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Inside the Programme

Learning Journey Reflection: Seeking of neutral and holistic knowledge

Mardiya Siba Yahaya (Ghana & University of the Witwatersrand, 2021) shares how through her year in residence she has shifted her focus from how she expected the journey to play out to appreciating the reality of the moment.

Published 19 October 2021

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In the beginning, I was highly disappointed that my entire learning journey with my Mandela Rhodes Foundation class was going to happen online. Having experienced my last year of undergraduate studies online, I came to understand how online interactions forcefully abstracted our social and replaced it with an isolated individuality. We are unable to fully know and relate to a person who we have only met online. Similarly, it is a highly exhausting process to chase three to four-hour virtual calls constantly.

As such, I feared that I might not be able to leave this experience with my expectation of what it should have been; and, worse, not build any genuine relationships. I am still unsure of the latter. At the same time, having a primarily online experience created an easy avenue to fix the ‘what next?’ and barely experiencing the ‘now’. Both scenarios came to cloud my ability to immerse myself in the journey, especially when I already dismissed positive possibilities.

One might expect a sudden turning point or ‘ah hah’ moment that came to be characterised by joy and a creative design of an online learning experience that challenged my expectations. While the latter may be true, the former is not. My journey and year have been incredibly challenging, further deepening my scepticism of the world that is being claimed to ‘take care of me’. I would read my enneagram report and think, ‘well, this is true’ and engage in a session that would widen my perspective. However, my crippling anxiety and constant battle to survive in a pandemic would return me to my starting point.

My first problem was that while most of my colleagues had the opportunity to engage in an in-person learning journey, mine happened again on Zoom because I was still stuck in my home country. So I thought, the world is out to get me, and my ‘village people’ are working very hard. Similarly, my second learning journey was marred with difficulties of the covid-19 pandemic on organisations, issues with online work, and group dynamics. Still, my second experience was unlike the first because I had grown immensely.

I mentioned I came into this journey with ‘expectations’; hence, I looked forward to particular experiences. When such experiences did not happen, I considered everything else a disaster. Yet, during my second learning journey, I truly understood what Minna Salami in Sensuous Knowledge claimed to be knowledge as neutral and holistic. By the time the second journey was happening, I already understood many things about myself that weren’t apparent during the first. I had built relationships and a community, however not in the ways I expected. I sought to ‘acquire’ a specific kind of knowledge outside of myself, i.e., the supposed group of people we wanted to ‘service’. That was not neutral knowledge; it was very euro-patriarchal, in the sense that I only understood ‘learning’ as something that becomes evident through others’ worlds and tangible factors shown through pictures and acquisitions.

What remained in the shadow was that neutral knowledge could be internal, including being open to adventure. Neutral knowledge could allow you to consider that the community around were not just zoom profile pictures and voices. It could also include being kind to oneself while realising that part of the experience was to understand the difficulty in working with dynamic groups of people, and actualising a vision in a global pandemic. It also meant, not everything was your ‘village people’ trying to get you. It may have been your fixation on what should be rather than what is.

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