The well-traveled Kitty Boniske hasn’t been to Africa yet, but she acknowledges the cultural challenges facing the partnership between Asheville and Osogbo, Nigeria. “One of the things we tend to do is project our assumptions on other cultures,” notes the woman who helped launch Asheville’s sister cities program about 20 years ago.
Valeria Watson-Doost understands that concept on several levels.
She’s studied the religion of Osogbo’s indigenous people, the Yoruba, and in 2006, she traveled there to be initiated as a priestess (see “Old Ways in Today’s World,” Feb. 25 Xpress). It’s also the land of some of her ancestors. “Most African-Americans don’t know where some of their culture comes from,” says Watson-Doost. Since moving to Asheville, she’s been involved in teaching local youth about those connections.
She’s also been the driving force behind pairing Osogbo and Asheville as sister cities, says board member Gwen Hughes. “We have a lot of requests each year. We can’t take each one; you have to have a champion, because it takes an unusual commitment.”
Watson-Doost laughs, because it’s true: Don’t ask the Asheville City Council or the Sister Cities board to sign on unless you’re fully prepared to spearhead the effort. Watson-Doost was, and last August, she led a delegation to Osogbo for the official signing ceremony. The trip included an extensive look at the medical services available there, with an eye toward providing not just aid but the sharing of information and techniques the local people can use to improve life there, she explains.
For the Americans, it was also an introduction to a culture unlike anything they’d ever experienced. Watson-Doost laughs again, remembering how, at one of the celebrations held for the visiting Americans, Asheville City Council member Robin Cape danced with abandon but was a little confused when Osogbo residents—impressed with her style—“flashed” money by her head as she danced. “In their religion, the head is the seat of consciousness, so when you do something well, they ‘flash’ money by your head,” Watson-Doost explains.
So keep your flash money handy: Watson-Doost hopes to host an Osogbo-style festival in Asheville.
Info: Asheville Sister Cities Inc., 33 Page Ave., Asheville NC 28802 (firstname.lastname@example.org).