Santa Fe College assistant professor of Humanities, Dr. Sarah Cervone, talks about her work as a graduate student in Morocco and how she translates what she has learned in Africa to students here at SF.
00:00:00 Vilma Fuentes
Welcome to Santa Fe college. My name is Vilma Fuentes, and this is our podcast on developing global citizens today. I am joined by Doctor Sarah Cervone, a professor of humanities at Santa Fe College, and so Sarah welcome to our show
Thank you for having me.
Thanks Sarah. How long have you been teaching at Santa Fe?
00:00:20 Sarah Cervone
00:00:21 Vilma Fuentes
And what brought you here and what was the first course that you started teaching for us?
00:00:28 Sarah Cervone
I had just received my PhD. I was looking for jobs and wouldn't you know it, Santa Fe had a job posting for African humanities and I sent Bill little an email and....
00:00:42 Sarah Cervone
There I was next semester.
00:00:45 Vilma Fuentes
And there you were. Now you have had a passion for Africa for quite a long time.
00:00:52 Vilma Fuentes
Tell me how did you start on that journey? What got you interested in Africa? Have you ever been to Africa?
00:00:59 Sarah Cervone
Yes, so if you would have asked me, maybe when I was in high school or even as an undergraduate if I would have ended up in African Studies, I wouldn't have thought that that was in my cards. But as luck would have it...
00:01:13 Sarah Cervone
I just started doing some research looking at areas when I was in grad school. I was initially doing my research in Alaska starting to think maybe you know, it was too crowded there in terms of anthropologists. So, I looked at the globe and looked at Africa, emailed some anthropologists who were working in Morocco.
00:01:36 Sarah Cervone
'cause that struck my interests and I was surprised when the anthropologist said,” please come to Morocco. We need more anthropologists here.” Which is very unusual and so I started doing some more research and was able to find some funding and the Center for African Studies in University of Florida was just so supportive.
00:01:57 Sarah Cervone
That I was able to go and that's North Africa became my specialty of … my area of interest, and Morocco became the area of interest, and so that's where I spent the most time in.
00:02:10 Vilma Fuentes
So, did you arrive like an English-speaking girl from North Central Florida or did you study languages before going? What was the path to getting there?
00:02:19 Sarah Cervone
Well, the first thing I did was to study...
00:02:21 Sarah Cervone
Arabic I was able to get a foreign language area studies fellowship and I studied Arabic, but it was its *Speaks Arabic*. So, when I arrived in Morocco it was a little shocking that the Arabic that I studied was nothing like the Arabic that was spoken in Morocco and so the Darija there was very very different. The local dialect was very different.
00:02:41 Sarah Cervone
I did have some...
00:02:43 Sarah Cervone
Language training in French from high school and then also undergraduate and then in grad school as well, so that that became useful. And then I, you know, I wanted to work in the rural areas and the indigenous language in the area that I wanted to work with was *Speaks Arabic*. And so, then I was tasked with also picking that up. Fortunately for me.
00:03:04 Sarah Cervone
Hospitality an offering a welcome environment is part of Moroccan culture, and so just by simply trying people were extremely patient, always very helpful and so that it wasn't difficult for me to get around because people were very accommodating.
00:03:25 Vilma Fuentes
So how many languages do you currently speak?
00:03:28 Sarah Cervone
I'm terrible. About four. I can get by in survival mode, but having you know, use it or lose it and so I'm working with Alliance Francaise with Elizabeth's Swiffer with the French.
00:03:45 Sarah Cervone
And then I just found an Arabic tutor that's going to help me get my Arabic back so you know, Arabic groove going.
00:03:53 Vilma Fuentes
Well, actually how long were you in Morocco and how many times was it once that you traveled there?
00:03:58 Sarah Cervone
Now I did a study abroad 3 times... 2005, 2006 and 2007.
00:04:06 Sarah Cervone
And then I had the Fulbright for almost a year and a half that was 2007 and 2008.
00:04:11 Vilma Fuentes
Excellent. How did your impression of Morocco change...
00:04:16 Vilma Fuentes
Through those four visits?
00:04:18 Sarah Cervone
I think like anything you know, it was the best of times and sometimes it was the worst of times there. And that's when you really know that you've developed you. Kind of like people, you know that you really know a place when you realize there's not everything you love about it. There are some things you hate, but you still love 'em, and that's...
