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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Read Nature 2018

This is a short reading from my book "My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey." It describes the change of perceptions during fieldwork in Zambia, here specifically my perception of nature. The letter to my mother reveals that the early part of fieldwork was particularly stressful. I was in a relatively isolated area and had to make myself known to every official from the top down and then to people in the valley. It meant considerable reconnoitering. What surprised me was nature and the effect of it on local populations. I was used to seeing only nature's beauty. Here I was made aware of its starkness.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Migrants and Home (a talk in German) by Mehrnousch Zaeri-Esfahani: Main ideas in English

Image result for Mehrnousch Zaeri-Esfahani+free pics
Image result for Mehrnousch Zaeri-Esfahani+free pics
Mehrnousch Zaeri-Esfahani

Those of you who understand German, listen to this inspiring Kulturradio RBB (Berlin Brandenburg) interview with Mehrnousch Zaeri-Esfahani: Erzählen ist Heimat.

You probably have to copy this link to your browser.

The following are some of the high points translated by me.

Mehrnousch is a writer, a reader, and a story teller. She was born in Iran and from age 10 grew up in Germany and loves it. Most concepts like Heimat (homeland), as well as Monochronic and Polychronic time take on special meaning, which she captured from her own experiences as a refugee.

For example, take her meaning of Heimat (country of origin). While it is a term with a long emotional history in Germany, Mehrnousch re-defines it. She says, of course, having a homeland is necessary, but it is not bound to land, geography, or earth. Rather it is in and around us in this sense: (a) we belong to a group by birth, or find a group to belong to, in which we simply are who we are; (b) we remember the past or regain it by remembering it and hearing it from our parents and grandparents. These two things are Heimat. We have therefore a firm identity. The remembrance is a process that takes years. And here she adds another distinction, namely, that between monochronic and polychronic time.

She experienced both kinds of time; but it is the monochronic time of Germany that she experienced as real freedom. She describes how she first experienced monochronic time in a town in Germany when she and her siblings decided to explore it. They went to a train station and noted a framed sign with a lot of information and numbers on it. Puzzled they stared at it until suddenly her brother said, "look, that has to be the times when the trains arrive." And then, sure enough, at 8:13 p.m., a train arrived. Mehrnousch and her siblings were positively excited and thrilled. She calls the moment of recognition and realization an "integration bomb". In this town and this country, she understood, "things were clocked" and more, this structure, she and her siblings experienced as freedom. If we assume, or give our assent to. this organization as an inner attitude, well, then we are free for example to simply walk to a station at a specific time to get from A to B. We do not need to find and persuade someone from our grand-family to drive us here and there. We are free to make plans and go ourselves. 

What is significant to Mehrnousch, is that she contrasts this experience with that of her family in flight from Iran to Turkey. They stood on the road, unending hours, and  hoped quite fatalistically that some time, somehow, some means of transport will pass by and have space to take all with them. To stay sane, she and her parents drew on very different inner attitudes. Her parents remember those with great pain.

In short, Mehrnousch came to understand integration as a process of self acceptance and as meeting persons from the host country who, like her, had their own self understanding. She began to see herself as having carried a Rucksack filled with things and memories of her past. According to her, integration is the process where, shifting from polychronic fatalism and clan dependence to monochronic attitudes of plan making and realizing, led, over time and bit by bit, to emptying her backpack of those items or memories that in the adopted country were simply no longer necessary. But one needs that backpack, she emphasized, and one needs to love it, both its positive and negative aspects, and then nurture the positive qualities of self and move on freely in what she sees clearly as her world or her home. 

Her love of her origins and her love of Germany where she lives a full professional and generally integrated life is genuine. 

Karla Poewe

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Alexander Betts and His Ideas about Survival Migration: a short video

In the video below,  Dr- Alexander Betts talks about his ideas concerning "Survival Migration". He notes that different countries offer different responses. Usually they are inadequate. And there he is right.

He is talking about people who suffer "socio-economic rights deprivations" and who should not be forcibly returned to countries of origin because these countries do not meet such fundamental human rights. Existing international laws should be adjusted to make this form of migration acceptable.

