Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How will I stalk people while I'm abroad?

Okay so here is one of my biggest challenges about going to Ghana for a while is going to be dealing with my addiction(s) to social networking sites, blogs, personal webpages and instant messenger application. I'm a gadget fiend. I have two ipods, have owned more than 7 or 8 cell phones, and have had two laptops in the past 4 years. You can chat with me on Gchat (two gchat accounts), AIM, Facebook and Skype. ( I USED to have Yahoo chat and ICQ) I have a blog, a Myspace and a Facebook account. And this is barring my old LiveJournal and Xanga.

So this information could mean several things. 1) Maybe I waste my money on too much stuff. 2) Maybe I have too much free time on my hands 3) I'm just so damn cute and popular, I must make a way to communicate with all of my fans and adoring subjects! 4) I am using these online interfaces to span my thoughts and ideas through what Arjun Appadurai calls the "technoscape" no longer needing to mind the limits of time and space, which are undergoing compression in this age of accelerated global flows and disjuctures.

Or maybe its a mix of all those sauces.

Anyway, I like feeling connected. I like knowing whats going on in the lives of my friends, family, friends of friends, siblings of friends, classmates, professors, co-workers, family friends, acquantainces, old schoolmates, one time hookups, the-person-you-liked-but-never-had-the-balls-to-act-on-it, exes, ex-flings, ex-flings of my ex-flings, the library janitor, the bus driver, as well as the friendly neighborhood SharPei named Chan Chan (He has 552 friends on Facebook) Point is: I'm a stalker.

I like to know what people are up to, what they are spending their time doing, or thinking about. I like to know their favorite things, bands, movies, their zodiac sign, and maybe "What Type of Sex and the City Character??" they score on those quizzes. Yea, with internet, I dont even need to talk to you to know these things about your life! Sweet and easy access to information. Or maybe it works the other way around. Maybe if I put up my interests, and you get a basic glimpse into who I am (at least at school) as a person and what I like, maybe its advertising to make people want to get to know you. Facebook/Myspace and the like act like "preview". You can see my profile and get a preview of me, like a movie trailer. If you like what you see, you can invest more (read: like, actually engaging me in conversation) and then, you shall receive more. Simple.

But on the other hand, maybe my dad is right. He posits that people who post online in blogs and journals and such are only in it for the ego. ( Ouch Daddy) Could be true. But I argue that perhaps the explosion in online networking, blogging, facebooking and myspacing is in contrast to what I would call the Cult(ure) of Privacy. Lets face it, in America, we are OBSESSED WITH PRIVACY.

Or at least we were.America is obsessed with privacy when it comes to mental health, phyisical health, disclosure of my school grades, gender orientation, STD testing, political affiliation, survey and questionnaire responses, telephone conversations, my activities online, boxers vs briefs, and female weight. We lamented at how certain government initiatives began to monitor ordinary citizens as an invasion of our Cult(ure) of Privacy. The first order of the CoP is that Americans, who prize individualism as a cornerstone of progress and democracy, are entitled to live their lives completely free of prying eyes and ensuing public judgment.

But are we starting to see the light and convert from this Cult(ure)? People now do not hesistate about posting their addresses, cell phone numbers, class schedules, gender orientations, political affliations, or their employment history. I can see whether youre in a relationship, or when you're single. I can also browse through your pictures and see that clearly while drunk last weekend, you Kissed a girl at the Keg and you liked it, and because of that your life must be so much cooler than mine. Even though we moan and whine about how the government is encroaching on our privacy, we live in a world where we ( me included) are obssessed with celebrity weight, eating disorders, pregancies, drug abuses. The fact that we have paparazzi willing to buy high powered lenses to get pictures of celebs flashing NSFW body parts exiting cars, sunbathing, picking their noses, and stuffing their faces, and furthermore get paid millions for some of these shots leads me to believe that we don't buy into the doctrines of our own Cult(ure) of Privacy.

Where is this coming from, this eagerness to share (read: overshare) about ourselves and our lives and stalk other peoples? Perhaps has this Cul(ture) of Privacy has eroded away our simple notions of community and connectedness and as a result, maybe we are trying to get it back? Or are we just self-obsessed narcissists?

