Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Anthropologists Dream Exotic

It's been a while. It's hard to pack everything I've been doing into a short post. Most of it's been networking anyway. There are a lot of people up here with really cool ideas for improving the communities. One woman I know is finishing up her Hydrology degree, and she wants to start a fish farm that recycles its water into a commercial garden. Another wants to start a farming program that teaches villagers to farm with organic seed, so they don't have to buy other people's seed every year.

Lynn said when she first came to my class to pitch Africa to us 76 students, "more than anything, Africa is really like the Wild West." I heard that and knew where I wanted to travel. And — this surprises me more than anything — she was right. It's just like the Wild West. Roads are wide and dusty, weapons are cheap, the law's arm is long enough to scratch his armpit. And an entrepreneur can carve out a paradise for himself, or for lots of other people.

Anyway. In real news: winter's pretty much here, which means sun and chilliness. I started working on my paper and I like how it's shaping up. I helped fixed my house's solar panels last week with this guy:

Introducing Hlo, a nephew of Sofi and the only fellow teenager in the Ntshalintshali household. He's going to college in Pietermaritzberg for a degree in pro chefery. For the last couple weeks he's been away at school, but the Easter holiday lasts almost a month here, so in a couple days he'll be back pretty much to stay, as far as my sense of time is concerned. It's been a while since I seriously examined what I'll be doing next month.

What else have I been doing? Well, yesterday I drove a health worker to Pietermaritzberg to pick up a deaf kid for the holidays. On the way back, over a mid-trip dinner of burgers and shakes (their McDonald's here is called "Wimpy's") I mentioned that I'd like to find time soon to talk to a Sangoma — the Zulu name for a local shaman-healer. For a caste who supposedly serve the Zulu community, it's disconcerting how much everyone fears them; they have a reputation for making people who don't like them die or disappear, and extracting incredible payments from people who want their services.

I figure not everyone gets to wander around a country where shamanism is still practiced. In fact, it's an anthropologist's wet dream. Why not take the opportunity to meet one?

Well, that comment was a mistake. That health worker I was driving halfway to the Indian Ocean turned out to be born-again. For almost forty minutes she warned me to stay away, or at least please be very careful around them, because of course you should never fear them because I can tell Jesus Christ is with you, but if you aren't quite clever one of the dead spirits in a Sangoma's house might attach itself to you.

She never told me what happens if I wind up with a spirit following me around, but I'd imagine she didn't look on it as pleasant. And here I was just planning to find a medicine man who was out to make a buck.

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