To me, this looks at best like a short term measure not unlike the one put in place after the Second World War. Instead, the world's countries that do function well, need to get together to make those that do not function well improve their governance and economies. It would involve China, Russia, Europe, India, and North America doing something constructive in Africa and the Middle East and with combined resources and power to force the adoption of socio-economic rights to survival, education, and jobs in the countries of people's birth. Beyond that, the international community needs international laws about immigration so that people can move across the world in an orderly fashion that accommodates both those immigrating and those receiving immigrants.

But of course, listen to his talk. It is addressing a serious problem working within a frame of the plausible.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Photo from a video on my facebook: reading from My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey

Photo from Video

It is time to learn more technology. This is a photo from a first video that I posted to my Facebook. In it I am reading an excerpt from the book "My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey."


Below is a link of a Youtube video about an earlier book "New Religions and the Nazis".

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Discourse Analysis, what is it, and why we should reject it.

The intellectual left sees Africa almost entirely in terms of a post-colonial discourse. This discourse consists of the development of such influential concepts, each with a distinct origin, like genocide, power, race, plunder, rape, or exotic glance, among others. You may well ask, why is the complex history of Africa reduced to a string of concepts. Is there an advantage to this perspective?

There is an advantage for discourse analysts. The above concepts, and any other emerging concepts for that matter, are advantageous because they avoid reference to individual subjects thus bypassing potential libel while also hiding ideologically informed presuppositions. Together, they raise the discourse to the status of being objective and unquestionable. The resultant complex of concepts, and the assumed knowledge and language history on which they are based, are then combined with a selected history of institutions to become not only a sharp ideological criticism of the West, but also a method of exposure and suspicion. And as such, let us say as a method of exposure, it is not only used to analyze history. More importantly, it is also used to exact reparations from national and international courts.

It is not too difficult to understand that such a discourse accuses anyone who disagrees of being a fascist, or if not that, otherwise ruin the disagreeable person’s career. After all, postcolonial discourse variants expose wrong doing and hold the moral high ground.

But is the history of Africa with the rest of the world, or are post-colonialists’ portrayals generally, that simple, that black and white, that morally pure? Robert Irwin (2007), in his book For the Lust of Knowing, shows that it is not. Another fascinating book by Dario Fernandez-Morera, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, also says no. Fernandez-Morera goes further. He shows how to break away from Discourse Analysis altogether. 

See my summary below, where Fernandez-Morera shows humanity as both suffering and inflicting suffering. He very carefully bases his findings on primary sources.

The book, My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey (2018) about my first field work experience likewise resists discourse analysis. First hand experience with the people one studies, living with them, experiencing their doubts, deceptions, ideologies, theories and daily lives do not allow for simple one-sided judgments.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Mead, Emotion, and Breakthrough

(From My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey, 2018)

