Sunday, October 30, 2011


I just love this video. Maybe it's because I'm missing forests, or maybe it's because childhood is a wonderful thing. Or maybe just because I like the lyrics and the feathers.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Paradigm shift.

There are some points in life when it becomes so incredibly clear that things are changing. That the world around you is changing. That you are changing. It’s not hard to imagine that these moments are most noticeable with starting anew in a new place. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen that I’m beginning to undergo a process of incredible change, a paradigm shift if you will. I was expecting there to be a learning curve with starting grad school in another country but expectations rarely translate into actually experiencing things. Everything, from buying groceries to comprehending a different education system, has been a learning process, often by means of trial and error.

At university, I’m relearning how to learn. Unlike in the States, professors don’t lay out in lectures what it is you need to know. Instead, they point the way to which readings might suit your own unique interests within a given framework, such as political anthropology or documentary film. I’m relearning how to read. Read once for a general overview of an idea. Read twice for the detailed nuances that the professors will expect you to notice. Read three times to form your own opinion. I’m relearning anthropology. Much more heavily influenced by French philosophy than Germano-American anthropology, Anglo-French anthropology has moved beyond post-modernism. Ethnography is viewed as the art of in-depth speculation charged with representation of social reality. Anglo-French anthropology steers away from the comfort blanket of science that has at times lead Germano-American anthropology to claiming ethnographic data can lead to truth. Here, there is no one right answer about humanity. There is no ‘truth’.

I’m relearning vocabulary. New and seemingly unnecessary words such as historicity and contemporeanity and bio-socio-biological are entering my list of words to pull out in extremely highbrow situations. I’m relearning what it means to be away from family and friends and what it means to build community here. I’m relearning how to make friends and how to manage my time between school and social life. I’m relearning how to cook. Fun fact for you America: here, food goes bad after a few days instead of mysteriously lasting for weeks without molding. After talking to a friend living on a farm in Argentina, I realized my tiny make-shift kitchen isn’t so different than hers; no microwave, no freezer, and only a limited space for storing cold items. I’m relearning where to shop and where to buy foil and black beans and cornbread. I’m relearning how to open doors (those damn Victorians had such heavy doors with all kinds of locks imaginable and no two are the same). Today I even learned what happens if a pigeon gets caught inside a train (after significantly raising the anxiety levels of passengers, he simply gets off at the next stop).

And of course I’m relearning myself along the way. I’m currently facing the decision of where I want to do my summer fieldwork. I basically have 4-8 weeks to live in a culture before some hard-core hermiting while I write my dissertation. I’m deciding where I want to be in summer, and where I want to be in fall when my visa expires and I turn to the job market. I’m deciding what at what level I want to commit to anthropology.

All of these are things I’ve faced before and figured out in the past, but once again they are changing. I’m adapting. It’s an odd process but not an unwelcome one. It’s part of challenging the old mode of thought and building on it. It’s what we all do, though at some moments it’s easier to notice than others. So this is my moment. This is my change. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Prose and Cons and Fortune Tellers


Once upon a time there was a girl who decided to move to London to study. From the moment she began the process of visas and housing and paperwork, everything seemed to be going wrong. Logistically, nothing was going according to plan. So one day, she showed up in London with no home, little money, no bank account, and no idea what her academic year would look like. Despite all this, she was happy. The city charmed her like no other city ever had. She enjoyed the way people went about their days and soon began to sort things out. Even then, things continued to go poorly. She got sick and was taken in an ambulance (rather unnecessarily) to the hospital where she was told she had the flu.  She couldn’t even book the same room in a hostel for a solid week so she resorted to moving rooms each night. Still, she was happy. And she found a lovely home in the heart of Notting Hill. This, however, is her tale of one very peculiar day.

The scene:

Today was my first day of classes. Everything went about as I had expected. Basic introductions were given, classic anthropological films were watched, new friends were made. After classes, a friend and I decided to enjoy the hottest October in London in 100 years and join the crowds of students sitting in the park.