00:04:38 Sarah Cervone
That was the aspects in terms of Morocco. Is that once you're there once the honeymoon period wears off and you are a stranger in a in a land, it starts to wear on you and so that's you. Know there were some trying times you know. Keep in mind it was also my first time ever being out of the country when I went landed in Morocco.
00:05:02 Sarah Cervone
So, to go from Florida to Fez the old Medina and Fez as a study, you know, stay at home or a homestay experience? Think I bittov a lot. And so it was trying, but I would have to say is probably the most important experience of my life. I also had the opportunity to bring my daughter with me.
00:05:26 Sarah Cervone
And I think that that was probably one of the ...in addition to love, I think showing her the world is probably one of the greatest gifts that I could give to her as a parent.
00:05:35 Vilma Fuentes
00:05:37 Vilma Fuentes
Best of times, worst of times. So, tell me some of the best of times that anything funny any like memorable moments that stand out to you about your time or your different trips to Morocco?
00:05:49 Sarah Cervone
So many you know, I would just have to say being able to connect with people for me. You know, when I arrived, I was, uh, you know, as a single mom, grad, student, American and just kind of showing up with a backpack. But then once getting into the circuit and meeting other people from Morocco or also other...
00:06:12 Sarah Cervone
Tourists that had come in and at the time, I'm not sure if it's still the same, but in you could stay on top of it so called Ajith like a like a hostel. They let you stay on the roof and it was less expensive, and he just would lay out your sleeping bag and have your...
00:06:32 Sarah Cervone
Stuff there, and so it was just this mod-podge of people, as well as Moroccans that were maybe guiding and so there would be nights of instruments and people talking and you just really felt like at that time you know all national alliances were gone and we were just people on top of this Gite.
00:06:53 Sarah Cervone
Having music, singing songs, talking, sharing food, sharing stories, and those were kind of the best that connecting and then there are also some trying times as well.
00:07:06 Vilma Fuentes
So, when I think about Morocco, I think about...
00:07:12 Vilma Fuentes
I envision very cosmopolitan cities that for decades or hundreds of years has had strong connections with Europe, certainly with the Iberian Peninsula or with friends...
00:07:27 Vilma Fuentes
Is that your impression of Morocco? Is my stereotype correct, or am I completely mistaken?
00:07:35 Sarah Cervone
Morocco has many layers, and so you can go into areas like Casablanca or you know they called the new Medina and Fez Rabat in the urban centers and you're going to find places that look like...
00:07:47 Sarah Cervone
Miami Beach and you know there's Club Med there and if I wanted a Coke with ice in it, I would go into those areas and I would get a Coke with ice and that was that was a luxury, but you know at the same time even like in Marrakesh you have these real posh areas. But then if you go into Jamal Fenna and there's you know you hear the snake charmers there and there...
00:08:07 Sarah Cervone
Their flutes and instruments that they play and so you know the spice markets. And so it's definitely something that has, you know, a medieval flavor. Also, 'cause you're looking at some of the you know, the ancient trade routes. When Marrakech was on that Fez was on that Tangier also being a port that...
00:08:27 Sarah Cervone
You know, had at that intersection of Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Americas, so it has a lot of that. And then when you get into the rural areas, you'll still see kind of these sand or mud and stone structures. But then they've got satellites for, so people you know are parabolas is what they call them. So,w people have their satellite TV inside.
00:08:49 Sarah Cervone
And so it's definitely, you know, when you can see this many layers of different times and global flows and local circumstances, and it's fascinating.
00:09:00 Vilma Fuentes
So, was there ever a time? You know, anthropologists are usually better prepared to enter other cultures than, say, regular traveling Americans, right? Because you've been sensitized or so....
00:09:11 Vilma Fuentes
One would hope, to what you might expect, but during your time there and especially say during the Fulbright program, was there, was there ever a moment when you thought, wow, that's not what I expected of Moroccans. And you know, whatever I did have a stereotype or misconception that was...
00:09:32 Vilma Fuentes
You know misplaced.
00:09:33 Sarah Cervone
Yes, that would have had so my research in anthropology initially started off with looking at finding income generating activities for women in the tourism economy because I had prior to arriving read that the King was trying to...
