Day Nine: Sandalwood, Kurta, and a Rickshaw = Atiba’s in Heaven!

I finally found sandalwood after a few days search!!! (Yes, Lex, I will be bring some for Ava, she’ll smell charming).

I had a meeting with the director of the clinic yesterday and another meeting with him today. There is also the staff meeting happening this evening (I think I mentioned in the beginning that there is a weekly staff meeting).

It is now 5:48 am, the sky is opening and the animals are making their varied sounds, accounting for their existence.

The site tour yesterday was quite an experience. I learned a lot about the abandoned plant, and myself. I learned that the rusting/decaying structures that are left can be a metaphor for the conditions directly surrounding the abandoned plant and the lives that co-exists symbiotically. There was a brief moment of a scare, but all is good…one must be cautious at all times because everyone else is not as solicitous/alert/and or vigilante, so you must pick up the slack when others fail to pay heed to what’s directly in front of them!

I will hand out a questionnaire today and hopefully have all the data by Friday, which means, my weekend will be spent collecting, sorting, analysing, and making sense of it all. Though, I plan on making a visit to Sanchi (Google it, hella cool!).

I am receiving such fond e-mails from loved one (family and friends) and it is a joy to wake up t such kind and loving words—funny at times, which is always good! Thanks Lex, Linda, Lucia, Marty, Uncle Kendell, Steggy, and Aunt Betty.

Dharma Love.

Day Eight: Do you have any Indian Sandalwood Oil? I cannot find sandalwood anywhere, ugh!!!

Today’s agenda: (1) visit the permit office to tour Union Carbide; (2) first round of interviews with staff/administration and doctors; (3) visit the Old Market.

Thought for the day:

“Hurry to your own directing mind, to the mind of the Whole, and to the mind of this particular man. To your own mind, to make its understanding just; to the mind of the Whole, to recall what you are part of; to this man’s mind, to see whether there is ignorance or design—and at the same time to reflect that his is a kindred mind.”

What a day…what a day I had! Woof! One thing is needful when coming to India—patience. We arrived at 10:25 am and was informed that we had to wait until 11 am, we didn’t leave the office until 3 pm…permit in hand. We are not allowed to take photos or videos during the tour tomorrow, which is fine with me. Taking photos at times can hinder having a true experience with an object, I’ll will bring my note pad and pen, as I always do, and take copious notes. I made it to Old Market where I purchased bags of varied fruits, no veggies—I will buy veggies on my next trip…Friday evening…I will also buy spices and fruits. I have been contemplating what to bring home as gifts to my family and friends and I’ve figured it out—spices and teas! After all, I am in the deep East, the land of ‘exotic’ spices and teas!

In an attempt to relax after a mildly frustrating morning/afternoon, I am writing this blog and having Tulsi tea, which is delicious!

Because of the long wait at the permit office, our scheduled interviews were postponed until Wednesday. Tomorrow morning, I will start interviews at 8:30 am, then we will head to the Union Carbide site for a one-hour guided tour at 11 am. We will then walk around the colonies and converse with individuals directly affected by gas leak of 1984 and the subsequent contamination of drinking water in the years that follow, including presently.

The clinic is self-sustained and follows a strict no ‘outside chemicals’ model, in order to keep in good faith—since the patients are victims of a chemical gas leak. Everything that is used here is manufactured on site, which goes along with the holistic approach embedded within the clinics configuration. The medicine is made here, plants are grown in the garden, cultivated, and turned into organic remedies and treatment. The water is filtered and treated on site allowing foreigners (like yours truly) to consume with ease and at their own leisure. There are cooks on site too, providing vegetarian meals three times per day.

I will end today’s post with this…I had my first encounter with a victim of the Bhopal Gas Disaster, and it was an intense one, definitely divine in its occurrence. I will not describe it here because sometimes details are rudimentary.

Museum Visit: Remember Bhopal Museum

Here is one photo. I will upload more later (the internet is slow tonight).