Yup, the parents are looking for you too. Thought Mommy was computer illiterate eh?


Monday, August 25, 2008

2 Weeks out...!

Okay, so time is running out. I just got back from Atlanta last night, and I'm slowly freaking out as my time here in the US is coming to an end for a good while. Ive spent the last couple of months playing around in great cities like Chicago, Dallas, and Atlanta ( I wish I could have made the New York trip) and I think I'm going to miss America! More so for the fact that my friends and family are here. My family and I spent the last couple of days in Atlanta dropping my little sister off at Emory for her freshman year....and it just reminded me of all the changes that seem to be occuring at once this year....Im the first kid to graduate, now Im off to Africa for 10 months and now she, the baby, is off to start her adult life (sniff). Too much, too much!

Alright so, heres whats been done:

-Got my textbooks in. I ordered several broadcasting books in Africa, Communication research strategies, press freedom in Africa, etc etc. I dont think i'll be sending them through the diplomatic pouch, but maybe I'll just pay the extra fee to have another bag. I dont wanna have to wait six weeks for my books. I should have ordered and shipped them a long time ago.

- Gotta start taking the anti-malarial drugs this week

-Got my laptop all nice and fixed and pretty. Still gotta buy protective gear to keep dust and the like out.

-Got the medical records

-Got the GSM phone in the mail

I cant really think of anything else pressing I need to do right now. Besides get a swimsuit. And a towel. And facewash.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

About 3 weeks out

Its been a while, but yes I have a little less than three weeks left until I'm in Ghana.

BTW, I had a blast at my little birthday party on Friday in Deep Ellum, Dallas. Cant go wrong with three of my favorite things in life, sushi, hookah, and sake bombs! I'll post about it later. As well as some other things that happened this weekend. But I digress.

As for my preparations, things are looking a little more....."real". I got my first Fulbright check in the mail (!!!) to set up expenses like housing, food, transportation and equipment. I'm all set with my visas. Ghana granted me a 5 year multiple entry visa which is awesome. Who knows, maybe they want me to work there in the future, lol. I've secured my health records, my quadband GSM phone. I'm still waiting for some textbooks Ive ordered in the mail that will help with my project. One thing about my project that is semi -exciting and semi scary is that there isnt a TON of information out there that has been written in the West about how the African media works. So while the other Fulbrighters talk of shipping boxes upon boxes of textbooks, I guess I'm not in that position. I will have to send the textbooks ahead of me in what they call the U.S. diplomatic pouch. Unfortunately my laptop is in the shop with multiple wears and tears so I hope that it can get as spiffy as possible before I leave. I'm a little nervous about bringing a Mac after my mishap last year, but Ive made double sure to have every thing backed up.

Other than that its a matter of beginning to think about what to pack in terms of clothes and other things. I've never been in Ghana during the dry season before, so this will be a new experience with the heat. And of course, being a girl, I have to strategize about my hair. Braids it will be for the first couple of months!

Alright, ill be in Atlanta for the next couple of days helping my sister move into Emory. But yea, these are the last few weeks y'all! :) :D :0


Thursday, August 14, 2008


As revelatory and fun my birthday was on Tuesday, Wednesday was a completely opposite story. All the sparkles, glitter and rainbows from the 12th were replaced by some tough realities on the 13th. Probably the crappiest day I've had in a while.

I dont want to get into details of what happened yesterday, but all I can say is that I'm tired. Tired of trying to do or to be what everyone else thinks I should do or be. I'm even tired of myself, trying to become what I think I should be. Because unfortunately many times who you think you should be is often inextricably attached to what you think people think of you. Does that make any sense? Its like taking those quizzes like uhh..... "WHAT KIND OF FLIRT ARE YOU??" and only picking the "B)" responses because you know in the end, "B)" r that will make you look like "Congratulations, youre a Super Sexy Flirt!!". But in reality, youre a mixture of the "A", "B" and "C" responses, which leaves you with: "Congratulations, You're a Send-Men-Running-and-Screaming type of Flirt!!" or maybe, "Congratulations!! Youre a Coldhearted-Prudish-Gamekiller type of Flirt!!" No one wants people to think of themselves as one of the last two answers.
I'm not the type to quit, but this time around, I give up on trying. I'm folding. Theres no amount of fighting or trying that I can do to change certain things. For certain people, no amount of doing or trying on my part will please them. Theres no amount of conformity or rebellion that will do it, because in either case, I'm accepting that there is a standard, or a point or a level that I should be at. So the choice is to either conform to that standard, or rebel against it. I've done both......and...I'm tired. So I'm going to fall back...and just be.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Happy Birthday to me!

