Tuesday, August 08, 2006

many facets

A lot of anthropologists who work in former colonies encounter a great deal of suspicion and disapproval in the field. The locals, of course, had decades of oppression, dishonesty, and betrayal at the hands of white people with questions, tape recorders, and clip-boards; one can understand being wary today. I, however, have not encountered much of that. Most people are dying to participate in my study, give their opinion etc. Presumably, though, there are people who don't feel good about me doing a study in Bangangté, but who just stay quiet or avoid me. There is one guy who comes into the coffee shop regularly, who is not like this; he lets everyone know exactly what's on his mind. When he's having a bad day, he more or less tries to find just the right way to bother everyone else there. With me, he blames me personally for the systematic exploitation of Africa by Europe and North America for the past several centuries, or he tells me all the reasons I'm a terrible anthropologist. In all honesty, the guy is clearly pretty unhappy; he hates Europe and he hates Africa; he has lots of big ideas about changing the world and making a living, but he's broke and unemployed. Other people think he's borderline insane.

Today, I saw him and asked him if he'd like to do one of my informal interviews. I wondered if he might just refuse or start making fun of me. Instead, he lit up like a Christmas tree - clearly thrilled to have been asked. Maybe I got him on the right day, maybe he's thirsty for someone to take him seriously, maybe both. He especially enjoyed telling me why he likes jazz (which he was exposed to during university); he sees it as importantly connected to the liberation of black people. I believe it was a satisfying exchange for both of us, and he was very appreciative of the cash gift I give to everyone who participates.