Category Archives: non-academic

Environmental Anthropology for the People

Earlier this week a fellow anthropologist from Australia posted a suggestion to our environmental anthropology listserve that we “consider ways to move our posts and conversations online to Twitter. I am serious about this.”  I giggled.  Not at my colleague, because I think she’s absolutely right about the need to take our work to the people, but at the idea that anthropologists could condense their thoughts into 140 characters.  Despite our ability to craft pithy interview questions and participant observe quietly for hours on end in far-flung communities, members of our chatterbox tribe tend to pontificate when provided the opportunity.  We are a long-winded and multi-syllabic people.  Yet a challenge had been issued.   And that’s when I found myself reopening a Twitter account from 2009 to see how it had evolved.

Needs pencils, notebooks, cameras, and digital recorders

My fellow environmental anthropologist raised some great points about how Twitter could be used by us all to reach a wider audience.

  • Are you worried about the public understanding of how environmental anthropology can help respond to pressing regional and global issues?
  • Would you like more people to know about your recent publications, job announcements, or call for papers?
  • Would you like to expand your network of colleagues, potential collaborators, and co-authors?
  • Is your university placing increased emphasis on rewarding scholars who seem publicly visible and engaged?
  • Would you like an open-access forum to debate topics about environmental anthropology, one that includes public participation?
  • Would you like to help build a database of searchable resources that secondary, higher education, and continued education learners could access on their smartphones and tablets within seconds of following a hashtag?

As a whole we are an invisible tribe.  That is not to say that exceptions don’t exist.  Margaret Mead, Temperance Brennan, and Indiana Jones are the most likely candidates for household recognition (well, at least those are ones my mom could name quickly), and two of them are fictional characters.  Those of us who work at the human-environment interface should really be making our work more widely known.  Sure a virus or an asteroid could wipe out life as we know it, but the majority of environmental problems we face as a species have their roots and solutions in human behavior and decision-making.

Engaging the public by relating what we do, how we do it, and what it means requires that we actually put something out there for consideration, recognize that people will respond, and commit to civil conversation that may take us in unexpected directions.   Public environmental anthropology might not get counted towards tenure (if that’s your goal), but it takes a step towards building scientific literacy, public trust, and a community that works together to make the planet a more sustainable place for all living beings.

So, I accept the challenge and will give Twitter a try for the summer. #environmentalanthropology

For more information:

Creative Dialoguing with the Nile Project

When Jane Hirshberg at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center asked me last May to participate in a creative dialogue with musicians from The Nile Project, April 2015 seemed a long way off. I was asked because of my research regarding rural African livelihoods, knowledge production, adaptation to environmental change, and community empowerment.  As the date approached I became nervous. I’d never done any research in the Nile River basin. I didn’t know much about the water security conflicts going on in the Nile Basin other than what I could google.  I’m not from the Nile Basin.  I don’t speak Arabic or Amharic or Swahili. I would be onstage at the Smithsonian in the Museum of Natural History.  I feel like I sound like an idiot whenever someone asks me serious questions regarding my research and anthropology in general.  In retrospect, it was basically a huge flare up of imposter syndrome.

Creative Dialogue on The Nile Project. L–>R Atesh Sonneborn (Smithsonian Folkways, Assoc. Dir. for Programs & Acquisitions), L. Jen Shaffer (UMD Anthropology, Assist. Prof.), Meklit Hadero (Nile Project, singer & co-founder), Ken Conca (American U School of International Service, Prof.), Mina Gergis (Nile Project, ethnomusicologist & co-founder), and Kojo Nnamdi (NPR host & journalist). Photo by R. Diaz Pulgar.

The dialogue focused on the Nile Project’s social and environmental messages.  From their website:

The forward-thinking musicians of the Nile Project channel the unsung beauty of East African traditions. In the collective’s collaborative compositions, resonant harps and lyres from up and down the river have learned new musical modes, while buzzing timbres and ingenious polyrhythms support vocals in more than ten languages.

Designed to captivate local audiences but feel equally accessible to international listeners, the Nile Project uses music to inspire curiosity about and active engagement with the cultural, social, and environmental challenges of the world’s longest river. The Collective’s collaborative model is a blueprint for a new way to organize the Nile.

The project began in 2011 by two San Francisco-based East Africans in response to the deepening water conflict in the Nile Basin. In a few years, the vision of Egyptian ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis and Ethiopian-American singer Meklit Hadero rapidly expanded to bring together musicians of all 11 Nile countries through Nile Gatherings and African and international tours. Building on the success of its musical program, the Nile Project is launching education, leadership, and innovation initiatives to empower university students around the world with the tools they need to make the Nile more sustainable.