Image result for free images of margaret mead+without copyright
Mead and Samoa

One of my friends was deeply concerned that I should take the risk of conveying my state of mind in the field when I had just succeeded in publishing several well-reasoned papers and a book. Why would you want to take the dangerous route and tinker with emotions when what excited me most is your precise analytical mind? What do you hope to achieve by this tinkering?
These questions are hard to answer. Margaret Mead points out how troublesome Reo Fortune’s passion was because it cast suspicion on his work. According to her, Radcliffe-Brown, for example, did not believe Fortune’s account of the Dobuans because the passion with which Fortune wrote about his sorcerer-informant seemed somehow to match his own (1972, p.184). It seems perfectly natural to me, however, that a researcher should find himself in a society—often by choice for he will have read accounts about it before embarking on his research venture—whose people display a range of emotions and passions that do resemble his own. Mead, Fortune, and Bateson were very discontent in some cultures and made conscious efforts to find social settings in which the people’s ethos or emotional tone was agreeable. I suspect that the rare accounts we get by anthropologists like Castaneda or Griaule, for example, who studied and even assimilated the philosophy of their informants, are the result of a unique harmony between the intellect and emotions of the informant and those of the anthropologist.
The answer to the question why one would wish to note emotional responses to field experiences can be made more profound yet. I take the reader back to Thomas Mann’s question; how does one achieve the breakthrough? And to his answer that, for the artist, the breakthrough lies in achieving a new emotional freedom but one regained by the author on the level of utmost intellectual clarity. I suggest something similar happens to the anthropologist during times of intense experiences, especially, during periods of intensity in the field. At these times, an ethnographer, even one as little concerned with introspection as Margaret Mead, experiences a new emotional freedom that impels her to look simultaneously into herself and the other; and into her own culture as well as the culture she is studying. The result frequently consists of new theoretical insights and formulations. Margaret Mead (1972) describes the brief period in the field which she spent together with her husband, Reo Fortune, and fellow researcher, Gregory Bateson, as follows:
The intensity of our discussions was heightened by the triangular situation. Gregory and I were falling in love, but this was kept firmly under control while all three of us tried to translate the intensity of our feelings into better and more perceptive field work (p.217).
And then she notes:
As we discussed the problem, cooped up together in the tiny eight-foot-by-eight-foot mosquito room, we moved back and forth between analyzing ourselves and each other, as individuals, and the cultures that we knew and were studying, as anthropologists must (ibid).
It is from this emotionally charged period that her ideas about temperament and sex developed. Indeed, as one reads Mead’s account of her surprisingly normal, although she considers it privileged, upbringing, one soon learns that most of her theoretical breakthroughs are the direct result of relatively “intense” experiences. For example, her unpleasant experiences at DePauw led her to observe that “in the setting of this co-educational college, it became perfectly clear both that bright girls could do better than bright boys and that they would suffer for it” (p.99–100). She developed this thesis in her work Male and Female. Finding co-education unattractive, she observes, “This preference foreshadowed, I suppose, my anthropological field choices—not to compete with men in male fields, but instead to concentrate on the kinds of work that are better done by women” (1972:100). Finally, upon discovering with considerable disappointment that she could not have children because of a tipped uterus, Mead remarks that the whole picture of her future changed: “if there was to be no motherhood, then a professional partnership of field work with Reo, who was actively interested in the problems I cared about, made more sense than cooperation with Luther in his career of teaching sociology” (p.164).
These experiences, which in the more chaotic lives of others might have gone unnoticed, are highlighted by Mead herself from her otherwise tranquil existence because through them she achieved remarkable insights. And these, certainly, had to do with her changing relationships with men, intimacy, ideas, and field work.
Faithful to her North American tradition, Mead avoids revealing herself through introspection. We never really know how she felt, only that she felt. And that she felt is almost consistently revealed to us through a mediating medium, a selected letter, a carefully chosen poem, and her frequent descriptions of herself from photographs. Believing that an ethnographer could, indeed must, free herself of all presuppositions, and that she must adhere to the subject-object distinction even when she talked about herself; believing, further, that members of privileged groups who had never suffered oppression themselves could yet initiate movements to improve the rights of the downcast, Mead, nevertheless, wrote:
Certainly, positions of privilege can breed a kind of hardened insensitivity, an utter inability to imagine what it is to be an outsider, an individual who is treated with contempt or repulsion for reasons of skin color, or sex, or religion, or nationality, or the occupation of his parents and grandparents. A defining experience is necessary to open one’s eyes and so to loosen the ties of unimaginative conformity (1972:93).
I suspect, however, that Mead is a liberal, as maternal toward the unprivileged as men have been paternalistic. And with Steven Biko, I must believe that while victims are as likely to flee from their fate as they are to stand up against it, in the end it is sufferers of great injustice who must also find the means to overcome their condition of suffering. And the difference between those who run and those who “lean into the wind” is the belief of the individual that joy will come when one embraces freedom, responsibility, and courage.
In the end, and from my perspective, the miracle of Margaret Mead is that so normal a person should have become so prominent. What Mead calls privilege, I call normal. The millions of people who live in poverty are not normal even when they are the majority in many nations. Not normal, too, are the millions of recent immigrants into the United States, or those among the middle classes who live with uneducated parents many of whom remain anchored to fundamentalist religions. Yet out of this morass of human misery arise those whose lucid minds grasp their situation and succeed to reach beyond.
To sum up, Mead’s professional excellence is rooted in the single-mindedness with which she defined and pursued her projects. According to the tenets of Sartrean existentialism, her projects should have infused every one of her actions with meaning. In the case of Margaret Mead, Sartre’s formulation is proven right. Her projects determined her choice of spouses just as they determined the nature of her research. Likewise, just as her projects allowed her to assign meaning to her relationships, so these same projects would determine the tone and range of her emotional responses. In short, through her clearly defined projects she simultaneously harnessed meanings and emotions.