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Every photo gives the option of listening to the victim’s testimony in Hindi or English, hence the receiver.

Here is a link: http://rememberbhopal.net/the-traveling-exhibition/

Day Seven: Snakes on a Plane – or no, I mean, snakes in the garden

Before coming to India I binged on a Nat Geo docu-series on Netflix called Wild India, woof, hoping to get accustomed to the sights, sounds, and creatures that roam these parts; however, no matter how much one mentally prepares for something like this it is always a shock when you find out that you share a space with creatures like tigers and snakes—after all, they are God’s creatures too and need love though they are terrifying things to many of us.

(Side note: I came across an article this morning which makes mention of an alligator crossing the streets of New York City!? Holy Moly! I have replaced one jungle with another, haaha).

I just spent an hour walking on one of the many balcony here pondering and meditating…drinking water and watching the trees sway in the wind. Since it is still raining, I cannot do my usual exercise routine, instead, I walk around in circles—think Socratic dialogue. From afar it may look cray-cray, but that is how I stay well-balanced in a world that is disconnected and hectic. It is essential to slow down and stay calm and avoid non-reactivity. I was doing a gratitude salutation by channelling the souls that are guiding lights in my life—from teachers, to friends, to family—it is a nice way to stay present and put things into perspective. If you are reading this, you were thought of during my walk/rain salutation. Smiles.

Today’s agenda: Go to New Market …I will go to New Market and then visit Market during the week. I will then take a cab to the area right outside the Union Carbide plant. We are hoping to get a permit that will grant us access to the plant itself which stands as a museum of death and a constant reminder of 1984—how can one move on when you are greeted by the very thing that ruined life as you know it?  Over dinner last night, the researchers and I planned a movie night for Monday (7/27)…we will be screening the Nat Geo documentary on the Bhopal disaster that was aired on Indian TV Wednesday night (7/21).

I have scheduled back-to-back interviews for Monday and Tuesday with staff, administration, doctors and health practitioners—it will be demanding, edifying, and rewarding (I’m using a translator which changes the speed and flow of an interview). The following week, which will be my last week here, I will have the same schedule but with patients/victims of 1984 (directly and indirectly affected).

Update: I was disappointed by New Market, ugh. We need permission before entering the UCB site so tomorrow morning we will go to the office and seek a permit.

The attached photo was taken from the cab on my way to the market—and I am entitling it “the family that rides together, stays together.” #i’mlovingit!

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The team cooked dinner together and now we are in the library working. It’s 10 pm on Sunday night and we are working away—reading and writing. We are all working on different things but collectively, on the same topic. I came across a dissertation that speaks on memory-making which will be of divine help. I started reading it and will complete it within the next two days.

Back to work…

Day Six: What is Ethnography? Is it like, ethnic geography or somethin’?

 

Being an ethnographer you are required to be in situations deviant from the (your) norm.  You find yourself in places studying people and things that are foreign, some may even use the contaminated and politically charged word ‘exotic’—personally, I like the word exotic, it’s you know, well, exotic! As my friend Brad mentioned, travellers (ethnographers) often find themselves in spaces that are both “frightening and refreshing” and no ethnography is effective unless both criteria are met. Being here, on my own, but not alone (clinic staff, researchers, patients etc.), I am forced out of my comfort zone. I have done things that, last week, I would have rolled my eyes at the mere thought and I have eaten things that I would have said “I’ll pass”…with this, I have also met curious people and it is only six days! I am one who learns something from almost everyone I come across and I view life as a lecture hall where one is constantly learning and re-learning. Being anonymous in a foreign place comes with a freedom only experienced in action and in doing—existentialism at its finest, right Sartre? I am reminded of how adaptable, resilient, open-minded, and strong-willed I can be and these are all characters shared by the people of Bhopal. The last time I was this self-reliant was when I studied abroad in Ireland for a period of months. I was reflecting this morning on the ten year gap between my twenty-first birthday in Ireland and now being thirty-one in India…the ways in which I have changed and the ways that I am the same (but as the old saying goes, “one can never step into the same river twice”…am I really the same? Food for thought). Self-reflexivity is essential for any ethnographer if he or she hopes to be ethical in the practice of deontology.

