"I was born in Bogotá, Colombia, to a Belgian mother and a Colombian father. I grew up in both countries and when I was 16 I moved to South Africa where I finished high school. It was there that my interest and passion for Africa were born. This interest translated itself into a decision to enrol in the African Languages and Cultures department at Ghent University in Belgium. After two years, I had the opportunity to travel to Congo for three months with a so-called ‘immersion scholarship’. I fell in love with the country.
After a two-year break, during which I lived in Jerusalem doing a lot of other things, I decided to take up studying again, and moved to Leiden where I first finished my bachelor’s degree in African Languages and then started a research master’s degree. The African Studies master’s was challenging, not only because of its varied contents crosscutting disciplines and regions, but in particular because of the combination of study, work and fund hunting. All the hard work paid off in a wonderful six months research experience in Kisangani. As I had been to Congo before, I was able to visit people I had already met and pick up the language again. Yet Kisangani was a new terrain. During my master’s research I tried to combine linguistics and anthropology.
I am generally interested in the ways people use language. Why do people speak the way they do? How is it linked to their identity? My supervisor, Prof. Maarten Mous, encouraged me to look into African Youth Languages. While I was trying to investigate more about the way youth speak in Kisangani, I came across the ‘Yankee’ and my research concluded in a thesis about the Congolese Yankee and the ways he uses and ‘performs’ language in order to create opportunities for himself.
Since October I am part of Prof. Mirjam de Bruijn’s project "Connecting in Times of Duress: Understanding Communication and Conflict in Middle Africa’s Mobile Margins". Herein I will be working in a subproject covering the Central African Republic. I will focus on the formation of grassroots media in Bangui, its capital. I am interested in understanding how marginalized individuals might or might not use new information and communication technologies in order to out their opinions and make their voices heard. The geographical location of the project is one of its main challenges because until today the Central African Republic remains an understudied area.
Another challenge lies in the project’s interdisciplinary approach. The data collection will result from a long period of ethnographic fieldwork. We will also take a look at other instances in the past when new technologies were introduced, bringing about socio-economic change and shifts in the power relations. This historical approach will help us to bring the mobile phone revolution into perspective. We will go back as early as the post-WWII period. In order to do so, we will make use of local (media) archives as well as oral history and life stories. In this way, we hope to bridge history and anthropology and to create our little niche in the Institute for History. I am looking forward to the challenges ahead, and especially to sharing the results with all of you."