My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey
Available at Amazon
eBook U.S. $ 9.99
Paperback U.S.$ 16.00

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Refugee Studies (Elizabeth Colson), Refugee Stories (Clementine Wamariya)

Excerpt from Elizabeth Colson page 1    

Elizabeth Colson page 2

The URL below is from a podcast of Michael Enright's Sunday Edition. It is the story of  Clemantine Wamariya who survived the Ugandan Genocide. It includes much about the reality of memories and experiences as well as her reaction to a theory class at university in the States.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Comment 2018 on Freedom

Where there is beauty, there is hope.

Following most chapters of my  2018 book, I added a Comment. Being plagued by doubts, I picked up the book and opened it casually at the end of Chapter 10. What I read is worth sharing, so here it is:

During the difficult first weeks in Lenda Province with the anxiety about potential isolation or dangers in an environment that was at once familiar and strange, I experienced both flashbacks and nightmarish dreams. Often, they had something to do with ambivalent relationships with men. For example, there was my dying father who nevertheless took me, for the sake of my health, from the Russian to the British sector as my aunt would do later. There was the German soldier who, although held by the Russians and knowing that helping us would mean his certain death, nevertheless guided us to escape deportation to Siberia. Finally, there was my husband who, although he encouraged my efforts, would reap our separation.
I took my dreams to mean that I must free myself of being a burden. How to gain this freedom from burdensomeness and what it would look like was not clear. So far it consisted primarily of rupture. Distant past relationships ended in deaths and more recent ones were beginning to look suspect. What was missing was affirmation and, before that, acceptance that “the world is cockeyed” (James Welch, 1974, p.68). Sometimes one had “to lean into the wind to stand straight” (p.69). The notion that one could be free “toward” the inevitabilities of life, and that our capacity for responsibility might be the very foundation of humanity, was foreign to me. Freedom meant freedom from … not also freedom toward … Since my past would not go away, however, I would have to learn what freedom toward my past, and from there forward toward my future, could mean.
Returning from Germany July 2016, I did what the then President of the Federal Republic of Germany told me to do, read his little book Freiheit (Freedom 2012). Before reunification, he had studied theology and was a pastor for a while, but with reunification he decided to enter public service. Like many of us, he had experienced “freedom from something,” but now wanted to practice “freedom for” the sake of something else (2012:24). He understood this latter sense of freedom as genuine yielding of himself toward serving democracy, which meant putting concern centered on one’s self on the back burner (ibid:26). Joachim Gauck interpreted the peculiar Christian metaphor that “man is made in the image of God” as meaning that the human being was created with “the wonderful capacity to assume responsibility” (ibid:33). Furthermore, he sees that “faculty for responsibility” as holding “a promise, one that applies both to the individual and the entire world, namely: We are not condemned to fail” (ibid: 34, my translation).
When they felt strong, Lenda women often said to me that they had amaka (power). But did that power also include having the authority to shape freely their life, family, business, public office and other spheres of private and public life? Did they understand that the Christianity, which they and their men took up, promised that they were not condemned to fail? And did they realize that promise? Those who answered, Twikala fye, we sit, that’s all,” answered “no.”
With then Federal President Gauck in Schloss Bellevue, Berlin, 2016

Friday, May 4, 2018

Surprising Findings, Real Needs

I just found this link on the web. Some one made the effort to put this together. I think it is related to someone's interest in matriarchal research.

The main book they featured is my Matrilineal Ideology. The biography they put together is also quite accurate except for the misspelling of my first name with a C rather than with a K.

Given these activities by unknown others, I realize what is needed is a good publishing agent. The question is how does one find one who is trustworthy? Usually, the first thing one sees is requests for money...and often in the thousands.

The Internet strikes me as being something of a Wild West, although there are honest efforts to show some aspects of other people's work. What irritates me, is lack of easily found dates. As well, there is no automatic addition of an author's new works. It is all fragments.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

My Apprenticeship: Return from the field and changes in the Discipline

This blog shows two PowerPoint slides that move to the last Chapter of the book My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey. The last Chapter was published previously in Ethnos (1996).