There is something so sacred about the mornings here. Besides the sound of the prayer horns and the singing/humming of prayers, the air is different, there is a calmness, an air of a new day, of new possibilities…of excitement, or it may just be me, though, I highly doubt it is just me, rather, it is us—the City and me, together, we are jiving. It is 5:20 am, and it just started to rain…the rain is now competing with the dying sound of prayers over the distant speakers. Emerson says, “Whenever a mind is simple, and receives a divine wisdom, old things pass away, means, teachers, texts, temples fall; it lives now, and absorbs past and future into the present hour.” Today, I commence my first kurta! Like I said, I am immersing myself fully—as the old saying goes, “I’m going native” (Neni, if you are reading this, I hope you’re laughing-out-loud).

Today, I will also read through MA thesis of a few students from the Social Science College in Bhopal. They have done extensive research on a range of topics, for example: Comparative Study of Bio-socio Impact between Non-exposed and Exposed Children of Survivors of Bhopal gas Catastrophe and Socio-Economic Status of Women Domestic Servants among the Survivors of The Bhopal Gas Disaster. For some reason, sitting in a library surrounded by books, maps, and written artefacts is the equivalent of going to Church—it is my sacred space, I am at ease and at home in this space. In boyhood, I spent many evenings glossing through books, maps, and encyclopaedias gazing at faraway places and reading up on foreign customs and cultures, it’s no surprise that I end up studying philosophy, religion, and anthropology.

I made a visit to the Bhopal Remembrance Museum with Pri. It was further than we anticipated but worth the trip. The cab driver was blasting Backstreet Boys and that made my day, obviously. BSB uniting the East and West shows me that 90s pop is alive and well, queue the rampage music! Maybe at the next political summit BSB can do a twenty-minute set of their best chart topping hits, music is a healer and who doesn’t want world peace, or at least, broadmindedness.

Day Five: Buddha is Peeing Bullets—aka, it’s raining…after all, ‘tis monsoon season

I went to one of the local malls that is a fifteen minute ride in a tuk tuk, man, what an experience! ‘twas a scene movies are made off. The organized chaos of traffic and driving in these parts leaves me gasping for air—it is both fear and excitement…it is electric. I was accompanied by three others—two from Europe and one from the UK. The two Europeans are testing the water to locate areas off contaminated drinking water, they will then coherently inform the health services and government agencies. The British fellow, Pri, is documenting stories and creating a counter-narrative—think Foucault, basically, the method of story-telling—which is congenial (so we will be working together for the next few days). At our team meeting this morning, we were all given a chance to share our interest in Bhopal and also share our area(s) of proficiency. This will help us navigate a way to build on each other’s work and work together on future projects—this is heaven to me because there is nothing I adore more than like minds living and working together, kibbutz much!?

Before I left JFK, I was exchanging e-mails with a few friends, one of which, Brad, said this to me: “I’ve found that new adventures are both frightening and refreshing and often bring out the best in us.” He could not have said it any better! That has been my experience the past few days. I have always been an independent free-spirit-gypsy-loving type of person, you know, the Nietzschean idea of amor fati:

 “What is it, fundamentally, that allows us to recognize who has turned out well?

That a well-constituted person pleases our senses, that he is carved from wood that is hard, delicate, and at the same time smells good.

He has a taste only for what is good for him; his pleasure, his delight cease where the measure of what is good for him is transgressed.

He guesses what remedies avail against what is harmful; he exploits bad accidents to his advantage; what does not kill him makes him stronger.

Instinctively, he collects from everything he sees, hears, lives through, his sum: he is a principle of selection, he discards much.

He is always in his own company, whether he associates with books, human beings, or landscapes: he honours by choosing, by admitting, by trusting.