Overall, it was a fantastic experience.  The focus (thank goodness!) was on the music and Nile Project.  Kojo spoke with Ken about water security and conflict – historic and contemporary – in this region, and Atesh talked about how music is an important component of social movements (see Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie, etc.).  I was asked about livelihoods, the interconnectedness of rural/urban communities and water and the environment, and links between art and indigenous environmental knowledge.  I was super jealous of how composed and strong the answers Mina and Meklit had to Kojo’s questions regarding the work and passion of the Nile Project.  But I realized about midway through that they’ve been answering these sorts of questions for the past 4 months.  Practice does make perfect.  So does having passion and belief in what you are doing.  The musicians of the Nile Project are an inspiration and I feel rejuvenated in my own work after just a little time interacting with them.

Meklit Hadero’s TED Talk on The Nile Project

The Nile Project – Full Performance on KEXP (Seattle, WA) 19 Feb 2015

Mid-Semester Slump

by Donald Warner

I’ve officially reached the point of semester that my life is being held on by a single string ready to collapse the balance I have been trying to make of school, work, sleep, food, extracurricular activities, and the occasional “fun” activity (I know, what a concept!) With the looming smell of stuffing and sweet potatoes in the near future, and lowering temperatures that are perfect for just sleeping all day, I thought I’d post some tips to help fellow researchers, as well as students on how to make it through the November drag.

1 . Schedule, schedule, schedule

What?!? Plan ahead?!? Don’t procrastinate?!? What is this?? The concept of actually sitting down and planning out when to balance all of your responsibilities has always seem foreign to me. In fact, the concepts of procrastination and improvisation should really be tattooed on my back in fancy Shakespearean lettering because they are such engrained concepts in my mind. However, as my improvisation turns into “hell, I’ll just lay in bed” I’ve realize that this already flawed strategy is definitely not going end well. Something as simple as just planning out homework, sleep, meals, and even fun can help tame the overwhelming feelings of distraught and doom that are likely arising at this time. If you are one of those people who already do this, and have been doing this for years: teach me your tricks, slash give me a bit of whatever elixir of motivation you’re drinking. If not, this false sense of control on your life will sure to help you manage to not crash and burn as you daydream of pie baking in the oven.

2. Think of the big picture

As much as I aspire to marry rich and simply live lavishly on Malta, with a baby hippo and a fancy cocktails, it’s helpful to stay realistic. The work we are all doing now is going to help our future, so that if the million dollars that Nigerian prince entrusted you with does not actually follow through, you have some experience and good grades under your belt. This is especially important with research. With our research, there are real world benefits, people will benefit from the work we’re doing now. This humbling thought can often jump start me to be productive and get moving.

baby hippo3. Stop making excuses

But my stomach hurts! Sirius Black is still dead! It’s too cold to function! I am famous for finding any sort of reason to halt all work, crawl into bed, and cuddle with my stuffed hippo until I lull into sleep. Excuses, as well as procrastination and improvisation, also may as well be tattooed on my skin in fancy letters. If you too are an excuse maker, don’t worry you are not alone. Taming the voices in your head that tell you to stop is a skill that is hard to master, but it is imperative that you learn as soon as possible. So much of life is mental, and if you can power through the head colds, the sadness, and the cold weather that is slowly freezing your innards, you will feel so much better about yourself, and life. Take the extra time to come into the lab and work, or make the trek to the library to do homework, and try to stop finding excuses!

4. It is okay, and imperative, to relax.

Relax! Please! Find some time! And this is coming from someone who’s anxiety resume is stronger than their academic one. If you get behind on your scheduling, or miss a homework assignment; it’s okay. The world is still spinning; the Simpsons are still on air; and the apocalypse has not yet begun. It’s healthy to be a bit stressed and to put some pressure on yourself to get work done, but within reason. Life is hard, my friend, and won’t get any easier any time soon. You’re allowed to sneak a quick TV episode or a power nap without having to feel guilty.

Owen (hippo) and Mzee (tortoise, "Grandfather" in KiSwahili). When Owen lost his family in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Kenyan villagers who found him took him to a park where he was adopted by Mzee.

Owen (hippo) and Mzee (tortoise, “Grandfather” in KiSwahili). When Owen lost his family in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami the Kenyan villagers who found him took him to Haller Park Animal Sanctuary near Mombasa, where he was adopted by 130 year old Mzee.