Rising action:

While discussing tolerance and people’s inability to trust others, two young men walked directly up to us. One took a few extra steps and stood behind us waiting for his friend. His friend knelt, holding out a newspaper in one hand placed directly on top of my purse and asked in a low and urgent voice something in another language. Sorry? What was that? Again, the question, spoken as if he needed help. A moment passed and he stood up, looked at his friend and walked away. Still confused, we watched as the pair walked to the exit of the park, then turned to each other and laughed before disappearing. Ten minutes later, I realized he’d taken my iPhone.

Furious, we immediately asked for the nearest police station. No one seemed to know and as time ticked on, we gently reminded the university office staff that they could simply google it. We were given directions and set off. Ten minutes later, we asked again as our directions led us nowhere. No one seemed to know where a police office was. Ten minutes after that, we stumble upon one only to find a paper note taped to the door that read “This office is closed.” Twenty minutes, one tube ride, and several wrong turns more, we find a police station marked by the characteristic Victorian lamp outside the door.  “Sorry, you can’t report it without the serial number,” came the response my inquiry. That serial number, however, was not to be found in this country.

Giving up on civilized systems, we hopelessly resorted to vigilante justice. The men who took my phone in the middle of a crowded park were bold. It could easily be assumed they had done it before and would do it again. So off we went, back to the park and to all nearby parks to search for the culprits, refreshing ourselves with self-defense moves on the way, should something drastic happen.

We walked into a park and sat down on the grass only to suddenly realize all the people around us were frozen in mid action. Suddenly we heard, “And go!” and they began to move. Upon closer observation, we realized we had wandered into a film set and sat directly in the line of filming. Oops. We stayed put as it was a park and we looked like extras, but made a mental note that should we find our culprits in this very location, any confrontation would now be on camera.

Then, we spotted him. A guy sitting alone with a black trash bag talking on a black smart phone. Was it him? I honestly wasn’t sure, but he started looking very suspicious of us. We, on the other hand, were looking pretty suspicious ourselves. After thoroughly creeping the guy out, he stood up and began to leave. We followed. He stopped and lingered. We lingered. Then in a moment of desperation, I simply walked up to him and asked, “you look like a friend I met earlier today; were you the one I met in the park?” He was confused and didn’t speak English well but the longer I looked at his face and listened to his voice, I accepted that he was not our guy. “Sorry, you just looked familiar, have a good day!” He left. And so did we. I went home to try and get ahold of the serial number and rethink my London strategy.


While walking home, I began to ponder how really, in the course of the whole day, I had not been very upset. I hadn’t felt that bad about the phone. While lost in my own thoughts, a Sikh man walking the opposite direction down the street suddenly looked at me at said, “you are very lucky. Very very lucky person. But right now, your luck is sleeping.” I stared at him. “I am a palm reader and I can see in your face that you have very much luck, but for four more days your luck is sleeping.” He proceeded to tell me my fortune, all while I stood, silent, watching him. Passersby looked questioningly, as if to ask whether I needed help, if he was bothering me, but I didn’t feel threatened. Suddenly, after the entire day, I began to break down to this man who stopped me in the street to tell me my future. My eyes began to water just the slightest bit and he knew that I was actually listening. Now normally, I am the last person to believe in fortune tellers. I generally reckon that life just happens and we make reasons out of it afterwards. I don’t know if I really believe in destiny, or more in our power to react to things however we choose and that is what shapes our future. Whether this man was right or not, it was the tiny bit of hope that I needed at that very moment and the bizarre factor left me smiling the rest of the way home.


When I got home, I got the serial number and reported the theft. I heard some good news that made my flat just that much nicer. I talked to family and friends I hadn’t heard from in a while. All in all, I’m still happy. London still has a way of charming me and exciting me with its traditions and opportunities. And who knows, maybe in four days, my luck will wake up.