He reacts slowly to all kinds of stimuli, with that slowness which long caution and deliberate pride have bred in him: he examines the stimulus that approaches him, he is far from meeting it halfway.

He believes neither in “misfortune” nor in “guilt”: he comes to terms with himself, with others; he knows how to forget – he is strong enough; hence everything must turn out for his best.”

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely to bear what is necessary, but to love it.”

This trip, as I mentioned during my grant interview with ICI, is not only professional/academic, but one of personal advancement. There is no separation between the man and his work/career—it’s a holistic endeavour. In support of Brad’s e-mail, and Nietzsche’s amor fati, here is Helen Keller to shed some vision and light: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.” Anyone who participated in competitive sports—either in high school, college, or professional—and was highly successful at their event will understand this quote, I sure do—ask Gail Devers or Allyson Felix, or any other Olympian. As I transcribe my notes, the evening prayers are vibrating through the air…and it is a reminder that I am here, in the East, doing what I love. Bhopal is one of the most traditional of Indian cities and the residue of age-old traditions are everywhere. After my visit to the mall this evening, it is apparent how distinct this area is in comparison to other parts, even a fifteen minute ride away.

I acquired some goodies—a canvas tote bag and a tee-shirt that support the victims campaign to clean up Bhopal. It is a nice way to raise awareness and spread the word (walking advertisement…the best kind). I am creating a repo with the librarian/archivist.  She has been here for seven years and her grasp on the history of the disaster exceeds many! I will be engaging her in many conversations over the next two weeks. I scheduled a sit-down Tavis Smiley meets Charlie Rose-esque interview with her…bound to be riveting. J.

It is time for dinner—I may return a vegetarian…well, a seafood-vegetarian, haaha.

Day Four: Henry David Thoreau Would Be Proud!

I am having a cup of Indian green tea on the veranda, reading the Stoic philosophy of antiquity, listening to the rain fall and the dogs bark in the distance. It is a beautiful thing to wake up and have nature greet you…the fresh smell of morning air and the wetness of the ground—something this New Yorker appreciates.

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…I am currently sitting in the library going through the archives—today, I will focus on books primarily with photos of the disaster. There are many books documenting the health complications associated with the gas leak and its aftermath, physically, environmentally, and socially. I am interested in the ways in which the disaster lives in the everyday lives of the people of Bhopal thirty years later. I am interested in what it means to mourn a disaster that has taken the lives of many and continue to take many more lives, today. Is mourning something of the past marked at the moment of impact or can it be something that is continuous? Is mourning only “celebrated” once a year on the anniversary of the disaster or is it practiced daily? When there are disfigured bodies and faces as constant reminders of the past, is it ever possible to stop mourning? How does then then move on? Is Bhopal is a constant state of mourning? What does this mourning do to one’s psyche?

I came across a book sympathetically—I should really use the term empathetic here—written by a Japanese photographer, Ippei Momma, who stands in alliance with the victims of Bhopal and the fight against Union Carbide for justice and compensation. He came to Bhopal on the 100th day of the tragic accident on December 3rd, 1984. His photographs are all in black&white and like each photo taken from that epoch, they are haunting. The book is entitled Bhopal: The Silent Voice. This book/photographs  is part of a Japanese collective that share empathy with the people of Bhopal because they too, endured such environmental pollution and poisoning by corporate companies.

I will not post photos of the patients’ that are visiting during clinic hours—as Natalie Portman’s character says to Clive Owen’s character in the in the film Closer (2002), “It’s a lie. It’s a bunch of sad strangers photographed beautifully, and… all the glittering assholes who appreciate art say it’s beautiful ’cause that’s what they wanna see. But the people in the photos are sad, and alone… But the pictures make the world seem beautiful, so… the exhibition is reassuring which makes it a lie, and everyone loves a big fat lie.” I am not interested in creating a visual spectacle. What I hope to accomplish is to raise awareness and invite each one of you to attempt to lead an accountable life—to yourself, your family, your friends, and the extended global community (the Socratic principle). Since there is a language barrier between the patients and me, I will interview the doctors, administrative staff, the librarian/archivist, and the clinic volunteers first, then I will have a translator aid in the patient interviews the following week. My method of study/practice is what institutional anthropology labels “participant observation”—basically, it means immersing yourself fully into the culture one is now part of.

