“The Sweetness of Academic Life”

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Oastler Lake Provincial Park…camping with baby

Well, Ontario summer unofficially comes to a close after this weekend. Those of us who are learners, including those of us who refuse to join adulthood, are back to school on Tuesday. How did that happen? I left South Africa when I did for a couple of reasons, but one of the big ones was that I wanted to be home to enjoy all that Ontario summer has to offer. My advisor is NOT going to be impressed when she realizes how little work has gotten done over the last 6 weeks, but I have loved every inch of my summer.

Highlights include swimming and paddling with the adorable nephies in Georgian Bay:IMG_20160710_160410919[1]A visit with A&B and my other adorable little nephie at the Ottawa River, the place that is the heart of my family in Canada:IMG_4673

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There was also a family reunion at the Ottawa River a few weeks later. Only the descendants of my grandparents were present and there were over 100 people there. Apparently, I’m shirking my inherited family duty to breed like rabbits:

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Family talent show. We  have more fun than normal people.

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Cousins  xox

Incidentally, the blond crazy cousin above teamed up with the Ginger crazy cousin and talked me into going tubing, like we used to when we were 15. It was terrifying and I ached for days. I am officially too old to tube.

I also got to go camping with my lovely friend Meg…and her new baby. Babies don’t like camping. We tried. Next year he stays at home 😉

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Despite all this summer fun, and all the twigs and sand that are now in my car, I did manage to get a tiny bit of work done. I have had the privilege of getting involved with the Critical Tourism Studies group, a loosely affiliated group of scholars that are interested in issues of gender, poverty, social justice, and race (among other things), and decided to initiate their own conference when they became frustrated that “we” weren’t being represented or respected at mainstream tourism conferences, which are often focused on marketing and economic perspectives. This summer my university hosted the first ever CTS conference in North America! In cottage country! My presentation at the conference was about what I learned through keeping this blog as part of my research process.

I know I was struggling to come up with what that might be leading up to the conference, but I managed to cobble a presentation together. I was literally in the middle of delivering the presentation when I realized the point, the “so what?” of what I was talking about. Here are the things I’ve decided I gained through the process of blogging my research:

  • reduced feelings of isolation as I worked through living and working cross-culturally;
  • a place to trouble by own subjectivities;
  • a space to share my perspectives with my friends and research participants;
  • sharing the stories and photographs that the research participants would like to share (an ongoing process, once I get back into that work);
  • an accessible record of the thoughts, questions, uncertainties, and joys that I experienced throughout my research; and,
  • a space to practice my writing.

So yay! I learned things! So much so that I think I am going to write a journal article about the process. I have found this to be an awesome reflexive tool in my research process and I think that there are some learnings there that I would like to share with others (and I need more publications for my CV!).

The other very cool thing about the CTS conference is that it is a very supportive and loving academic community, which is pretty rare in a field that often specializes in petty and patriarchal. For instance, this was the scene at the keynote presentation, delivered by the brilliant and inspiring Ana Maria Munar from the Copenhagen Business School:

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CTSNA 2016 – my academic Hillside

As academics, I feel like we are so often focused on what is wrong in society; social and gender and economic and racial inequities, lack of access to resources, barriers to participation, etc. Because it’s important. And it’s important to talk about and try to disrupt. But Ana spoke to us about the joys and privileges of being an academic; the joys of inspiring students, freely exchanging our most deeply held values with colleagues, embarking on new projects, and that sense of having found your intellectual home. She shared a poem with us which brought me to tears, and which she has given me permission to share here. This is why academia has meaning, and this is why I always come away from CTS inspired and invigorated. Thank you Ana xox:

The Sweetness of Academic Life – by Ana Maria Munar

The moment when my whole class bursts out in laughter, the warmth of the coffee mug in my hands during class breaks, a student speaking passionately about one of her experiences, checking on my colleague Adriana to see if she is at the office and discovering that her light is on, spending too much time talking with a colleague and pushing the duties of today to tomorrow, opening the email and recognizing the name of a beloved colleague, discovering a book one can’t wait to get the hands on, forgetting space and time in a writing flow, feeling anxious that what I wrote yesterday and was proud of seems now worthless and does not make sense just to realize that it is not so important …no matter what, it is not the end of the world and everything will turn out ok …; sensing the energy of the intense buzz of engaged talking at a workshop, the unexpected praise of a stranger, the smile of a colleague on the street, after class …walking back to the office with the feeling of the work done, an email from a student saying that he misses my lectures; including something provocative or funny among the slides, walking happily to the printer to get the pages of my latest manuscript, reading a speech out loud only for myself, reading a beloved passage of a book out loud for others during dinner..during breakfast…on the train…opening my book for the first time, conquering the feeling of vertigo when expressing a complex idea, the joy of listening to an inspiring speaker, the hug of a colleague after the job done and before a difficult presentation…the warmth of the voice of Kellee coming through on a group Skype meeting, reading without purpose, buying books I know I don’t have the time to read, but buying them anyway…for the future…for optimism… granting extensions, receiving extensions, writing papers and having meetings in an old café, comforting a colleague in a moment of distress, sending good news ‘congratulations, your abstract/chapter/article has been accepted!’, praising the good work of others, saying thank you!, presenting a courageous idea to test if it can fly, sharing secrets, dancing at conferences, planning with colleagues crazy outfits for themed Christmas parties, listening to full volume music when editing, discovering during a presentation how brilliant, or daring, or creative a colleague is … like seeing this person for the first time …transformed; reading an article and discovering that the work of a beloved colleague is quoted there, listening to the confidences and doubts of a younger academic and feeling the trust in the room, sharing the joy and pride of the family and friends of the student that just finished the examination of her master thesis, looking at how beautiful everybody seems at the graduation ceremony, reading with love and expectation the publications of loved ones, drinking together, … feeling nostalgic and remembering sweet memories at the office on a cold and dark winter afternoon, laughing non stop imagining professor Brian Wheeller giving a presentation while dressed in my red bikini and with a gin and tonic ..after sending him detailed instructions as how to do that, smelling the aromatic oil made by Kate and thinking of what a kind and original idea that was, being courageous on a polemic issue and pressing send on that difficult email, the feeling of freedom when receiving the news that a boring meeting has been cancelled, making with others crazy happy plans that can never happen, fixing dates of conferences years in advance and feeling that now I have a date with fabulous colleagues, finally managing to say no, happily saying yes! , discovering a new word, entering my new office for the first time …closing the door and feeling the ownership of that little space, putting my legs up the window, thinking how to go about preparing a lecture but instead daydreaming looking at the sweet photo of my daughter, throwing out old papers and old exams, receiving an intimidating message from the academic patriarchy and smiling ironically at their sense of power, discovering how smart a student is, blushing because my PhD supervisor said he was so proud of me during a panel debate, being included in the personal conversations among my undergraduates during a train ride, days and days trying to find one of my favorite philosophy books and discovering that my son Anton is the one that has ‘stolen’ it to read it, the sweet comfort of talking to a good colleague after a conflict …Sensing the energy and drive of walking fast through an airport playing my role as ‘international’ researcher, understanding something for the first time, explaining a difficult concept in class and experiencing an aha! moment in the eyes of the students, trying something new like joining dancing classes because a colleague recommended it, having a change of heart/mind and accepting it, meeting an old student at a bar and listening with expectation to what he is now doing, making a favor, receiving a favor, phew …the relief of the last exam or project graded – done! Finished!, surprising myself being able to design a website and liking it, managing emails with determination – with short sentences, getting to the point, feeling talkative and writing loooong emails… mixing personal stories and anecdotes and book quotes and photos and many emoticons and hugs and kisses, rejoicing over the personality and variety of the greetings of amazing colleagues – ‘blue skies’, ‘take care Ana’, ‘lot’s of love’ …. Sending emails to Tomas or Kellee like in a chat, many…with only a few sentences… or a smile, writing and feeling that whatever I write will be welcome on the other side, receiving the link to a funny Youtube video on a long tedious day, noticing the comfort of being financially safe and knowing that I can provide for my family, getting emails of support by strangers after a heated debate on TRINET, making sketches on a field trip diary, savoring the sense of independence of travelling abroad, reading on the airplane, packing a dress for the gala dinner and then another…just in case, staying up until too late with colleagues knowing I will feel sleepy tomorrow but not giving a dam anyway, writing late at night when everybody at home is a sleep, discussing an issue and defending a position for too long until it becomes non-sensical.. and then laughing at myself.

 

And now for something completely…normal

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Sunset on the Ottawa River. Canada is pretty too 🙂

I have been back home in Canada now for 3 weeks and I have struggled with what to do with this blog. I have thoroughly enjoyed the creative writing aspect of it and have loved engaging with other bloggers and readers from around the world, and I think I have benefited hugely from having the opportunity to share and reflect on all of the moral and social complexities that I engaged with over the course of my time in South Africa. But how do I justify maintaining a travel blog from my couch (okay, Sam’s couch)? Do I still get to call myself Mis Tourist? How to gauge the potential interest of future audiences in reading about my exciting adventures reading Derrida in the windowless basement of the campus library?