Yea, okay, so today is my REAL birthday. A lot of people have been giving me grief that I have been calling myself 22 since May or something. Kinda like when youre a little kid and youre like, "Im not 5! Im 5 and 3/4ths!!"

I used to hate my birthdays. Only those who know me really well will know why. Anyway, this is perhaps the first year that I can remember where I feel pretty content with things. 2008 has been really good for me. I've gotten everything I've wanted this year since my birthday last year. I had an excellent senior year, what with doing well grades wise, and being president of the African Student Association. I got my first apartment, which was so much fun. I got my first job offer in the real world (in Chicago, which I didnt take for obvious reasons). I found out boxing is one of the most awesome sports ever. And of course, I GRADUATED from NORTHWESTERN! It must be said though, probably the biggest and most obvious present was getting the Fulbright. But it wasnt the most important...I would have to say...

But the first thing I thought about when my birthday hour arrived was not so much about what I wanted for myself in terms of material things, but I was thinking about what I've been so blessed with this past year. Even though much of 2007 was really difficult, Ive realized in 2008 that what brought me through was the love and support of family, friends, teachers and just other pretty nice people. I have some of the coolest friends ever, especially those I met at Northwestern....Nikki, Ali, Adrienne, Marissa, R, Kelly come to mind right now, and of course plenty more that have been there for me. I think the coolest gift is not necessarily something you can pick up at Nordstroms (although there is this purse I kinda want), but realizing who you are becoming. (Sounds Cliche, but its true!) In the same vein, I've gotten rid of some toxic people in my life, and found new ones who have had much more positive impacts on me. I've reconnected with people from my high school past, which is important, because in high school, I spent much of my time quite closed off and distant. I've spent my college years trying to correct that.

Its about to sound really lame, but every couple of years I make a powerpoint, where I take inventory of goals Ive already accomplished, and make lists of things that I still want to do. I dont share this with anyone, but the last one I made, my sister found on my harddrive. I had long forgotten what I had written, but she was like, "Karen, do you realize youve done most of these things on here?" I asked her to read it to me and I had accomplished a lot of what I had written at the time when I was 18 or 19. Well at 22, its time to take restock and figure out what I want for myself in the years to come, and give God thanks for what I'm "workin' with" so to speak.

So as I get ready to embark on this trip of a lifetime, I know it wont be my last adventure. I have a great team of friends and family behind me. I hope you guys will all still be on my team in the future! (Well, Family, you have no choice!!) Its y'all, with the calls/wallposts/texts that make the birthday happy, nothing that I could really do. So thanks! :)

Friday, August 8, 2008

HAPPY 08/08/08

Wishing you all new beginnings, happiness and prosperity.

Watching the Olympics makes me feel all warm an fuzzy inside. Yay for humanity..!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hell "No No No No....."

Beyonce kinda freakumed me out..........

So have y'all seen this picture of her posing for L'Oreal? Its been blowing up the blogs. People are crying foul at the L'Oreal ad for retouching Beyonce to the point that she looks white. I personally had to do a double-take to authenticate this as really Mrs. Shawn Carter herself. I'm not a Beyonce fanatic, nor am I particularly a hater. She has emerged as an international symbol of beauty. However, I personally will fall back on flipping out about this ad. Heres why:
  1. The color palette of the ad itself has Bey Bey wearing white, against a white background.
  2. Bey Bey is in this 3/4 pose, making her nose look quite straight. Plus, there are rumors the girl had a nose job a long time ago. Not L'Oreals Fault.
  3. That freaking hair color! Blondish? That would ash me out too
  4. Beyonce is of African American and Creole descent. Have you seen her mom? Her mother is quite light. Its been said that her mother would send her to tanning salons to look better on stage in her outfits.
  5. Ummm...I don't particularly expect big beauty corporations to have a responsibility to me to represent images of authentic "blackness" when clearly we still have issues denoting what blackness is. Now If I saw this picture and the caption under it said, "Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child is sporting Color Essence #3242", then I would be launching some fireworks...
Okay, if the ad were for a beauty company made by and for black women, like Iman's line or even Carol's Daughter, I would have have a problem. But I have never expected the likes of Revlon (Halle Berry, Major spokesmodel) Covergirl (Tyra Banks, and Rihanna, major spokesmodels) or any of the others to have a responsibility to promote black beauty. I'm being cynical, I know. But lets face it....they don't HAVE TO. All these brands will continue to make money and stay in business, supported by the mainstream who they cater to and those of us who arent so mainstream looking who arent content with standing on the banks of said stream.

I find it it somewhat hypocritical, all of this. I say, Why criticize L'Oreal when I still see black hair and skin care stores selling skin bleach right next to L'Oreal? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I've never heard of a protest against CVS or Albertson's for selling Ambi. Why do we criticize L'Oreal for what they may or may have not done to Beyonce with lighting and computer effects when so many darker-skinned women of many races attempt the same in their bathrooms every morning with harsh chemicals??? Im not even going to talk about people who photoshop their own facebook pics or purposefully pick foundation that is three shades too light but just the right shade of ridiculous. Because its easier to blame someone else...the media, culture, the fashion industry, white people in general.....rather than do a gut check and realize that blacks all over the world still hold on to particular notions of beauty.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Officially one month and counting...

Today is August 6th, which means I leave the US in exactly one month!!. I still have to...
  • Fax a release for my medical forms
  • Tune up my computer
  • Buy clothes
  • Get in contact with my host institution
  • Wait for my visas
  • Figure out what to do with my hair
  • Oh and uh......figure out how to do my research for a year.

Yea...thats about it.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Countdown!!

ONE WEEK UNTIL MY BIRTHDAY!!!!!! The big 2-2!!

Tattoos: Thinking about My Ink (Part 2)

Where did we leave off? Oh yea, I felt bad about how my mom would feel. She's staunchly against it. If anyone knows anything about African culture, tattoos and body markings are looked on as rather taboo, a thing for hooligans or people who worship idols. So my plan was to hide it from her.

Too bad I confessed in July. I may sometimes act like a badass, but I hate lying or covering up something I've done. My mom was naturally upset, but at the same time, its not the worst thing I could have done in the world. Naturally, she is the major reason why I have a laser removal appointment on Aug 18th.

I still have mixed feelings about my tattoo. No, I don't have pictures, and I don't think ill post them because to me, body art is highly personal. On one hand, getting it done marked the end of a phase in my life. It marked a drive that I had to take control of my own body, away from bad relationships, overprotective parents, negative media images. I told myself that if I won the Fulbright I would get inked (I also said I would get a Kate Spade Passport holder. I think my tatt is cooler). I'm reminded of how I struggled to make it this far, and that if I can achieve this then I can do whatever God strengthens me to do. At the same time, even though more and more girls from all walks of life are getting inked up, I know there is still a stigma attached. Women are supposed to be soft and smooth, with no hair, no wrinkles and no blemishes. But we have an emergence of women who are challenging this...with women like Kat Von D, or Angelina Jolie even. Little Miss "Good Girl Gone Bad" Rihanna has talked to the media about her tattoo obsession.
Right, right, I know I'm in the real world unlike these celebrities, and no I'm not saying I did it because they did. I don't intend to get any more body art. This is my limit. I have this weird dichotomy, where on one end I want to be free to express myself. I wanna wear the hair I want, the clothes I want, the body jewelry I want. At the same time, especially as a woman, you feel so much pressure to conform, ESPECIALLY PHYSICALLY, to appear to be wholesome, virtuous, but yet desirable at the same time. And that's where I'm stuck.
This tatt represents some good things, some not-so-good things. Perhaps it represents my own struggles with who I am and who I want to become. Its the straddle between using your body as a tool of rebellion or a representation of conformity. Its an expression of achievement, but a reminder of struggle. That's why I'm just as mixed about removal. Its going to be painful and expensive, I know. I'll only be able to do one treatment before I go abroad. This is the first time I'm submitting myself to pain where nothing good or pretty will come out of it, like a piercing or tattoo. I'm not happy about that. But at the same time, unfortunately, my mom believes that this Arabic tattoo means that I have pledged myself to the terrorist spirits of Islam and I must get rid of it right away because in no way is Islam compatible with Christianity in her view.
Bah. I'll let y'all know how it goes.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Tattoos: Thinking about my Ink (Part 1)

Okay, so in exactly three weeks, I have a 5:00 appointment at a laser tattoo removal center in Dallas.


Lets backtrack and trace to how I got to this point, shall we? Rewind to last year. Around springtime I was going through a lot of issues. My first relationship ended pretty badly. The process of ending a relational situation that made me miserable in the first place ended up being an equally taxing task. School was tough, per usual. I had tons of duties in student leadership, and like I mentioned in my last post, this was the time when I was trying to square away my research project. I seemed perfectly okay on the outside, but inside, I was screaming for something to stop the inner emotional hemorrhaging. One day during spring break, I decided to go get a navel piercing.

I don't know why I had that impulse. I wasn't necessarily in it to look cute/sexy in bikinis or those ridiculous midriff tops you wear to the club. But the adrenaline rush of the piercing felt good. I liked the atmosphere of the tattoo shops. A couple of weeks later, I had some new ear piercings. I thought to myself, "What else can I do?"

A tattoo....!

Unlike most tattoo stories that involve the words "laser removal", mine wasn't an impulse decision. No. I spent a year fascinated by tattoos. I researched the history of tattooing, and the process. I knew exactly what word I wanted, and I was determined to get it in Arabic, so I spent months reaching people who could do the translation/calligraphy for me and make sure it didn't read "dog food". The difference between the tattoo and the piercings were that the piercings were complete impulse; I didn't tell anyone what I was going to do. With the tatt, I made it public that I was going to get one, and went so far as to challenge friends/siblings with reasons why I shouldn't. I hate not finishing what I start, so I went and made an appointment at the Tattoo Factory in Chicago for June 24 with Dawn.

I was so nervous, but I wasn't backing down. I'm good at silencing that alarm in my head. I sat in the chair and had the stencil done. I looked at it in the mirror for maybe like, 2 seconds. Back to the chair. BZZZZZZ!!! Wow. It hurt. But again, it was a rush. It maybe lasted 10-15 minutes max. Its a small tatt, so it wasn't that big of a deal. Then Dawn finished, applied the disinfectant, bandaged me up and sent me on my way with some tattoo factory goodies.

But all was not well. On my way back home, I started going into minor shock, the unwelcome words creeping into my head that no one wants to think after doing such a thing....."What have I d....." I don't think it was so much instant regret as it was shock that I actually went through with something so final, so permanent, so ballsy. But yes, my mother's face ran through my head. I knew she wouldn't approve.....

(Part 2 Next!)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Look Back....At how I got here

So, how did this all start? Well really it all began when I was looking for something to do in the summer of 2007. Like most Northwestern students, you dont spend your summers twiddling your thumbs back at your parent's house. You go get an internship. You go do research. You go get a job. You do whatever you need to do during your summer vacations to prepare you for that long long long vacation called "post-undergraduate life". So thats what I was doing.

I found information at Northwestern for a Undergraduate Research Grants that gives students 3000 U.S. dollars to fund original research grants, including international ones. This was around Feb/March of junior year. Since it was 2007 and Ghana's 50th anniversary, I wanted to do a project that would perhaps, help to commemorate that, and to shed light on what was going on with Democracy in the country. How do you "study democracy"? At first I thought, "Oh, I'll go around with surveys asking how people feel about democracy!" Too broad. Try again Karen. I tried again, this time zeroing in on radio and media. "Okay, I'll do a study of radio broadcasting, and how they cover democracy...!" Closer, but do better.

One day, I was locked in the library studying articles on radio and media in broadcasting. I found that people were talking about these phone in programs that were popular in Ghana. Bingo! I developed the idea into my final project proposal for the URG. Specifically I wanted to explore the nature of these new shows, how they operated, and why they were so popular. I turned in my proposal, got my professor to recommend it (Shout out to Barnor Hesse, Prof. of African American Studies, much love).....and won a grant!

However things didn't stop there. I was approached by my school (School of Communication, what what!) and the Office of Fellowships (pictured here. Dont let the pristine image fool you. Read on about how I was semi-hazed, lol) about the project. It was those in the Fellowships office (F.O) that really encouraged me to look at Fulbright to expand on this. I knew about Fulbright before, and honestly...before this project, there was no way I thought that I could possibly have a shot at something so prestigious. But in the interest of positive risk taking, I decided to start the application process in June 2007, after much encouragement from those in the F.O.

Okay, I'm going to fast forward through spring quarter...through the drama, breakups, um...hospitalizations.....(thats another post) and skip to around August/Sept 2007. I'll tell least for me, the hardest thing about applying around the July-Sept time is getting all those recommendations (both electronic and hard copy) and the affiliation letter (hard copy only). I rarely consider myself an aggressive person, but wow. I was sending constant emails...almost harassing Professors to get their recommendations in on time. People like to take their time, I understand. But I was like..."Um, do you not understand that you taking your time could, like, ruin my future?" Ha. I'm half kidding. But looking back on it now, perhaps I agitated my recommenders a bit. I guess the end justif.....I kid, I kid. I will say that I probably would have quit on the Fulbright if it were not for me getting in touch with two of the former Ghana Fulbrighters (one an NU alum) who really really encouraged me and helped me with my project. I'm eternally grateful for their help.

All those who are thinking of applying, find out who the alums are! Reach out! (Ahem, you have one blogging right here!)

Coming back to school, the NU vetting process is tough. The campus deadline is a month before national deadline. But the office was good about keeping up to date with what materials you had in/what you were missing, etc. It can be frustrating though....when you know yourself that you don't have everything in, and then to get a flaming email from the F.O. reminding you that you're kind of sucking at this Fulbright deadline thing. And that barring the gazillion revisions you have to do, as well as the panel interviews. However, it was worth it. The F.O. is toughest on those they think have the best shot. I'll admit though, I did break down into tears when I got an email saying, "Your project feels incomplete. You need to find Professor _______ at all costs before 5 pm tomorrow when he leaves town. Do everything in your power to get in contact with him. He has the key to make your project better. Good luck." I'd never met Professor X. I left all sorts of messages, went to his office, sent emails, everything. I finally ran into BY PURE LUCK that evening at an African Studies function. But point is, I was definitely hazed by the Fulbright office, lol.

Fast foward to deadline. Then the waiting game begins. You hear nothing from Fulbright until January, informing you of your first round status. Its the first and largest cut. But Oh-Em-Gee-Golly when I got that email saying I passed the first (hardest round), I think it was the first time where I was like..."Wow, I have a shot at this, for real?" It was awesome. But it meant more waiting.

February...nothing. word. At this somewhat sucks. I began making Plan(s) B, C, D, and so on and so forth. I applied for other jobs, began applying for graduate school (not the greatest idea). Actually, I got a job working with the Chicago Federation of Labor for a year. I was psyched about it. And then April 11th came...

" have been selected......" Its rare that I have breakdowns or freak out. My friend who I was talking to at the moment I got my letter can attest to this fact....I couldn't breathe. I kid you not. I couldn't speak coherently. I got teary eyed and immidiately called my mom. She pretty much caught the Holy Ghost. Its the best thing thats happened to me for a good while (ranks up there with getting into Northwestern, and perhaps discovering all-you-can-eat Sushi buffets). I never thought I'd see my name and profile on the Fulbright website, or on the O.F. website or in newspapers and stuff. (Well, I take that back. Google me in a few years, I'll be all up in the news, lol)

Like I said in my last post....after graduating and partying/playing/chilling in Chicago for the past few months, its time for me to refocus on my project and preparing for my trip. This blog will help me, I think. Just to keep track of what I've done and what I still need to do. I still need to revise some aspects of my project. I still need to make some contacts over in Ghana. I still need to figure out certain things about housing and transportation. I need to figure out how exactly I'm going to learn more Twi. But its not a stressful place to be. I'm not saying I'm totally ready...but I'll get there.

Thats all for now,