00:09:53 Sarah Cervone
Promote tourism as a way to bring you know as poverty alleviation as a way to bring income into these remote areas. I had read in the literature that women were being left out because of gender inequality, so with me being an independent American woman, my mission was to go to Morocco...
00:10:13 Sarah Cervone
And try to find ways for women to earn income. I arrived and it wasn't. You know, after I had become familiar with people, I realized that there was one huge question that I didn't ask 1st and that was did women want to earn income in the.
00:10:34 Sarah Cervone
In the tourism economy? And when I started doing interviews and talking to people and talk about this is what I want to do. The men were all for it. They were like absolutely.
00:10:45 Vilma Fuentes
Excited to work yeah.
00:10:47 Sarah Cervone
Get my wife out there, get some money. The women were like woah-woah-woah Sarah. Why would we want to work?
00:10:56 Sarah Cervone
We just ask our husbands for it. I realized that they were looking at me like.
00:11:03 Sarah Cervone
This poor woman has to work, and one woman even asked me like “what's wrong with you?” “Why doesn't any man want you?” And I was like why I don't want to be married and she looked at me like what sure you know who doesn't ... and then I started realizing it that you know who was I...
00:11:23 Sarah Cervone
To go into this village and decide what these women needed? Who better to know what they need? Then they know what they needed, and so that's when I had to completely redesign my entire research plan. Go back home and that's what the importance of visiting, talking, having a participatory.
00:11:44 Sarah Cervone
Involvement in research is go back home. How can I reformulate this so that it better suits the wants, desires and needs of the community and so that was the “ah ha” moment and I think a lot of anthropologists have that. A number of credit hours in school doesn't make you an expert and that's what I realized. I honestly had me self-respect self-reflect on, you know looking at why do I measure my?
00:12:07 Sarah Cervone
My value and my empowerment as a woman based on my career and there in you know that I also had, you know, kind of a very narrow focus on what it means to be empowered or to be free or to be fulfilled. And so that's one of the also the benefits I think about traveling and engaging outside of your own culture is that you learn a lot about yourself...
00:12:29 Sarah Cervone
And the way you see the world, and so that was one of the ways that I grew.
00:12:34 Vilma Fuentes
So, tell me a funny experience that happened to you in Morocco.
00:12:38 Sarah Cervone
OK, awkward funny sure. I was at the University … when I was attending University of Florida and its HIV awareness whatever. And you know, there there's these groups and they are just...
00:12:52 Sarah Cervone
Passing out condoms to people randomly. And so you walk by and the polite thing to do is like OK, you grab it, and you know I said grab when I shove it in the side pocket in my backpack and continue on to class. Forget about it. Well, Fast forward months later.
00:13:08 Sarah Cervone
I'm in a village doing interviews with men. Reach fumbling around in my backpack and what falls out, but these condoms I picked up and so there's this moment of what are those and I remember, “oh yeah”, 'cause they're like the multicolored cheap kind. You know that they pass out and...
00:13:28 Sarah Cervone
But then I realized there's like these three men like looking at me.
00:13:33 Sarah Cervone
And I have to explain...
00:13:35 Sarah Cervone
How these? Why am I carrying these in Morocco? This single woman? And so, I relay the story about how they hand them out for free at my school and I can see just the disbelief in their eyes, like, yeah, Sarah right hand, they just hand condoms out at the University. It just it was ridiculous story, right?
00:13:56 Sarah Cervone
So, particularly in a place like Morocco, they would never imagine doing that, sure, so so I sheepishly put them back, tried to carry on the interview as if it didn't happen, but the thing was is that you know, even after that initial thing, you know the men just went back to being respectful and nice and...
00:14:16 Sarah Cervone
And it, you know. And I thought, well, they're never just going to talk to me again. You know, I'm judged, you know, because condoms in a place like that or say, only prostitutes carry condoms around.
00:14:27 Sarah Cervone
And they never shunned me or... I didn't hear about anything that they had been saying about me behind my back. I think they just like crazy American women.
00:14:40 Vilma Fuentes
And then carry condoms in their...
00:14:42 Sarah Cervone
Backpacks, they carry condoms around. Wherever they go, you know the stereotypes real apparently so...