Importantly, the last Chapter includes later research conducted in southern Africa, the southeastern US, western Canada, parts of Germany and Britain. In South Africa itself, both my husband Irving Hexham and I did field work and life history interviews among charismatic Christians and among selected popular writers who were Afrikaans and English speaking. As well, we conducted archival research in the Berlin Mission for four months in 1995. In South Africa, specifically in 1986, 1987, 1989, we did field work for four months each year.

My approach to research became historical and global because of my reflection on my first long field work in Zambia as described in this book.

The two slides show that while I was deeply involved in my first fieldwork and the initial publishing of my findings, the discipline of anthropology changed. Some leading scholars asserted that “a new ideology was born.” I experienced a rude awakening.

The slide Return from field and Changes in the Discipline” shows how Anthropology changed primarily, but not solely, as a response to two significant, if also flawed, works – for example, that of Edward Said and of Derek Freeman. Just as I started to publish, it seemed as if Anthropology had made a 360 degree turn from an emphasis on participant-observation and experiential knowledge to text-making rhetoric and experimental writing. Like it or not, I had to address this change.

The exercise led to many new insights of which the slide “An Example of Metonym as observed among Charismatic Christians” is but one example. It all has to do with how language is used to convey the reality of the believer’s experience to themselves and the listening anthropologist. Although believers were not themselves aware of it, they used certain figures of speech like metonym, for example, to interpret the happening of “resting in the spirit.” Examine the slide carefully, or go to the book, or go back and forth between the two and you will begin to understand what makes some religious happenings real to those who experience them in specific contexts.

Slide 1  
Slide 2

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

My Apprenticeship, Mental Geography, Researcher as System, and Questions

Below are some diagrams that show the relationship between researcher, childhood memories and environment. The first diagram schematizes the Mental Geography of the Researcher. Only those childhood experiences of WWII and the Early Post-War years are shown that erupted during my first fieldwork in the Lenda valley of Zambia. It should be noted that during the years of assimilation to, and graduate education in, Canada and the United States, personal memories were dormant. I was made aware, however, that Germany was responsible for the Holocaust. The latter was not a personal experience; rather, the experience was one of having been made aware of it as a teenager and young adult in Canada and the United States. The book shows how all this plays into the research.

The row below indicates that Personal Memories Erupted first in Zambia at specific times and on seeing Lenda nature, local makeshift dwellings, experiencing close relationships, during border crossings, and on observing the decadence in the southern part of the region. How all this happened is of course the story of the book. Clearly, these memories generated biases, but in the sense of both positive and negative ones. It is a topic that is picked up again, along with others, in the Concluding Chapter of the book.

The next Diagram sketches the Researcher as System always in relationship with the Environment. The latter consists of the research environment in Zambia, or what I called the Lenda valley and, through correspondence, that of North America. The researcher as system consists of the person doing the research and, while she is doing science, heeding what is happening inside of her. The latter involves, of course, the use of faculties other than, and in addition to, reason, for example, feeling, intuition, the imagination, and so on. The reverse arrow is there to remind ourselves that all these interactions during the research process have consequences, usually unanticipated ones, and involve risk. Doing field work is a highly dynamic set of activities and communications. The book does not analyze these so much as show them.

PowerPoint Slides as guides to the book: My Apprenticeship



Monday, March 12, 2018

Three Kinds of Empathy

Three Kinds of Empathy

Although unintended, in My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey (2018) I highlight the struggle between two antithetical personae: (1) the female refugee scholar, a figure with a WW II past and the consequent vulnerabilities, biases, individualism, changing perceptions, moments of despair but also what locals call her courage and energy, and (2) the thorough researcher, objective, empirical, and disciplined. It is this struggle that sharpened my sensitivities both to the people I researched and to my inner life. It also made me rethink the meaning of empathy.

Here I want to review Lipps’ three kinds of empathy. We have all experienced them. What is interesting is that one can experience each kind of empathy positively or negatively.

(1) Empirical empathy occurs when sounds of natural objects remind us of, for example, “howling” or “groaning.” They can result in such metaphorical descriptions as “howling storm,” “groaning trees,” which call forth similar feelings in the experiencing self and other. Note the involvement of memory in matters of empathy.17 One person, however, may experience “groaning trees” positively, the other negatively. The reminder becomes more powerful, that is metonymic, when it is experienced as, for example, the “groaning of all creation” or “the groaning” of the spirit, as charismatic Christians in Africa and elsewhere might say.

