The Way of the Anthropologist
It was in my first semester of college that I discovered anthropology. I remember the professor, Dr. Bee, who was a cultural anthropologist, showed slides and films of “primitive” peoples. He talked about what it was like to be an anthropologist and the pleasure it brought him. He was living the words of Confucius, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I wanted that. I think everyone does.
Anthropology is the study of humans. “Anthro” is translated from Greek as “man” and “ology” means “the study of”. “Man” implied “humans” but our enlightened culture has corrected that bias. Dr. Bee’s class changed my life. I had found a road to travel through life, questioning and hopefully, finding answers to how humans got to where we are today. It’s not just the study of “primitive” tribes and digging up skeletal remains and other artifacts. It’s more than old pottery and old bones. Like humans, anthropology has evolved. It includes biology and genetics; forensics, health, human diseases; language, medicine, and of course, evolution: natural selection and adaptation. Anthropologists are scientists, not mere curators of dusty old artifacts. More and more, anthropology has become “applied”; used to help solve current problems and issues that people as “persons” face every day.
It was Margaret Mead who opened up the field of anthropology to the world. When Margaret Mead died in 1978, she was the most famous anthropologist in the world. She wrote several books but her most famous was “Coming of Age in Samoa”. It was through her work that many learned about anthropology and its holistic vision of the human species. Her words: “Always remember you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else,” epitomizes her special brand of insight. Through her field work in the South Pacific, she enlightened our own culture with the things she learned from more “primitive” cultures.
It was the open-mindedness of anthropology that led me to it. Initially, I studied archaeology which is a subfield of anthropology. I had the chance when I was an undergraduate to join a group of students from the State University of New York in Binghamton, to live and study in Peru as well as be an active member of a dig in the Andes. It’s funny how serendipity works. Taking all the classes of a visiting professor at UCONN, and working on her data acquired on her digs in the Andes, took me to Peru. It was a place I never even thought about traveling to, never mind studying. That visiting professor had been the graduate student of the archaeologist who was taking the group to Peru. Kathy and I had struck up a friendship and it was she who talked me into going on a dig in the Andes. It was at the last-minute that I was accepted and so I had very little time to prepare for high altitude. I didn’t remember any of the Spanish I took in high school and I was minoring in French in college and focused on archaeology of the Middle East and North Africa. Peru was totally out of my comfort zone. So I agreed to go. I love a challenge.
It has been many years since that first adventure to South America. Half the time I hated it. Peru has changed since then but only superficially. You still have to pack toilet tissue. To this day I still have nightmares about my first encounters with the bathroom horrors of a Third World country. I still use that term although the PC term is “developing” and not the segregating terminology of another world– the third one. I’m not sure where the second world is or if we even have one. Peru at that time was like being on another planet. And so, I have begun writing The gringa chronicles. I’ve been called “gringa” so much that I finally put in on my business card. The chronicles are pages on my blog, The Sapient Chronicles, and I will be adding pages weekly and announcing them each week. The chronicles is a work in progress and has been a catalyst for other projects I’ve meant to do.
So, please join me as I relive the most mind-blowing experiences of my life. Surprisingly, the memories of that adventure are still fresh and no name has been changed to protect the innocent because we were all guilty.
“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place.” – Margaret Mead