The structure of the compound—or I should say, the architecture—promotes health and wellness. There is a rehabilitation/retreat essence to it. It is surrounded by trees and vegetation and one often feels like one is waking up and going to sleep in the rain forest. The sounds of birds, bees, insects and small animals is my soundtrack before bed and in the morning. Now, I understand why Thoreau went to Walden Pond—he needed to heal and maintain his sanity from an absurd world.

 On my first day here I was invited to a picnic on Saturday (tomorrow), if it falls through, I will take a rickshaw to the Bhopal Museum…I am sure it will be quite an experience, stay tuned.

PS: Yesterday evening at dinner, I met our cook’ and her outgoing son, Jimmy, the bravery and utter indifference of children is something that adults should aspire to.

PPS: My first mosquito bite, fingers crossed it is nothing serious…but one cannot expect to research in these parts and not get bitten, correct? I caught it in between my palms, it is now resting in peace in mosquito heaven.

PPPS: In the manner of the letter exchange Marcus Cornelius Fronto and Marcus Aurelius, I will say that I slept poorly last night. I was awake until 5 in the morning, eating cereal, reading and listening to the sound of prayer from across the way. In this jet-lagged induced insomnia, I completed reading a book and started another—so when life gives you lemons, you squeeze them, add some sugar and water, and make lemonade.

 

Day Three: Morning Prayers and Bespoke Kurta

Day Three: Morning Prayers and Bespoke Kurta

 I drank caffeine last night at the soiree and was unable to sleep peacefully throughout the night—caffeine affects me, extremely. It’s four fifty-one in the morning and I cannot sleep and had an amazing idea so I leap from my bed and head straight to my laptop to jot it down. As I sit to write, the sound of prayer is vibrating through the air. Bhopal is a religiously conservative community and the visibility of it is everywhere. It is my first time hearing such potent and distinctive sounds—it’s a nice wake-up call!

Today, I will excavate information by going through the archives in the library that is dated back to the 1984 disaster. I am excited but also nervous as to what I will find—the atrocities and the injustice around this historic disaster, though, one cannot be afraid to make the implicit, explicit.

I also have plans today to go into the old market with Devender, who has become my guide and point person when I have questions. He has been at the clinic for quite some time and has access and knowledge of crucial information. In anthropology of the past, he would be considered my ‘ethnographic informer’, though, that term is dated. He is not ‘informing’ as it is typically used, rather, he is enlightening me on the history of the clinic, the history of the disaster, and how it lives in the present. He also has an extended knowledge of how the clinic works, what they do, and which personnel’s perform which task.  This afternoon, we will be going to the old market to buy fabric and return it to a local tailor to sew a few kurtas that fits me—my very own haberdasher! How charming!? It is advised we dress conservatively and preferably in traditional attire, henceforth our trip this afternoon.

As I sit at my desk reading and writing, I look out the window to the sight and sound of rain drops falling. It is my first rainfall here, and it is the rainy season so I expect many more showers of blessings. I will now take a break from my studies to enjoy the calming sound of the rain….The bounty and beauty of flowers and plants around the ground is breath-taking and it also reminds me of my grandmother’s house. There are rows and rows of hibiscus plants amongst other tropical flowers flourishing. There are aloe vera plants amongst other natural herbs that are utilized for medicine for the patients—this clinic is holistic in its practice and medical remedies. I will give a run-down of the various forms of medicine and traditional practices used here during my stay. I walked into the garden to cut myself flowers for my room, I am staying in one of the guests’ house. On my way to the garden, I noticed that patients are already lining up to seek medical attention, the clinic does not open until 8:30 am and it is now 7:30 am—amongst all this natural beauty there is suffering.