00:14:49 Sarah Cervone
00:14:50 Sarah Cervone
That was, that was my awkward story.
00:14:52 Vilma Fuentes
Cool, thank you for sharing.
00:14:54 Vilma Fuentes
So, you primarily serve students that are either living in North Central Florida, some of them maybe slightly outside of our colleges service district, but usually mostly Floridians.
00:15:06 Vilma Fuentes
How do you...
00:15:07 Vilma Fuentes
Connect Africa to them and their lives?
00:15:11 Sarah Cervone
Well, I think a lot of students do care.
00:15:14 Sarah Cervone
Africa also has had such a strong force cultural force in American culture. I think a lot of it is hidden. We don't recognize it as being African culture in our American culture 'cause it's been accepted as American culture.
00:15:31 Sarah Cervone
I think their students are thirsty for information about Africa. When I start the African humanities class, I have students, you know, raise their hand and say, you know, I asked them how many of you have studied world history and you most of the hands almost all hands go up in that world history class. How many of you learned about African civilizations?
00:15:52 Sarah Cervone
And in most cases almost all hands go down. It's a part of history that's been left out and deliberately, and so there's this. This missing gap, and I think when you start from there and I start African humanities with human origins and....
00:16:13 Sarah Cervone
And then moving through into development of civilizations and its new information that students are eager to acquire, and I think especially now with the current circumstances and conditions and looking at race relations. You know why? How did this happen? Where did this come from? You know, we have to look at...
00:16:34 Sarah Cervone
You know what happens in Africa during enslavement and colonization? Because that's directly related to what's happening here in the Americas, so I think it's very timely to bring that in, and that's what makes Africa relevant to every student. I think you know there's this idea that you know only someone who is African American...
00:16:55 Sarah Cervone
Is interested in Africa or African history and you know that's not what is taking place in Africa and what continues to happen in Africa. Today has a global impact and so it's of interest to all of us.
00:17:09 Vilma Fuentes
So, I know that one of the things that you've been doing is trying to have students be more mindful of how the food that they eat is connected to Africa and African culture. Tell me about that. Tell me about your project “Africa in Your Garden and on your Table”.
00:17:28 Sarah Cervone
That started with a project that I had outside of Santa Fe when I was here as an adjunct, and one of the things was looking at local food and how to promote local food consumption. I came across some research that had shown that when people connect to a food, they're more likely to consume it.
00:17:49 Sarah Cervone
And so through that I started looking at African foods an because in Florida you know it's our climate. We have, you know, a lot of our agriculture is rooted in in African crops and so the African humanities class has...We ended with Africa, the African diaspora in Africa, and in Florida.
00:18:11 Sarah Cervone
And one that relates to food. And so the the project began with the students would create a dish and at that time would bring it into class. Now with Covid they take a picture of it and that particular lesson was just the lesson that really lit students up because here they had made this meal.
00:18:33 Sarah Cervone
In many cases they had solicited assistance from a family member or got together with friends. They were very proud of it, and also very surprised at how great it tasted. And so it was. Through that. Then I thought, well, why don't we go ahead and make this an official part of the class and developed this project where students were...
00:18:54 Sarah Cervone
Researching the history of the food crop and the nutritional aspects of it, some recipes about it and then the last year some students developed the Africa in your garden in Africa, on your table brochure as a way to raise awareness.
00:19:12 Vilma Fuentes
So, I'm not following you. Give me some examples what food is eaten in Florida...
00:19:19 Vilma Fuentes
What crops do we consume that are having African origin?
00:19:22 Sarah Cervone
OK, it's almost difficult to find which ones don't have an African origin. I guess if you think of Southern food anywhere from Okra has African.., Watermelon does, Aloe, some sweet yams not sweet potatoes but sweet yams.
00:19:40 Sarah Cervone
Then we also have pigeon peas which are not widely consumed, or people are consuming them and they're not aware that they are, but they are also very highly nutritious. There's a lot of also animals if you look at like the Watusi cow, there's a... in Keystone Heights there's a big Watusi farm.
00:20:00 Sarah Cervone
Guinea fowl, which is a very dark meat that a lot of farms have them. They're not in our agricultural commodity system, but most farms on in Florida will have some Guinea fowl there for their purposes. Ostrich was coming into the market. It didn't really gain a foothold, but that is 1.
00:20:20 Sarah Cervone
There's a lot of pigs that are in our food system but also have come from Africa. Rice if you look that's cultivated in South Carolina.
00:20:31 Sarah Cervone
And that's one of the important things to also keep in mind is that a lot of our farming techniques in our cooking, food preparation techniques have come from Africa as well.
00:20:42 Vilma Fuentes
You've been working also with the Matheson Museum, correct?
00:20:46 Sarah Cervone
Yeah, so it started off with. The idea was to look at Florida Folk Foods and that's looking at multi-cultural pathways to Florida Folklife.
00:20:55 Sarah Cervone
An our folk food system, so it isn't just Africa but also Doctor Marcelo Morello is working in Latin American humanities. We also have a Eva Casanas, in Asian humanities had also done Asian foods in Florida as well, and then after looking at foods...
00:21:15 Sarah Cervone
It was also well, why don't we branch out to other other aspects of other Africanisms in Florida? And so in terms of music like the Bo Diddley beat is actually a Yoruba beat and that that Bo Diddley beat is now worldwide. And a wide variety of songs, literature and storytelling. And so it's branched off in multiple directions.
00:21:38 Vilma Fuentes
Excellent, so how has this Covid pandemic impacted you?
00:21:43 Vilma Fuentes
And that your ability to teach students about...
00:21:46 Vilma Fuentes
Africa in the world? Has it made it harder? Has it made it easier?
00:21:51 Sarah Cervone
You know, it's I think it's one of the anything that challenges you to innovate in the end is a good thing because there's a lot of new things that I've found online and or new strategies and techniques to enhance the learning experience remotely and so...
00:22:11 Sarah Cervone
You know it has been a challenge, but I think right now we're all hoping that this will be a temporary challenge. It does create a disconnect to have you know that the presence to be able to get together with students or maybe to meet somewhere like the African collection at the Harn. So, there has those were experiential aspects that have taken a hit.
00:22:34 Sarah Cervone
But then you know the flip side is that you find a great tour of the African Collect Museum in Washington DC and so hey, we can go there virtually together and so it does expand new opportunities that will hopefully be able to integrate when things return to normal.
00:22:54 Vilma Fuentes
So, what's next for you and introducing Africa to your students? What are your … What plans do you have in your portfolio?
00:23:03 Sarah Cervone
Study abroad. So, you know, I mean you don't have to go abroad in order to learn about different peoples and cultures. But I do think with that being the most rewarding experience for me. It's something that I feel passionate about promoting and making possible.
00:23:25 Sarah Cervone
For students here at Santa Fe to have that just that experience of being able to go abroad to engage to you, know to connect with people that otherwise maybe wouldn't have that chance. We do want to expand the Florida Folklife Project here at Santa Fe and...
00:23:45 Sarah Cervone
Hopefully be able to get back together with the Matheson Museum and be able to devote further develop that.
00:23:55 Vilma Fuentes
And I think um, aren't you going to be co-teaching with a Fullbright scholar soon?
00:24:00 Sarah Cervone
Yes, and then hosting Dr. Mona Ashour, which I'm very excited about because hopefully she'll be tolerant of my terrible Arabic. But I think she has so much to offer and actually when she did her talk recently, a lot of my students had attended that and they just...
00:24:18 Sarah Cervone
Absolutely loved what she was speaking about it and not really think they also enjoyed being able to hear from someone who's in Africa in Cairo talking about Africa. And so I think that she will be able to bring a lot into our classroom as well.
00:24:37 Vilma Fuentes
And for our listeners, Dr. Mona Ashour has been selected...
00:24:41 Vilma Fuentes
As Santa Fe's Fulbright Scholar-inResidence, she is a professor at Ains Shams University in Cairo, Egypt. She was supposed to arrive here August of 2020. Didn't quite happen because of the pandemic, so for now it's been put. Her arrival has been postponed until August of 2021, so we are very much looking forward to having her here and continue the learning.
00:25:04 Vilma Fuentes
Well, Sarah, thank you so much for all you do for our students to expose them to the world.
00:25:10 Sarah Cervone
Thank you, thanks for having me.