*Sigh.* 2016-2017 is going to be awesome (insert sarcastic tone here).

On the plus side, I have had a lovely few weeks reconnecting with friends and family in Guelph, Georgian Bay, Rideau Ferry, and the Ottawa Valley.

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Adorable neffies on Georgian Bay

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Full moon in Rideau Ferry

I have been back to ‘reality’ this week (although I still haven’t summoned the strength to make it into the office), and I have been working on my presentation for next week’s Critical Tourism Studies conference in Huntsville. My presentation topic is on what I have learned through my practice of keeping a blog as part of my reflexive practice in my dissertation research.

What have I learned?

I confess I don’t know, which is why I’m writing this posting rather than putting together a really mind-blowing presentation at the moment.

I had three defined objectives at the outset of keeping this blog. They were:

  1. As a practice of critical self-reflexivity;
  2. As a site of meditation and reflection, and;
  3. As a site to trouble and grapple with dominant discourses of “Third World,” “ethical,” “reality,” and “responsible” tourism in the Majority World.

I must admit I’m not sure I accomplished any of that, although I have felt that the practice of writing for an audience and anticipating feedback has been supportive to my own well-being. I do feel very grateful for all of the wonderful feedback that I have gotten over the past several months, in terms of other people sharing their experiences and feelings on the issues that I have been attempting to understand.

I think my problem is that it is hard for me to express in presentation (read: impressive academic) form just what keeping this blog has meant to me, and what I have learned along the way. My intention was to create a forum where people could engage in dialogue and trouble their own uncertainties related to tourism and poverty and the places where they intersect. I hope I have done so, and I hope that I can continue to do so from sunny downtown Guelph.

I should get back to it (although I am also contemplating going for a run on the treadmill – this is how bad my procrastination angst has gotten), but thanks for letting me ramble on a bit. I do hope to keep having stories to post, especially as I start getting back into my data and reflecting on what it all means. I still have hundreds of photos to go through too, and I look forward to sharing those as well and hearing what you think.

And, in case you were wondering, 10 year-olds make the best welcome home surprises 😉IMG_4641

Oh, and before I go, my last photograph of South Africa before I headed off to the airport. I’ll be back!IMG_4633

Putting things in perspective

It is ironic that as my time in South Africa grows short I am feeling more and more at home in my adoptive community. Is that irony or is that simply the way that life works most of the time?

I was feeling like a real cranky-pants yesterday and today. So much so that it caused me to dig into the envelope that I never thought would be opened…IMG_2797It should say enough that I never thought I would need this one, and that I would find myself opening it on the plane out of curiosity, but here we are.

Yesterday could charitably be characterized as “frustrating.” I was dragged all over town and literally pulled in multiple directions by my friends. I was hit up over and over again for money from the aforementioned friends. I took another friend to the doctor’s and dumped a pile of cash to deal with his massively infected stab wounds because no one else in his life, apparently, would take him to get the medical care he desperately needed. I also made the mistake of giving someone the benefit of the doubt and caused a whole pile of grief because of it.

I am so tired of being treated like an ATM/taxi all the time.

Ironically, I feel like I have a newfound appreciation for the parents of teenagers.

And you know what all my carping and pouting and frustrated silences of the past couple of days have taught me? That I am a cranky bitch and feeling oh-so sorry for myself because I am in a position of privilege compared to my friends here.

A little bit of perspective goes a long way.

And, in case you were curious, talking to the lovely Miss A and these two beauties from Kimberly’s magic envelope helped me pull my head out from where it didn’t belong.IMG_4461

More Sibling Love

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Poor Christine was preggers when we took this shot of all of us drinking, so she’s behind the camera rather than in front of it 😦

I may have said this once or twice before, but it bears repeating: I have the most amazing family. We laugh, we sing, we drink in garages. As much as I’m loving life here in SA, there’s nothing like family.

I was feeling pretty apprehensive before coming here, mainly about once again upending my comfortable life with Sam, and not knowing what the coming months would have in store. As always, my siblings were there to give me exactly the support that I needed.

For my birthday A&B found a seal snorkeling safari in Cape Town and sent me on one of my favourite adventures ever. I have kayaked with seals in BC, but this was on a whole new scale. Duiker Island is home to about 5,000 cape fur seals, and you can go and snorkel with them. Fun!! The pictures really don’t do justice to how incredible it was to swim with literally thousand of seals darting all around you. Apparently I am a terrible photographer whilst snorkeling and tying not to drown from laughing. Sorry about that.

I can’t thank you two enough for what a wicked experience that was.

And I am STILL getting to explore the wonderful Christmas gift from Kimberly. Honestly, make a note people: time capsule presents containing photos of adorable nephies are the greatest gift anyone could receive (apart from a seal snorkeling adventure, naturally). Today, after a long week of transcribing and some pretty heartbreaking conversations about race in this country, I decided I could go for a little inspiration:IMG_4425I especially enjoyed the note reading “get ‘er done…or you could always be a Disney monkey” 🙂IMG_4423And now this is what it looks like in my room ♥♥♥IMG_4427Thank you again and again you pint-sized piece of love. I am better for having you in my life as well xox

And let’s also not forget those other awesome siblings – cousins! Love you Ann xoxIMG_4429

And now, for no reason other than I wanna, two more beautiful views of the Township. I never get tired of it. It’s a wonder I ever get any work done at all.IMG_4404

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Happy Mothers’ Day from Mama’s House

Today is Mother’s Day, and a Happy Mothers’ Day to all you mums out there!  I have an incredible Mom. She is kind and caring and generous and thoughtful and funny and intelligent and a kick-ass cook. I am *some*  of those things, in very small measure. This is my Mom in one of the photos Kimberly gave me, along with my sister who is also an incredible mom.IMG_4396

(Mom is also an endlessly good sport with all the crazy nonsense I *encourage* her to do!)

I also learned, thanks to my lovely new Dutch friend, that this past Thursday was Freedom Day in the Netherlands, a day that always brings back powerful memories of my Grandmother who lived in Holland throughout the occupation.

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Frank and Jopie, looking dapper AF

My grandmother was a force of nature, incredibly brave and powerful, and one of my favourite people ever. When ever I wonder why I’m not more like my loving and gentle mother, I just think back to Jopie and am grateful that all that sass and ferocity skipped a generation 😉

On this mothers’ day I am missing my mom, and grandma, and my sisters who are also awesome moms, but I am happy to be living with this wonderful family and Mama whom I think would have gotten along with my Jopie very well 🙂

So, with gratitude and love I once again dig into The Greatest Gift courtesy of the wondrous Kimberly:IMG_4394

My mother grew up in a small town in Northern Ontario that holds a very special place in all of our hearts, not least of all because of the giant cow on the way up, and the tiny island that has been in the family for decades, where now the third generation of kids born in Canada is learning to swim and fish and be tortured by mosquitoes.IMG_4395Thank you again Kimberly, I love it!!! A big Happy Mothers’ Day to you and to all the mothers out there! xox

Travels with Dad

I have been a little more remiss than usual of late in posting to the blog. My dad is visiting from Canada and we have spent the past week touristing it up to the max. So far we have visited Table Mountain, Robbin Island, the V&A Waterfront, Camps Bay, the Cape of Good Hope, penguins(!!), Camps Bay, the Slave Lodge, the vineyards of Stellenbosch, the aquarium, and all about Cape Town’s wonderful city center. We are both exhausted! The weather has been wonderful, apart from one day where we had a kick-ass storm that truly demonstrated the power of winds that blow unimpeded across the ocean from Antarctica.

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The view from Table Mountain

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Dad at the aquarium

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Nobel Square

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Mandela’s cell, Robbin Island

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Trying to avoid killing the penguins

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The Cape of Good Hope, from Cape Point

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Standing at the edge of the world

Our travelling about the city has also included some time spent in the Townships. I was eager to get back to reconnecting with people after my segue in Thailand, and Dad was curious to learn about the places that I was aspiring to work in. We arranged to join a tour that was being offered through a local not-for-profit organization. This was the first tour that I have encountered here that was a side project whose stated objective was to support the community building efforts of the NGO, as opposed to being primarily about tourism. The tour took us to three different Townships and four community projects: a community garden, a women’s economic empowerment collective, a creche (pre-school), and a senior’s group.IMG_4138IMG_4143

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The kids really enjoyed Dad’s bionic knee

IMG_4148 This is the audio of the senior ladies singing us out. I thought we were going to have to drag my Dad out of there.

I think Dad had a really great experience in the Townships, and has been talking a lot about how startling it is to see these communities and the degree of poverty that is visible as you drive down the highway from the airport, and then to contrast that image with the warmth and welcoming nature of the people that we met.