(2) Mood empathy occurs, for example, when color, music, art, conversation, and so on, call forth similar feelings or moods in the researcher and researched. Thus, I experienced Herero tunes as haunting, melancholy, and overall sad, which is what the Herero showed and said they felt (Poewe 1985). It increased my understanding of their culture, centered as it was on defeat and death, although it also distanced me personally from them.

(3) Empathy for the sensible (in the sense of perceptible) appearance of living beings occurs when we take other people’s gestures, tones of voice, and other characteristics as symptomatic of their inner life (Malinowski 1967). We can talk about “appearance empathy” when we recognize, as in a flash, by a gesture, or something external, the other’s inner life; when we know that it could be, but need not be, part of our inner life. For example, this kind of empathy led to a real breakthrough in my understanding of the Herero. It struck me that their dress made a statement simultaneously about their superiority, sense of failure, and self-protection. This was confirmed by subsequent research and discussions with Herero women.

Note, while my apprenticeship book is specifically about my first research in Zambia, in the conclusion especially, I refer to subsequent research of Charismatic Christians and the Herero of Namibia.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

What is Empathy?

What is Empathy?

Image result for symbols for empathy

The story of ethnography is like the story of Adam and Eve. We bit into the textual apple of the tree of the knowledge of experience and rhetoric, and now there is no going back…

Broadly speaking, empathy is the ability to share in another’s emotions and feelings. It is not, however, as it tends to be defined in Webster’s dictionary, a matter of projecting one’s own personality into the personality of another to understand him or her better. More frequently, the reverse is the case. Empathy has to do with the projection, in the sense of impact, of the other’s personality and culture on one’s own. The other’s personality and culture create a happening in the open-minded or receptive researcher that requires thoughtful exploration

The meaning of empathy is in fact more complex than that given above. It is also more than the expectation that the anthropologist be “an unmitigated nice guy” with “extraordinary sensibility, an almost preternatural capacity to think, feel and perceive like a native,” as Geertz would have it (1983:56). And while I would contend that field work is a journey of discovery, it is not quite the quest story as satirized and dismissed by Geertz (1988:44–45). Let us look at empathy more closely.

According to T. Lipps (1851–1914), empathy assumes a common humanity. This assumption is quite the opposite of that of reflexivity which depends on cultural differences and distance (even when none exist or are of minor importance) and is concerned with intersubjective meaning.

Empathetic researchers can experience themselves, in some manner, in the other’s experiences and vice versa. As I converse or interact with the other, the other and/or I will recognize things in accord with our respective inclinations and needs.

It is not the case, as is often assumed, that experiencing oneself in the other’s experiences and vice versa makes for identity. Nor is it the case that the experience is necessarily positive to be empathetic. 

Lipps distinguished between positive empathy or pleasure and negative empathy or pain. Positive empathy refers to agreement between the stimulus derived from interaction with the other and one’s inner activity. Negative empathy occurs when the suggestions implied in the interaction conflict with one’s inner self. “Inner activity” or “inner self” refer to the complex activity which involves thought, feeling, intuition, sensation, imagination, and suspected or unsuspected attitudes. In other words, we use all human faculties to make sense of other (and self) and then translate these into written, oral, or visual media—if that is what we want to do.

[Reference: Poewe 2018: 304-307]

Next post is about three kinds of empathy

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Never Give Up on a Dream

Never Give Up on a Dream

Rod Stewart

If there's doubt and you're cold,
Don't you worry what the future holds.
We've gotta have heroes to teach us all
To never give up on a dream.

Claim the road, touch the sun,
No force on earth could stop you run.
When your heart bursts like the sun
Never never give up on a dream.
Crazy notions fill your head,
You gotta break all the records set.
Push yourself until the end
But don't you ever give up on your dream.
Sing a song for me children
You don't need no restrictions yeah
You can't live on sympathy.
You just need to go the distance,
That's all you need to be free.

This lyric also inspired a German woman by the name of Stella Deetjen who visited India on a fluke, saw the plight of lepers, stayed and helped for nine years. Then she moved to Nepal where she persuaded local people, through their shaman, to help build birth houses and schools. She inspired, they took on the challenge and her projects are now furthered through the Back To Life Foundation.

