If Vayram Nyadroh '97 was worried, you couldn't tell. A scheduling glitch had moved her up in the rotation at the student research presentations for Mellon fellows and McNair scholars. Unaware of the change, her faculty mentor, Professor of English Katherine Linehan, had not yet arrived. Poised, articulate, Nyadroh held the attention of the audience with her talk, "Generations, Transition and Change: The Voice of African Women in the Works of Mariama Ba and Ama Ata Aidoo." Afterward, she fielded questions with the aplomb of a veteran lecturer.
It was only later, making her way to Professor Linehan, that she disclosed her concern. Clasping her mentor's hands, she exclaimed, "You were not here!"
This is one outcome of the strong faculty-student mentoring relationship at Oberlin: Faced with the prospect of flying solo, the student typically soars.
Nyadroh was born in Chicago, although her parents are from Ghana. With the exception of her immediate family, which includes two younger brothers, all her relatives live there. Trips to Ghana, she said, are a chance to "reconnect with family."
An English major with a concentration in Third World studies, Nyadroh transferred from Wellesley College in the fall of 1995. She knew she'd found the right place, she said, when she saw "how strong and alive the performing arts are here at Oberlin, and the way Oberlin students are supportive of one another."
The Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowship was not the only coveted berth Nyadroh had secured; she spent fall 1996 "on the London program." Nyadroh says that her "wonderful" semester studying theater, as well as literary and ethnographic approaches to contemporary London, disabused her of some illusions.
"Based upon my reading, I had preconceived notions about London," she said. "I didn't think it would be a real city-I imagined it in the Victorian age-and I'd be the American walking among the aristocracy." Nyadroh said that while she was unprepared for London's cultural diversity-"I was expecting it to be more homogeneous"-she was nevertheless "surprised to find class distinctions still extremely prevalent."
Distinctions of a different sort informed her Mellon research, which concerned the shifts that threaten to unbalance African women as they struggle with two discrete worlds: the infiltration of Western cultural mores into their own, heretofore insular culture of tradition. Nyadroh focused her investigation on works of fiction because, she said, "through literature we can enter worlds we would not ordinarily enter."
One such world, found in the novel Changes: A Love Story by Ama Ata Aidoo (a distinguished visiting professor of English at Oberlin in 1993), follows the story of Esi, a contemporary Ghanaian woman who must figure out how to negotiate love's unequal offices the second time around. Her attraction to Ali (whose membership in a different cultural tribe presents only one of several complications; that Esi is married when she meets him is another; that he has a wife is a third) calls forth echoes of her grandmother's advice: "Love is not safe, my lady Silk, love is dangerous. ... Ah, my lady, the last man any woman should think of marrying is the man she loves."
Aidoo weaves the seeming universalities of Eros and contemporary dilemmas-whether to have a family or a career-with elements particular to African culture. Familial and ancestral wisdom, and tradition-bound practices such as polygamy, form the backdrop for a landscape that Nyadroh believes reveals that, ultimately, the plight of African women, while fundamentally similar to that of women anywhere, "is still uniquely African."
Part of Nyadroh's thesis research was original. While in London, she interviewed Buchi Emecheta, said to be the most prolific female writer to emerge from Africa. Emecheta, a Nigerian expatriate living in London, had lectured at an Oberlin-in-London class. Linehan, who was on the London faculty, suggested that Nyadroh seek her out.
What was the most important thing Nyadroh wanted to ask Emecheta? "Whether or not she thought there was a difference between Western writers and African writers. Emecheta believes there is, in that, quite often, female African authors tend also to be social activists in some fashion."
For example, Nyadroh said, Changes "appears to be a simple love story. Aidoo even entices the reader by subtitling it so." She explained, however, that Aidoo uses the love story to bring to light what an African woman in love must contend with when her culture would have her behave in a prescribed fashion.-- by Marci Janas '91
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