“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.

 

Mis-Education

Yesterday was my friend’s birthday, he of the lovely pink house:DSC00031

When I found out about it last week I offered to do something nice with him to celebrate. Initially my plan was to take him out for dinner, as I would at home with any other friend. But then I remembered how I invited him to my house last weekend for a beer, as he had invited me to his, and he became really uncomfortable and asked to leave. I promise I wasn’t being a creep. It just wasn’t his element. So dinner might not be the best idea. Then I thought maybe a movie? Then he wouldn’t have the pressure of making one-on-one conversation with me for 2 hours and we could just enjoy a flick. But I still wasn’t sure…

He called me yesterday morning to see what the plan was for the day, and let me know that it would be better if we all just got some meat (always with the meat!) and chilled at his buddy’s place. It took me a while to come around to it, but he of course wanted me to come over and pay for the meat.

At first I was a little hurt that he was rejecting my offer to do something nice for him and was once again treating me like an ATM. I’m a bit slow sometimes, but I did eventually realize that he just wanted everyone to be together and that it wouldn’t be a very nice birthday for him if he got something that he was not able to share with his friends.

If I had known that I would have brought more cash with me.

But he danced around it and never explained his reasoning to me. I guess I should know by now.

We had a really lovely time hanging out all together and chatting. When it was time to leave, my friend gave me a hug and said “Thank you so much, you really made my day. You made me feel like I exist, like I am a real person.”

That made me want to throw up.

The scary thing is that that wasn’t the first time I have heard something like that, although never directed towards me before. That the simple act of wanting to do something nice for a friend on his birthday would elicit that sort of response makes me feel so sick and angry and sad.

This week I am working on the presentation that I will give at a conference in Durban next week. In an attempt to illustrate the complexity of the context related to tourism in the townships, I have pieced together some of the footage that my Dutch friend and I shot here in town. We wanted to show the difference between town – where the white people are – and the township.

On top of the video I plan to play an audio clip from one of my interviews. Despite having his permission to do so, I am reluctant to share the audio of his voice on here, so hopefully the transcript will do. I begin by asking him whether or not people living in the poorer parts of the township would want tourists to come and see where they live:

Kwame: Definitely. I think that the idea that a person that I see as a superior person or a person that is better than me, the idea that a person like that can come and walk in the same street as I live makes me, even if there’s no money it does something for my self-esteem.

Meg: Who is, who is the person that is better?

Kwame: Hm, a white person.

Meg: Really? Why is that?

Kwame: Well white people are better than black people.

Meg: Well [awkward laugh]…they’re not. Like, is that the consensus?

Kwame: I know that. I know that.

Meg: Okay, that kind of makes me want to cry a little bit.

Kwame: I know that. But the rest of the people don’t look like, don’t think like that. A person looks at you, you are white, they know that you have something that they don’t have, you are much better than them. You know. Financially, you know, your life is more together than mine, you have had a better life, you grew up in a house, I’ve never seen a house, I’ve always grown up in a shack that always leaks every single day.

Meg: Yeah.

Kwame: I, I’m, we have a single parent whereas white people have two parents, you know, I’ve never seen the inside of a car, whereas for a white person a car is something that is like nothing, you know. I’ve never had enough money to buy enough school uniforms to go to school.

Meg: Right.

Kwame: I’ve walked to school bare feet most of the time with torn trousers whereas a white person has never seen something like that. So for that person to be able to come and walk in the street that I’m walking in and be able to hold my hand and be able to come into my place before even, you know, she even gives me money, that is, means so much for me.

Meg: Really?

Kwame: You know, it means a lot.

Meg: Why? What does it mean? I’m trying to understand this, ‘cause you know I’m an outsider and I’m a white person so I…what does that mean?

Kwame: It means, it means…I’m a person too.

Meg: Wow. That’s really heavy.

Kwame: It means…people, people don’t look at me the way I look at myself, it means…some people realize that I exist in this world.

Meg: Okay. Just by coming to see where you live?

Kwame: People coming to see where I live, they, they, and they can talk to me.

Meg: Yeah.

Kwame: Because I grew up not knowing how to talk to a white person. You know, that there, these people are actually even making an effort to recognize that I even am alive, you know…is, is a huge thing, you know. That, that now these kids that we have now know what a white person is because they can run to them.

Meg: Yeah.

Kwame: Whereas I grew up not even being able to talk to a white person.

Meg: Sure.

Kwame: So it’s a, it’s that self-affirmation and confirmation of existence that comes with it as well.

Meg: Wow.

Kwame: I talk a lot, don’t I?

This is one person’s perspective, so please don’t take this as representative of what everyone or even most people think. It is horrible enough that one person knows this to be ‘true.’

When you talk about postcolonial studies, invariably it comes up that colonialism is finished and we need to move on and not dwell on the past. This is the long-term impact of racist colonial laws and policies. This is what is left over 20 years later. This is not the only ‘truth’ about this country, but nonetheless this remains.

Sad and mad.

 

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!