by Rebecca Alberda
This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend my very first academic conference – The 74th Annual Society for Applied Anthropology Conference – to be exact. If you didn’t read that in Cesar Flickerman’s voice, then you probably won’t get my humor, consider this your warning. Okay, so we weren’t fighting to the death in the Hunger Games, but it was pretty dang nerve-wracking – also, some anthropologists are pretty in your face about how *their* research is much more legitimate than yours… I’m just saying. In addition to it being my first conference, it was also my first opportunity to present at such a venue. Now, I could tell you all about how my first conference experience went, but really it’s just a boring story about watching anthropologists ignore one another while they frantically finished their power points before their allotted presentation time. And while I had the opportunity to reconnect with undergraduate friends and professors, make new connections, and network, I really just took the time to observe the “native anthropologist” in their “natural habitat,” and I don’t really have the space for an ethnography on that.
Instead, what I would much rather talk about are some glimpses into the experiences I had in Albuquerque, with the people of Albuquerque (ABQ). Anyone who is an anthropologist can chat up a fellow anthropologist (though meeting my anthropological idol had to be the most awkward experience of my life, I guess that’s what I get for cornering him in the gift shop…), but interacting with the locals, taking in the sites – that’s where the real magic happens.
While in ABQ another member of my cohort and I stayed at a Casita owned by a local couple, rather than get a hotel room. It was the best decision we could have possibly made (not to mention much cheaper). Not only was this couple extremely welcoming, there were also extremely engaged with the history (both recent and ancient) of the area, and weren’t afraid to have anthropological discussions with us. They were both originally from the New England area, so it was fun to have the East Coast transplant perspective on the area as well. If I ever visit ABQ again, I will definitely be staying with them.
Another local that we (my cohort friend and I) encountered was a tram operator. One of the many things to do in the area is to ride the Tram up to Sandia Peak in Cibola National Forest. The views were absolutely breathtaking, and while I have included images, they do not do the area justice. This tram operator told us many stories, including one of a plane that had crashed into the side of the Mountain in 1950 (we saw debris), killing everyone onboard. The FAA blamed the pilot for years, not wanting to take the blame themselves, but after quite an uproar, finally did so five years later. She also told us about tightrope walkers and unicyclists that ride up and tightrope the mountain. When visiting new places, tour guides are really your best source of local knowledge and fun stories.
The final local I will mention is one of the owners of a family owned gift shop chain (there are 5 stores in total). After accusing me of being too quiet while browsing, I mentioned that I was looking for a gift for my nephews, and asked how much the suckers with scorpions in them were, saying, “I love them but they are little jerks, so they kind or deserve it.” To this he bent over laughing and said, “Wow, your quite frank, aren’t you?” This had broken the ice and we chatted for quite some time. He told me all about the scorpion farms in CA that breed scorpions strictly for suckers and glass case trinkets, what the weather is like in ABQ, and he even gave be a box of salt water taffy for free (much to his amusement at my disbelief that he would do such a thing). I asked if he liked living in ABQ and he said he did, that he had tried leaving about five times, but somehow he always came back. Chuckling, he said, “They call it the Land of Enchantment, but it’s more like The Land of Entrapment.”
This is a sentiment uttered by almost every local that I spoke with, not really in those words, but they say once the ghosts of the desert whisper to your soul, you can never truly leave. Well, I still hate the desert – I need water and greenery – but there is no denying the beauty and generosity of both the land and the people that make up the landscape of Albuquerque, New Mexico.