Smith, Good Chance for a Fulbright Fellowship
the past decade, Smith has built a successful program of
Fulbright Fellowship acceptances, ranking at or near the
top each year in percentage of applicants granted the prestigious
scholarship. More than 100 Smith students and alumnae have
studied under Fulbright Fellowships since 2001.
Fulbright Fellowship application season opens on Tuesday,
Nov. 16. The Fellowships Program will host a gathering that
evening at 7 p.m. in the Smith Conference Center for students
interested in the scholarship program.
Fellow Emily Mendelsohn ’01
is studying theater in Uganda this year. She directed a play
by Ugandan playwright Deborah Asiimwe, which had its premiere
last month at Uganda’s National Theater. Mendelsohn wrote
about the experience for the Gate.
By Emily Mendelsohn ’01
Emily Mendelsohn ’01
(on left) with playwright Deborah Asiimwe.
I am sitting,
safely tucked away from a torrential downpour in Kampala,
following an afternoon production of Cooking
Oil, a play
by Ugandan playwright Deborah Asiimwe.
I have spent the rainy
season at Uganda’s National Cultural Centre, directing this
imaginative play about the impact of foreign aid on the “developing” world.
The play reflects growing concern that aid policies have
been detrimental to the development of sub-Saharan Africa
by breeding dependence, connecting the powerful to a source
of income that is not accountable to the people, and by forcing
governments to adopt policies and practices that may not
be effective for their particular situation.
We performed three weekends
in October to more than 500 people in the National Cultural
Centre’s gorgeous proscenium theater. It’s a small number
compared to the thousands who attend film or music festivals
hosted by the theater, but those who came expressed enthusiasm
about the open address of corruption and the rigor of the
Oil tells the story of a community that receives humanitarian
food aid, including cooking oil. A local bigwig and a teenage
girl decide to sell the cooking oil, which was intended for
free distribution to their village. The politician makes
millions to fund his political ambitions; the young girl
makes thousands (the equivalent of a couple of dollars) to
support her going back to school.
A scene from Cooking Oil.
The play deals in a complicated
morality that explores our capacity to judge an individual’s
difficult choices without looking at the conditions that
created those choices; and at the same time demands that
individuals take responsibility for the choices they make.
The issue of choice is heated
here. Once a week, we’ve invited
professionals working in the humanitarian aid field to respond
to Cooking Oil, moderated by Makerere University drama professor
Dr. Jessica Kaahwa. There is a deeply entrenched view in
Uganda that change can only come from effective leadership,
either by donor organizations or government. Some panelists
and audience members questioned this sentiment as an internalized
dependence and wondered how aid systems can increase local
communities’ agency to define and meet their own needs.
The play became mandatory for
drama students at Makerere University. We are hoping to tour Cooking
Oil regionally, to widen the conversation on aid’s impact,
good and bad, on sub-Saharan Africa.
work resonates with me as I look at the rhetoric surrounding
the mid-term elections in America. Can a leader alone be
held responsible for the fate of a nation?
the efficacy of imported expertise or products, and a culture
of dependency they reinforce. I’m conscious of this in the
rehearsal room, where I’m imperfectly navigating an authenticity
to my own sense of what’s beautiful and a fear of stepping
into a didactic “expert” role. I work with a wide range of
talented Ugandan performers, from professional actors, news
reporters, radio producers, sketch comedians and musicians.
My aesthetic was deeply influenced
by Paul Zimet [associate professor emeritus of theatre] when
I was an undergrad at Smith, and has since followed other
physically heightened, poetic ways of working. Performers
initially balked when I suggested they crawl under a wheelbarrow
or run in place for minutes on end. If I’ve found any land in this voyage,
it’s the space of getting to know each other past comfort.