5. We are social creatures! Never forget

Social interaction?! My super introverted self’s stomach is already churning just thinking about it. But no really, people can be okay. Find some time to study with friends, schedule some research with a buddy, or even go get coffee (or tea) with someone you think is cute. It can be easy to feel super alone in this world, especially when you get caught up in your work. Remember that everyone is struggling, and that having someone to talk to, even if it is just every now and then, can make life a little more enjoyable.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

In the thick of the mid-term, when we are all buried beneath an overwhelming amount of things (just things mind you!!) that must be done yesterday – heh! – Donald’s wise words gets to the heart of who we are above and beyond being mad, white-coated scientists slaving away over hot computers in the lab.  We’re people first.  People who have problems and hang ups and sadness and happiness.    To be human beings, not merely human doings, we do have to think of the bigger picture, relax (and stop making excuses not to do so), interact with our fellow Earthlings – human and otherwise, and schedule in our priorities.   *raises a fancy cocktail and gives a baby hippo a hug*  Here’s to all of us who’ve made it through the midterm, and all the best as the steam locomotive accelerates to the end.  ~JS

A Day Off In Mozambique

winter on the praia

Beach at Inhaca Is, Mozambique

Welcome to winter here in the Southern Hemisphere! It’s just cold enough to stay out of the water between the breeze and the cool water temperatures at 30C. Although if this were in northern NY, where I grew up, there’d be no question of sitting on the beach. This is bikini weather in NNY.

beachinhaca portuguese
Yesterday, 25 de Junho, was Mozambique’s 39th Dia de Independencia. The equivalent of the USA’s 4th of July, except their parties are accompanied by loud, danceable music not fireworks. The party started on Tuesday night and continued on through the following day. We heard the sound systems of the Baixa in our hostel up the hill all night long – loud enough for me to distinguish the lyrics. I’d have put in my ear plugs except that Jordan and I needed to catch the ferry boat to Inhaca Island at 7am, er 7:45am. African time.

I'm on a boat. :)

I’m on a boat. 🙂

working fishermen

Fishermen and dhow, Bahia de Maputo, Mozambique.

Most businesses and institutions are closed on Dia de Independencia. We did see women selling foods on the street, fishermen and sailors, police, and the bars (the World Cup isn’t over). Knowing that we would be FORCED into a day of rest, we decided to get out of the city. Inhaca Is. is about a 3.5 hour boat trip. The island is located just north of Maputo Special Reserve, and is home to about 6000 people – Mazingiri Ronga, other Mozambicans of Portuguese and other ethnic group descent, and visitors. In 1951, the first marine research station in southern Africa was established on the island due to its location and biodiversity – some of the southernmost coral reefs, dugongs, mangroves, many fish and invertebrate species, along the East African flyway for birds, beaches, etc. Many opportunities for research. There is also Portuguese Island to the north. If I recall correctly, that is the island where the Portuguese originally used to come in to trade with the locals for ivory. Although I’m not 100% sure and I don’t think any test pits have been tried.

classroom
We worked pretty steady all last week at the workshop, and as we had to wait a week to get the research car fixed, we’ve been taking field trips around the city and out. Dra. Helena and her husband Wilson drove us out to Pequenos Libombos Dam – which supplies the agricultural area of Boane/Massaka with water and regulates the Umbeluzi River flow. Nuria and Islatina took Jordan and I to Xipanene Market. You can buy anything there. Anything. We stuck to the clothing and food sections, but I know you can get the latest phone technology recently liberated from careless travelers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you could purchase other things for a price. Jordan bought some extra clothes and I got 2 capulanas in lovely shades of orange.

inhaca mangrove

Mangroves and fishing boats, Inhaca Is.

Only the size of my thumb

Back to work today. It’s time to pick up field supplies for the research and food. And then spend time in quiet and alone. Once I get to the field, it will be people all the time with me and constant translation. I expect to be exhausted so I’ll store up on energy now.

proof we're alive

Proof we’re alive!

maputo skyline night

Maputo skyline at night from the Bahia

Working a Conference

by Jordan Tompkins

Going to the 2014 Society for Applied Anthropology conference in Albuquerque, my main goal was to network. I set the bar high. I planned to attend every panel, discussion, and event humanly possible. I wanted to make a lot of acquaintances, maybe meet some future employers. It was a goal I didn’t accomplish, at least according to my original standards.

I’m one of those people who likes to be over-prepared. I outlined all the panels I planned on going to, starting at 8am every morning and running until 7pm every evening. I never made it to many of those panels. In my excitement, I had forgotten that I am a mere human, someone who needs to eat occasionally and have some down time. After 2 days of intense stress over HOW MUCH I NEEDED TO DO (the capital letters indicate my panic), I realized that my expectations were way too high. After that, I still went to panels, workshops, and other events, but I gave myself plenty of room to breathe.

As for networking, it was harder than I imagined. Talking to people one-on-one is easy for me, but it’s really difficult (and awkward) to walk up to a group of people and give my elevator speech. That’s something I’m still working on…

During the week of the conference, I went to two workshops, one on evaluation and another on text analysis. I highly recommend attending workshops at conferences. That’s where I really met people, people who are interested in some of the same things I am, or who study things that are interesting but have nothing to do with what I want to do.

Outside of workshops, I only met two other people. Both are from Arizona State University, and neither of them study anything remotely interesting to me. But meeting them taught me one of the most important lessons about what it means to network—networking doesn’t mean you have to meet people who do any sort of research or have any sort of interests. It’s more like making friends than it is making professional connections. Or maybe it’s just that making professional connections is more like making friends than I thought.

I was surprised to find that most of the connections I made included me “selling” UMD to undergraduates at the conference. I gave out my email, the email of professors involved in similar research to the undergraduates, and offered to give one person a tour of the anthropology department at UMD. More than making connections for just myself, I realized I was making connections for my department. And it was more fulfilling than just meeting people who would be useful to me.

So my attempt at networking was a failure, at least by the standards I had at the outset. But I did make some friends and I learned a lot through workshops and the panels I attended. I learned more about the students I go to school with every day, and I got to explore Albuquerque. And even if my original expectations didn’t pan out, I learned to be realistic and prioritize when it comes to my time. I also figured out what I need to work on for my next conference or networking event (ehem: elevator speech).

Although I like to be over-prepared for everything, I’m really bad about factoring enough time for myself – if you haven’t already figured that one out! I explored Old Town in Albuquerque when I was avoiding panels. I ate at all kinds of restaurants, the good, the bad, and the downright nasty. I learned that it isn’t as uncomfortable to do things alone as I’d thought it would be…it’s actually kind of nice.

One day one of my cohort members and I took a trip through the desert to the Sandia Sky Tram. That was one of the best parts of the trip, but Rebecca has already given a great description (with pictures!) of it, so I won’t repeat it here. If you ever go to Albuquerque, though, make time for the Sky Tram.

I also made friends, or is that networked, with our hosts. I jokingly tell everyone that Ed (the host) is my new best friend. And he was like my own personal chauffeur, offering to give me rides everywhere. Hanging out with him, and his wife Muriel, was a highlight of my trip.

In short, I learned from my trip to the SfAA conference that networking doesn’t have to be all professional, dressed up in slacks and button ups. It can be more like making friends, if you let it. Additionally, remember to do what you want to do while at a conference. Concentrate on doing things you like. For me, that meant exploring, hanging out with the people I met, and going to workshops; but “fun” looks different for everyone.


 

Note: Attending panels and workshops or even just going out to dinner with a group – particularly those with folks who are conducting top research in your field is an excellent way to network.  You should introduce yourself and what you do, no matter how difficult this might be for you (the link associated with the image above and here provides some tips on introducing yourself and networking at conferences).  At the minimum you may learn something new from making that contact, and you may even set yourself up for a future collaboration with the individual or someone they know.  Attending panels and workshops can also help you learn what is cutting edge in your field as this is research likely not yet published. But you aren’t required to attend every single event at a conference.  Be strategic. ~J. Shaffer

Real or Not Real?

This post, written by MAA student and lab member Rebecca Alberda, describes her experience on 29 March with a Red Cross Global Refugee simulation in Washington DC.  She participated as a refugee.  The day was cold and rainy at Bull Run, VA where the exercise took place.  ~Dr. Jen Shaffer

By Rebecca Alberda

TRIGGER WARNING: Due to the nature of this topic and my decision to use exact quotes, foul language will be present in the following blog post. Additionally, while I do not believe there to be anything that would be too disturbing, anyone who has experienced a refugee situation may find the following to serve as a trigger.