For me, it was great to get a chance to reconnect with the people that I hope to work with over the next few months, and I was able to give five cameras to people who have agreed to take photos in support of my research project! Back in Canada, friends and family donated ELEVEN digital cameras to me before I left to give to people in the Townships. People are so awesome 🙂 The idea is to ask Township residents to take photos of their experiences of tourism in their communities, both good and bad, and then tell me about the photos they have chosen to take.

I am VERY excited to see what people will choose to share with me. I have explained my objectives as clearly as possible, I think, while also trying to not proscribe what I want people to tell me, and I’m trying not to stress about ceding control of what information gets produced.

One young man said to me the other day, “I wonder what they [the tourists] think about us.” This is exactly what I wonder too, only from the other side!!! We are going to have some fun chats he and I. Can’t wait to see where we go from here.

So, only a few days left with Dad, and then back to work full time. We’ve been cooking a lot in the Mouille Point apartment that Dad rented for his visit. Tonight’s dinner consisted of an oddly-gendered beer (am I allowed to enjoy it, seeing as how I am neither a champion nor a man?), South African staples of samp, spinach, and sausage, Dad’s dessert, and a sunset over the ocean 🙂

Feeling like a boss

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The view from my new abode in the Township

I’m not going to lie, I’m feeling pretty good about life these days. I had a wonderful trip to Thailand, connected there with some truly inspiring and fun people, and now I’m back ‘home’ in South Africa, ready for whatever lies ahead. And I came home to friends! My dear friend Jane, who was my boss when I was an intern in Tanzania back in 2008, was travelling with the new crop of interns and I was lucky enough to get back in time to spend the day with them before they flew home to Canada. The first part of the day involved a lovely stop at a vineyard, including an oddly gendered lunch:

Then we decided to drive down to the coast and look at the penguins. Penguins!! I saw them once before on Robbin Island, but these guys were just waddling around right next to us. Penguins!

They’re such funny little things. We capped off the day with a gorgeous sunset over the Cape and a fantastic seafood dinner on the ocean. IMG_3996IMG_20160414_190501756[1]

I loved being able to spend the day with my friend and to get to know the interns, who are so full of ideas and energy and I was invigorated just hearing about the work that they are initiating in Durban and Dar es Salaam. They reminded me a little bit of that first crop of interns from so long ago 🙂CIMG1743

And I came home to mail!! Honest to goodness, in the mail, stamped and everything mail!! I am a lucky human.On that note, I dig once again into The Greatest Gift, feeling pretty classy 😉IMG_4002

IMG_4003.JPGAhahaha, so wonderful! Thank you again and again Kimberly!  You’re right – no one would ever mistake us for classy, but we do have more fun than ‘normal’ people, whoever they might be! xox

And this is now my room 🙂IMG_4004

 

Love from the homies

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A little while ago, I mentioned that my delightful sister-in-law Kimberly gave me one of the best gifts I have ever received: a stack of time capsules filled with love from home.

I moved into a new apartment the other day (more on that later), and I decided that it would be a good moment to open the first of my letters from Kim. Not feeling particularly celebratory or sad, I opted for something a little more neutral in tone:IMG_2971

Am I weird that as a 30-something year-old woman I was a little bit expecting that my homies would be my 5 and 2 year-old nephews? Turns out my homies are two of my all time favourite people!IMG_2973

Meg and Sam!! Two of my oldest and dearest friends and long standing honourary members of the Muldoon clan. Now I can see them every day here in South Africa.IMG_20160309_100103343_HDR[1]

You’re the best Kimberly!

The Greatest Gift

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I am one of those immeasurably lucky ducks who is blessed with a truly wonderful family. Case in point: for Christmas this year my siblings and I all drew straws in our first ever attempt at a gift exchange. I drew Brad – easy-peasy – something kitcheny, something to do with Die Hard. Sold. I love that guy.

I was lucky to have had my name drawn by my wonderful sister-in-law Kimberly. What do you give the girl who wants nothing, and is about to purge the little she has in order to relocate to the other side of the world?IMG_2994

If you’re as thoughtful and as creative and as generous as Kimberly, you give the gift of family love from afar. After hearing stories about living away from home for years, she gave me the only things (apart from sunscreen) I would always need. A taste of home…IMG_2993

Some friendly faces…IMG_2991

Some reasons to celebrate…IMG_2998

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And some cheer for the crap days…IMG_2997

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And of course, my personal favourite…IMG_2797

Kimberly, you are a treasure. I can’t wait to explore all the parts of this wonderful gift!!