixing English and Swedish, and they do that quite a bit, I might translate to Swedish in my response to them. For instance,  they might say: “…and kaninen [the rabbit] fall down”,  I can respond “Ja, den ramlade…” [Yes, it fell]. But I don’t want to coerce them into speaking Swedish as I don’t want there to be any ill-feeling towards the language. At times that means I will be speaking Swedish and they will respond in English. Good enough.
  5. We spend at least one month in a Swedish-speaking environment every year. I think it is sometimes good to be emersed in the language and “forced” to speak (but I am not contradicting myself, the force that comes naturally from speaking to someone who prefers Swedish is very different to be made to speak to someone who speaks both languages).
  6. I take help from technology. When my children play iPad games or watch movies, I make sure some of them are in Swedish. It is also a great way of adding the cultural aspect of life in Sweden such as current favorites Barnen i Bullerbyn and Astrid får en lillebror.
  7. I think of next steps. However, I realize my children lack some specific vocabulary, for instance, words for play in Swedish (My child: “Hello, let’s play HIDE AND SEEK”, Swedish child: *blank face*), so I would love to organize playdates for them with Swedish speaking children. I know a few here in Ghana and am aware of a Swedish family moving to our town soon. Likely my Swedish would improve with some more practice as well!

If you have experiences with a multilingual life, I would love to hear your story!

Thanks to Charlie’s comment and Nadja’s facebook post which inspired this post!

This post is part of a series of posts about parenting

Kajsa on “A Wonderful Podcast” #enunderbarpod

Just before xmas, I was on my way to work and as usual listened to one of my regular Swedish podcasts and heard them discussing if people across the world listened to them. So I wrote a message:

Är jag den första som lyssnar från Afrika? Jag lyssnar på väg till jobbet på tisdagmorgnar, jag kör bil från hamnstaden Tema i Ghana till jobbet på Ashesi University på andra sidan huvudstaden Accra. Älskar den kognitiva dissonansen som uppstår när ni babblar på om pepparkakshus medan jag ser ghananskt marknadsmyller utanför rutan med barn på ryggen, väskor och korgar som stolt bärs på huvuden, och försäljare som vill att jag köper papaya….eller att skratta åt rävar och grisar på en tvåfilig motorväg bland getter och nybyggda bostadsområden! Tack för en underbar pod!

Am I the first to tune in from Africa? I listen to you on my way to work on Tuesday mornings, I take my car from the harbour town of Tema in Ghana to my job at Ashesi University on the other side of the capital Accra. I love the cognitive dissonance which happens when you go one about gingerbread houses (Swedish concept?) while I see Ghanaian market crowds outside my car window with kids riding on backs, bags and baskets proudly carried on heads, and hawkers who want me to buy some papaya…or laughing at “foxes and pigs” on a two-lane motorway among goats and new dwellings! Thanks for a wonderful podcast!

And they contacted me for a short interview! It is live today on ONE OF SWEDEN’S BIGGEST PODCASTS En Underbar Pod (A wonderful Podcast) !

As a blogger, it was a dream come true to talk to Underbara Clara who is Sweden’s most successful and innovative blogger and her hilarious pod partner Erica. At the same time, the conversation felt very natural, like we had known each other for years – I guess in a way I do know Clara and Erica well after reading Clara’s blog for many years, and listening on the pod from the get go.

Today, the episode with me and three other listeners Malin, Miriam and Mikaela across the globe (photos above borrowed from UnderbaraClara) can be heard by following this link and clicking on “EUP International”.

If there are any new readers on my blog because of my exciting podcast appearance, please comment and say “hello” or “hej!” below!

My #2016bestnine on Instagram

Last year I increased my presence on Instagram and ended up with 244 posts which were liked a whopping 6971 times! Thank you!

(and if you are not part of the 800+ people who follow me yet, I am @KajsaHA there too!)

You apparently like:

  1. Me graduating with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in African Studies from University of Ghana
  2. Me taking a selfie with an umbrella and a yellow Ginko Biloba tree at the Mall in Washington DC (steps away from where people did NOT assemble for someone’s inauguration last week)
  3. My daughter Ellen zipping up my dress.
  4. Smiley husband and I on a night out at the National Theatre.
  5. An intimate sibling embrace.
  6. Girls being silly in new swim caps.
  7. Garden marvels (it is palm nut kernels!).
  8. Long shadows on one of the shortest days of the year.
  9. Live broadcast technology that allows my mother in Sweden to follow my graduation in Ghana (see #1)

Comment on what you want to see in 2017!