I heard about her through a Radio Berlin Brandenburg (RBB) interview. It is unfortunately in German, but those of you who know the language must listen to it. These URLs, the second is a shrunk version of the first, may have to be copied to a browser.

What fascinates me about Stella Deetjen is that while she calls herself a development helper – as if by default – she is inspired by a Faith that truly does path all understanding. Except she calls it the Strength of Love or Power of Love. By the way, her dread locks were something she came up with to discourage Benares men from, well, harassing her – as in nice blonde hair equals available woman. 

Love overcomes strangeness and fear. I know this from my own field work, especially, my first field work in Zambia. Most readers already know that I am referring to the book, My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey.

The book is intended for younger readers. Like the two stories above, if on a far smaller scale, it tells the story of daring to place yourself in a strange world with both feet on the ground. The real ground. Here is an excerpt:

There were the blind and the lame, lepers and the insane. Every deformity nature had wrought upon its people paraded before my eyes. As rapidly as it generated birth, it killed. And when nature was finally generous and turned the soil fertile, it increased the parasites that devoured its growth. No one could tell me that nature, untouched by humankind, was beautiful, at best it was indifferent and usually it killed. Lenda was not only the valley of the blind, more appropriately, it was also the valley of death. “We die fast in the valley,” was a common refrain.

According to existentialists … much of the life of any person remains (unexamined). Comfortably insulated by habit and routine he dwells in a state of philosophic oblivion, blindly unaware of the real conditions of human existence. Suddenly, however, there comes a moment when a direct encounter with life is inescapable (Gill and Sherman, 1973, p.22, word in bracket added by author).

For me, there would be many such moments in this valley when a hint of life expiring would increase my dread and focus attention on myself and the human condition. At such times, I would find myself tossed into the past, overcome either by feelings of guilt or bursts of anger. There was the unfathomable pain of mere existence. My nicely ordered world would dissolve into a slimy morass of nothing, oppressing me with its senselessness. At those moments, I experienced not only the meaning of being abandoned but also that of being finite. It’s this realization of the possibility of my not being that persuaded me, again and again, to learn who I was and what it meant to exist… (Poewe 2018: 63-64).

Life only demands from you the strength you possess. Only one feat is possible—not to have run away.
Dag Hammarskjold

Friday, February 23, 2018

Eldorado, a film by Markus Imhoof and My Apprenticship, book by Karla Poewe: The Refugee Question Now and Then

Markus Imhoof, with Giovanna, the Italian refugee girl his family looked after during the second world war, whose story provides Eldorado’s jumping-off point.
Markus Imhoof as Child with Giovanna
 During WWII, as a Swiss child, Markus Imhoof was taken to a freight depot by his parents to pick up a refugee. He wanted a big brother but got an Italian refugee girl Giovanna. She became his big sister, but he lost her again when she was forced to return to Italy after the war. They became pen pals.

This traumatic childhood experience formed the personal core of his being and is the motivating force for his powerful documentary film, Eldorado (2018). Bradshaw The Guardian reviewer calls it “a deeply felt documentary essay on Europe’s refugee question.” It was played at the 2018 Berlinale, Berlin’s annual film festival. This is a shortened URL to The Guardian’s review

I am fascinated by this documentary art form. My childhood as a refugee during and immediately after WWII also triggered my field research in Zambia and now My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey (2018). Since the latter is merely a book, memories of loss and confusion found themselves into my dreams then and surprised, occasionally even confused me, during traumatic happenings in the field. I recorded them in my Diary.

The comparison is significant, because just as Eldorado is a factually documented portrayal in visual form by a film maker recording and experiencing the reality of refugee happenings now, so too My Apprenticeship is a documented portrayal in written form by an ethnographer of field experiences in Zambia. In both cases, WWII childhood experiences triggered these “deeply felt documentary essays”, and in both cases aspects of the authors’ childhood trauma occur in the film and the book.

Should social sciences resist documentary essays because intellectual skill as well as deep feeling is centered, in the first instance, on the creator of the work? I think not. The creating person, be it of film or field research, is crucial to the work and, usually, because their childhood experiences were humbling.

For me and for the film maker Imhoof, personal stories play naturally into our work. This is a shortened URL to my book

  My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey