Monday, 24 May 2010

These versus Us

I love using this space to be utterly bitchy and ranty about some of the things I hear, in a way that I could never be in my face-to-face life.
Don't get me wrong: I call the B.S. in my face-to-face life. Just in rather less corrosive terms. So why put up the bilge here? Dunno. Perhaps I don''t call the B.S fully enough, or it just makes me maa-aad and I need to vent.

Here is something that has been prickling me since it happened.
An exceptionally close friend and I went out last year to the village I did my research interviews in.
For me this was a chance to revisit my friends there, get a day out in the fresh air, let them know that I was finally! writing! up! and eat some great village food. It was also a chance to chat with some of the people I'd interviewed and ask them to clarify some of the things that they'd said during the interview that I didn't fully understand, but thought I had at the time.

Here is a snippet of the conversation we had on the way home. I began by mentioning how much I loved some of the people I'd met there, even though I barely knew them. I felt connected to them, to their place, to their warmth, generosity and care. Romantic of me, perhaps, but so what..
The next few lines of our chat went something like this:
Me: ...and you know they're so incredible every time I go there. They always have time to sit and talk to me, even if they have to go meet someone in Parner (the nearby town), or go to the market that day, or take the goats out...

Him: *scoff

Me: What was that?!

Him: You know, they really have nothing better to do. These people (that's the part that stabs at my mind: these people) will take any chance to just sit around and do nothing. No matter what you try to do to help them (another stab: help them? How patronising!), nothing will change. They're just all incredibly lazy.

Me: I beg your pardon... I think that's a totally condescending thing to say. And you have no idea whatsoever about their lives, lifestyles or priorities.... you've never even been here!

Him: I don't need to have been here. These people are all the same. Seen one? Seen them all.

Me: So what do you do exactly? What do you do that demonstrates that you're not just a lazy sod yourself?

Him: How dare you... (with no further qualifying answer, I assume he couldn't answer and left it at that.)

You know what bugs me the most?
This is a fairly typical set of opinions. In conversation with friends about my fieldwork, I've often uncovered incredibly condescending opinions about rural lifestyles and people, lurking just under the surface of seemingly egalitarian, open-minded, cosmopolitan people. People who are curious about the world, relatively non-judgemental and god damn it - imaginative. So why the spillover 'these people' opinions that so many of my parents' generation seem to have?

What bugs me also is the fact that the opinions are never qualified by experience or example. They must be lazy because they're poor.
They must be miserable because they're poor.
They must be poor because they don't have houses in the city and can't read or write and eat fried chicken at will until all their arteries clog up.
They must be miserable because they don't have the opportunities 'we' do: to see museums and shows and dance all night and drink and picnic at the weekends and watch documentaries and sit around discussing national politics and art and philosophy and manicures.
And if they're poor and miserable, it must be their fault! They're lazy! They don't work 14 hour days in an office, so they must be lazy. They enjoy sitting under neem trees? Wow. Lazy.

All the assumptions are grounded only in ones' own personal agendas. You know one life - your own - you've known them all. Apparently.

What I've loved discovering during my fieldwork is that 'these people' are just like me. Equally, I've loved discovering how they are different: each one of 'them' is different to the other 'thems', and to me. Individuals. Yes, with some conditioned attitudes, prejudices and agendas. Just like me. But also with entirely individual and powerful traits, personalities, destinies and hopes.

There is no them and us, there's just all of us.
And if there were a them and us, the powerful condescension inherent in 'these people' almost guarantees that them and us will never ever meet, even if we sit next to each other under a neem tree.

What does it take to shatter thems and build us-es?

Sunday, 23 May 2010

ah the tyranny of titles... this is a directionless post of no consequence to anyone. why title it?

The last few weeks and months have been an incredible mix of the rough and the smooth.
I don't know why I always use that tired metaphor. I hate sailing.
But now it's starting to catch up with me, I think. That always-tired feeling has nothing to do with the fact that I've been working on my thesis, and about a million other little things. Nothing to do with the fact that I've been sick, on and off, since this time last year (Nothing serious, but enough to chip away at my patience with myself. The story is rivetting, I assure you. But only to my doctor. Shall spare you.) Nothing, even, do with the all the emotional energy spent and retrieved, spent and retrieved, spent and... oh shit... gone!
Instead I think it has everything to do with the fact that after a while, up and down and up and down get, well, boring. The ups have been marvellous. The downs have been extremely valuable, and not half as bad as they would have been had they occured one, two, five years ago.
And I'm waaay grateful for both.
But the thing about it is that now, please, Universe, zara break do, please. Just a little more stability, over a lot more time, thanks very much! (I read somewhere that you should thank the Something before you get your wish, and then you're gauranteed to get it.)

I've realised a few things about myself over this period. Some of them I like, some I love, and some I plan to thumb my nose at in the hope that they will take offense and go away. (Haven't grown all that much, then. Glad we settled that.)

Things other people say during up-d0wn-down-up-UP!-down times have a special resonance as well. They tend to be especially sharp, or especially illuminating. During this phase I've had looong conversations with a range of different people. And as these conversations get deeper and more personal, I've come across a repeating pattern that I never encountered before:
Almost everyone has that One Wound. The hole around which they have shaped themselves as they healed, sealing their direction, until they reopen it (or fill it?) and heal themselves deeper.
These wounds shape the way they think about some things (or everything). They shape some (or all) of their reactions.
And I realised with a sharp sense of shock, every time a narration turned itself from 'them' to me: I don't have a single, short sharp shock that has shaped me. Yes, growing up scars you, sure. Am no exception. And like everyone else, a couple of incredibly traumatic things happened to me that really rocked my boat (again with the sailing. Buy me a boat, someone!). But I can't zero in on a single one that has shaped me. Not an event, a trauma, a sudden epiphany, a seperation, a loss.
Instead, the thing that's probably shaped me most profoundly is a sustained background tremor that has still (thank you, Universe), not shaped itself into a catastrophe: The vividly imagined future loss of my father. This has haunted me since I was roughly six. 20 years on, I realise that it's just as powerful a force as the singular shaping trauma or change. Mountains, after all, crumble under nothing more substantial than breeze and streams. It just takes a while. But that's slightly misleading - I'm not crumbling, just being shaped.
Here is what my fear has made me do:
- Live in terror for a long time, and then learn to breathe my way through it.
- Appreciate every single facet of every single moment, even the crap ones. Everything I can perceive and absorb. I don't particularly like that the driving idealogy is '...because you never know what tomorrow might bring...'. But hey. I am happy that at least I make a relentless effort to absorb.
- Listen, learn, imitate, listen some more, to everything my father says. He's a wise, wise man. I've always been scared that that source of precious wisdom will suddenly be cut off. And so I've tried to drink every drop that is thrown my way. Sometimes even asking pre-emptive questions about future important life events. His favourite is: 'If you're not here when I get pregnant, exactly which doctors are the good ones? Tell me their names and addresses.' (I asked this at age 10!) And: 'When Mama becomes old what is the best way to take care of her? Wait let me write it down' (Age 12). (My diary entry for this reads: "Asked Papa how to take care of Mama when she is old. He talks too fast for me to write it down. He said I should understand (her), be patient, and show her as much love as I can." (Got it, Dad, not to worry. Learnt by heart, see?!)

- Side by side, it's made me try to develop a backbone of my own. One day I will not be able to pick up the phone and howl 'Papa! He left me! My heart is broken!' I will have to pack my lunch and go to the office and fall apart and pick myself up and pack lunch again the next day. I am trying to figure out how to stand up by myself and stay standing, no matter what else happens, and just be grateful that I grew up in the shadow of a very, very mighty tree, but not a tree I can lean on forever.

And that's just a litle something I'm starting to uncover.
I don't like that the driving force of a lot of these very positive things has been fear, for so incredibly long.
I wish to let that go.
Now. Papa. Tell me how. And please, hold on I need to write it down.