I don’t know how my first semester here ended, but it did. Was it satisfactory? Overwhelming? Challenging? Boring? Disappointing? Up to my expectations?
Frankly, all of the above, and to be even more frank, I didn’t have much time to really digest what was going on and to find the right description. My goal was to survive day by day and finish most of the readings I was assigned to. Some were eye-opening and superb, while I did seriously wonder why on earth I was reading some others. Just like everything else in life, pretty much.
After a short winter break (too short compared to the two-month winter break in Korea), I’m back for my second semester and
into my third week already a month has already gone by. Maybe it’s just the beginning, or maybe I’ve become more phd-tuned, but this semester is revealing itself to be much better. For once, I love all of my classes (okay, the word ‘love’ might be a bit too strong for some), I like my schedule, and somehow I don’t have as much reading as last semester (which still seems terrifying and I feel like there’s something I’m missing). At least I can finish about 95% of the readings I have planned for every week. My schedule also allows me to attend the Monday lunch seminars at the African Studies Center, which I was not able to last semester. Learning about the challenges, changes and future of most African countries is depressing more often than not, but also fascinating, if this word is appropriate to describe it. To be surrounded by all these professors studying and researching about diverse parts of African history, politics, economics and culture is also quite invigorating and it is my small hope and dream that one day I too, will be able to join the ‘cool gang’ of ‘Africanists’ (and maybe diversify the “old white men” club I’m seeing here, like everywhere else…)
I am also taking a class titled “Islam and Politics”, which I love just as much as my “Human Rights in Africa” class (taught by none other than my beloved Professor L. :D). I realize that there really is nothing that I know about Islam in general. Somehow, having grown up in Mauritania and having spent the next ten years in Korea, where I was probably the most knowledgeable person among my peers about Islam and Africa, I had come to believe, I guess, in some pretentious way, that I actually did know something in this field. Well, among professors and students who actually do study it here, I realize how pompous and mistaken that was on my part.
And in a way, I’ve come to ‘blame’ (not really, but kinda sorta) people who simply ‘assumed’ I knew something about Africa and Islam just because I grew up there. I mean, I was a teenager. Much of the growing up in Mauritania had to do with reciting lyrics to BSB, N’Sync and Westlife songs, giggling about boys with my girlfriends, trying to do ‘cool’ things like going to the beach with my friends after school and nearly drowning, studying, laughing at teachers. I wasn’t trying to understand the gender dynamics of Muslim women as seen in Mauritania or distinguish the linguistics of all the dialects spoken there. Unless that’s what teenagers usually do… then, okay, my bad.
As always, I digress every time I find the tiniest opportunity to complain. Well, the point being, I am glad that two decades later, I am finally learning something about where I spent 15 significant years of my life.
The class in Political Theory is also quite awesome, if I may say so. The reading may be dense, but short, and the tiny number of people in that class shapes a certain coziness, all the while being intellectually stimulating. It’s also quite intriguing to see how much I actually enjoy philosophy, when, back in high school, I thought it was the lamest subject because it was so ‘out there’. I thought philosophers were people refusing to get out of the material comforts of their home and environment all the while pretending to bear all the emotional and intellectual burdens of the world. In a way, yes, it’s true. I’m getting paid to study, having my three meals everyday (and sometimes more), with a decent place to stay, and trying to debate what it means to be just and the higher moral grounds we as human beings should be aspiring to. And yes, it’s true that when you’re trying to tend to your family’s everyday needs without a decent job and with a mortgage to pay, trying to figure out what Aristotle meant in his books and how his thoughts can be applied or interpreted today may not be among your priorities.
And yet, somehow, I persist in naively believing that people are more than beings that need to be fed and clothed. Yes, those are basic needs that certainly should be met, but an intellectual pursuit on some level should also be conducted in parallel, for those primary needs to be fulfilled in a better and fairer way. Or maybe I’ve finally reached a point where I’m blindly believing in my illusions.
So, all in all, my semester is going great. 🙂 – is the point of all this blabbering.