Quickly I pull up my hood, keep my head facing forward, with my eyes on the ground tracking the movements of the person in front of me, submissive. Soldiers, carrying guns, run up and down our single file line, screaming, “Where the FUCK do you THINK you’re going?!” and shove whomever falls out of line. The girl in front of me mistakenly starts laughing or smiling, I am not sure which as I am more focused on not tripping and falling into the muddy stream at my feet. Her laugh results in the halting of our line, a combatant gets in her face asking “What THE FUCK do you find so funny?” She doesn’t respond and luckily he moves on. In that moment I am strongly reminded that I too, at times, respond to stress inappropriately by laughing. I quickly bite my cheeks so that I do not make the same mistake. Soon we are past this latest obstacle. We do not look back, knowing that there are more like this to come.


photo (1)

“Tennis shoes or rain boots? Tennis shoes or rain boots?”, It’s a debate I have with myself for a good two days. I know that it’s most likely going to rain, but do I really want to hike for two miles in my rain boots? In the end I decide that, yes, rain boots are the correct choice. I’d rather have achy feet than soaking wet and cold feet. “What should I pack? They said anything in my bag could most likely get stolen or traded…what would I be okay with parting with?”, I choose some mismatched socks, a pair of old gloves, some food (granola bars) that I planned on dropping in the graduate lounge, an old sweatshirt from my ‘to donate’ pile, and some band-aids. I have the distinct advantage of knowing that I will most likely lose my possessions along the way, do real refugees know this when they pack up their bags to flee? I’m nervous, my nails and lips are a wreck, I don’t know what to expect, this part at least seems very real. I don’t sleep well the night before, dreaming about all the situations and scenarios I *might* find myself in. This too, is very real.


Est-ce votre famille?” The border guard screams at me in French. I don’t speak French, but I recognize the word family and go to respond “Yes,” however in that moment, my brain fails me and instead I answer “Si!” – thanks a lot brain. Fail. Despite answering in Spanish, the guard simply puffs his cigarette smoke in my face, hands back my rain soaked passport, and seemingly satisfied that I was not a combatant, waives me through to refuge.


photo 3 (1)

I am assigned a family when I arrive at the check-in point. There are seven of us, six females and one male. We are each given a story to memorize, a new name, a passport, and some (fake) money. We make decisions on who will have what, who will be in charge, and if we will talk to the press (we do not). We learn the nature of the conflict back home, why we are fleeing, which side we support, where we are going, what that country is like…the situation is dismal. We have it memorized. This will be important later, however, when under stress, our memorization will often fail us.


“Follow the footsteps of the person in front of you!”
“Look, right there, one is buried right there!”
Landmines. We step carefully, knowing that every step could be our last. So that’s why there were danger signs.


photo 1 (1)

This stupid wood is far too wet for the nails to stick properly, but somehow we manage to build our shelter. We all pile in, eat our now cold rice and beans, and watch while others struggle to build their own shelters in the pouring rain. We’ve promised one another that we wouldn’t touch the “tent,” not confident in our building skills, and have mini-heart attacks every time a UNHCR official moves the tarp to speak to us. Yet, the shelter stands firm.

photo 2 (1)


I’m cold. I’m wet. I’m very very muddy. My right rain boot has a leak in it and I’ve had to change my sock twice. But, I’ve survived. The same can’t be said for many along the journey. In fact, we have three missing in our family alone. But, we aren’t sick, or hurt. And we are together. The same can’t be said for many in this situation.


“Get off the fucking bus!”
“Move! Move! Move!”
Solider’s everywhere, pounding on the windows, shoving guns in our faces, there is smoke.
It is made clear that choosing to sit at the back of the bus was not a good choice as the soldier screams “YOU IN THE BACK, FUCKING MOVE IT! YOU’RE MOVING TOO SLOW!”
And when we finally move past him he gives us a little shove down the stairs.
We are running for our lives.

My heart starts to race with adrenaline. And though I know this is only a simulation, I am a bit nervous. I don’t know what to expect.


For more information on the Global Refugee Simulation by the American Red Cross Visit:
http://www.redcross.org/global-refugee-simulation-and-conference

For more information on ways to help or get involved in the Refugee Crisis:
http://www.icrc.org/eng/
http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home
http://www.refugees.org/

Practicing Anthropology in the “Real World”

NAPA – the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology, NOT the National Automotive Parts Association – has instituted a biweekly blog to highlight anthropology in the popular media.  Many of the posts link to work done by non-academic anthropologists working in business, online, at NGOs and in government.  They do exist.  Truthfully there are many anthropologists hidden in broad daylight making observations and figuring out why people do what they do.  Sometimes people watching pays off!

NAPA Practicing Anthropology Blog