Day Two: Rickshaws, Indian Rum and Cattle, Yeehaw!

“I’m in India,” the reality sits in and not just India, but Bhopal, India. The site of the 1984 chemical disaster that lives on today. I arise from my horizontal state of lucid dreaming and into an upright posture of excitement and gratitude, with an internal thought: “What now?”

After I applied insect repellent, I decided to wander around—due to the difference in time zones, my sleep pattern is going through an alteration. As of now, I am not feeling like an ethnographer, someone who is far away from home, rather, I feel oddly at home, for now, the sights and sounds are familiar to me. I have spent time in the Caribbean and the rainforest of South America and certain things are the same world-wide, whilst others are drastically different.  Then it hits me, I am in the field—this is anthropology—this is ethnography…as I type these words, I am performing the tangible task of transcribing my field notes.

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As I sit on the balcony compiling notes, the sound of prayers is vibrating through the air—Bhopal is a mixture of Islam, Hindu, and Christian teachings. Along with the sound of prayer, is the hustle and bustle of cars and mopeds honking, and the voices of a language I do not comprehend. I am sitting underneath a red brick canopy of towers and verandas and to the near distance is the luscious greens of trees and vegetation. Bhopal, as I can tell from within the compound, is a mixture of religion, culture and ethnicity—a conglomerate of humanness. It is humid, though there is a cool breeze, and all I want to do is take my shirt off but Bhopal is a conservative city and I am not fully aware of all the rules and regulations—and I have watched too many episodes of Locked Up Abroad to not take every precaution, haaha.

This morning, I met Sathyu, Aja, Tasheem, and Devender. These four are my point persons and will ensure that I have access to everything that I need to perform my tasks. There is a weekly two-hour meeting on Wednesdays and I will be introduced during the meeting, today (Wednesday). It is in Hindi, so after my short introduction, I will leave and get back to transferring my notes. Devender will be my translator and tour-guide (I found out that none of the patients speak English). Tomorrow, I will meet Shahnaaz, who will be my librarian/archive point person.

The meeting was interesting, men sat on one side and the women on the other. It is held in an open circular structure with a high cone-shaped roof/ceiling made of organic material, looks like straw but I am not sure—think Native American style. As I do not speak Hindi, sitting through the entire meeting would be unproductive.

Surprisingly, I am not jet-lagged! Oh shit, I lied—it’s kicking in. Woosah.

I attempt to take a nap but instead, after twenty minutes of cardio (skipping), I feel better. Right before I left the United States, I read an article on GQ.com about the best ways to recover from jet-lag and a gym workout post-flight is the remedy. The best piece of equipment one can travel with to ensure daily exercise is a jump/skip rope—the perfect 15 – 20 minute cardio workout, get your heart flowing and freshly oxygenated blood moving.

Devendra knocks on my door to take me to the supermarket, when we get downstairs there is a motorcycle awaiting us, to my dismay! I have not been on a motorcycle since the age of fifteen with my boyhood friend Liam Mitchell and I was filled with terror and I have since dared getting back on one. Motorcycles are everywhere on the roads of Bhopal—maybe more than people, vehicles, and or cows. Yes, cows. Life is all intertwined here in Bhopal and one cannot tell where animal, human, and machine start and or begin, it’s an urban symbiotic conglomerate. I hopped on like a pro and held on for dear life—there is no manner to traffic it seems, but I have a feeling it is organized chaos. For an outsider it may seem manic and out-of-control, however, with the ease and know-how of the locals, there seems to be rules and regulations for navigating the streets of ‘old’ Bhopal—apparently ‘new’ Bhopal is different. It has been a while since I have felt like the ‘outsider’ or the ‘foreigner’ in a place—but I am soaking it all in!

I was invited to an all-male hangout out tonight before dinner with a few colleagues. Men and women are highly segregated in daily activities in Bhopal. As I mentioned, it is very conservative and consequently religious. On the walk back to the compound Dev asks “Are you religious?” I replied, “No” and I followed up with, “Are you?” He responds “No” but that “Everyone in India is religious—either Hindu, Islam, Buddhist…” and he listed a few others. Can one then say because of this religious conservatism, many of India’s problems remain?

The soiree was fun. We talked about Barack Obama, the recent earthquakes to hit Nepal and India, Darjeeling Tea, and the contrast between New York City and Bhopal. I had a taste of a few Indian snacks, Indian rum, and Indian cigarette—it was very National Geographic Explorer meets Anthony Bourdain and I loved it!  It is funny, because I have not been on the back of a motorcycle since I was fifteen and in one day, miles away from home, I have done it twice within a four-hour period. The ritual of sitting on the floor together, crossed legged, in a circle, surrounded by the sounds of laughter, the touch of compassion, the kindness of sharing, and the look of caring warmed my heart—all of which happened during the Hindu-English dialogue. Language may be a barrier between human beings but the core values that we share remain the same, the soul speaks the same language and when the heart vibrates at the same pace, one thing is possible, a charming time! As an anthropologist, the ritual of socialising stimulated every part of my intellectual gamut; as a philosopher, what made all the difference was the words of one of the gentlemen at the soiree, he looks over to me and says, “Good food, good drink, good friends.”

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Solidarity and Expertise

A few weeks into fieldwork this summer, I was contracted by my host organization and its New York-based partner organization to edit drafts of a research report they were working on. I have done project-based consulting and volunteer work for the New York partner group since 2008, and worked full-time at a different China-focused rights organization for four years prior to graduate school. As a result, my summer research field site was interesting to me not only because of the subject of research, but also because it provided an opportunity to develop a practical approach to conducting fieldwork in the context of multiple commitments. All anthropologists encounter the dilemma of complex and sometimes conflicting commitments during the course of fieldwork, and the chronology of my commitments meant that it was not necessarily easier for me to think like an anthropologist than a practitioner. I have been thinking a lot about two major methodological issues, encapsulated by the concepts of solidarity and expertise, which were significant to the way I positioned myself in the field site.

A quick online dictionary search tells me that solidarity is the “union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests, as between members of a group or between classes, peoples.” When an expert speaks of “standing in solidarity” with the subjects of her ethnography, then, she is expressing an intention to support—or at the very least, not obstruct—the aims of those who appear in her work. Solidarity doesn’t indicate any practical collaboration or hands-on power-sharing per se, but, according to anthropologist Miriam Ticktin, a recognition on the part of the anthropologist that one never produces knowledge alone. It is an intention, a sentiment, and an engagement, which may translate into quite flexible forms of action.

Expertise, on the other hand, refers to special skills and knowledge held by a limited number of individuals, and as such serves to stratify rather than unite, unlike the concept of solidarity. Furthermore, professionalization has been defined as “an informal process begun by practitioners who perceive there to be exacting standards required of their activities which make it necessary to exclude amateurs” (Lewis 2008; O’Flaherty and Ulrich 2010: 2). What does it mean then, when a human rights expert professes solidarity with people living with HIV/AIDS, or when an anthropologist professes solidarity with her informants? Given that capacity building is about the transfer of expertise, what does it say about the relationship between expertise and solidarity in this particular setting? How does claiming expertise transform ties of solidarity? And how does my own expertise in human rights affect the way I listen to my informants and interpret their actions and words? Although I did not find satisfying answers to all of these questions, it was helpful to keep these two problematics in mind as I conducted fieldwork.

Lewis, O. 2008. “To What Extent Was Diplomacy Professionalised in the French System?” International Relations e-Journal. Available at: http://www.e-ir.info/?p-428.

O’Flaherty, Michael and George Ulrich. 2010. “The Professionalization of Human Rights Field Work.” Journal of Human Rights Practice 2(1): 1-27.

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