The Social Lives of Tree Spirits: A Propinquity

“We’ve learned a little about a few of them, in isolation. But nothing is less isolated or more social than a tree.”― Richard Powers, The Overstory “Space, outside ourselves, invades and ravishes things:If you want to achieve the existence of a tree,Invest it with inner space, this spaceThat has its being in you.”―Rainer Maria Rilke… Continue reading The Social Lives of Tree Spirits: A Propinquity

Social Distancing: Reflections on a Border Hike

Restless for depth of field, and eager to gaze beyond the myopic viewshed of a blue-lit screen, we set out to hike a stretch of the Sonoran Desert near the border. I craved beautiful things. And a distant horizon. This captivating landscape is, however, punctuated by human desperation and a nationalistic fantasy equating a rusty… Continue reading Social Distancing: Reflections on a Border Hike

Drinking the Water: Nankani Witchcraft and Ordeals

“Witches catch the soul of the person,” said Abanga. “They hide the soul somewhere and wait to see what the family members say, their reaction. If the victim is very hard, difficult, or strong, the witch will talk to other witches to get a better view of the family—to see what the family members are… Continue reading Drinking the Water: Nankani Witchcraft and Ordeals

Witchcraft, Language, Power

Elijah and I followed the path from Ayisoba’s compound, threading our way around the stubble from the millet harvest. We talked with Ayisoba that morning about spiritual beings while smoking the hand-rolled remains of last season’s tobacco. Ayisoba and Elijah seemed to be growing more comfortable with my questions. Despite our familiarity, Elijah remained careful,… Continue reading Witchcraft, Language, Power

Anchoring the Unspeakable: Trauma in Younger Onset Dementia Narratives

“Before the dementia diagnosis, Marcel and I were at dinner with some Jewish friends from South Africa,” said Ruth, Marcel’s wife. I was interviewing Ruth about Marcel’s younger onset dementia. “Marcel started talking about things he never talked of before,” she said. “He told stories about himself during the Holocaust as a child. You know,… Continue reading Anchoring the Unspeakable: Trauma in Younger Onset Dementia Narratives

Passing the Flame: Narrative Trajectories of Trauma

This essay was destined to be a commentary on an article for a small journal I occasionally contribute to. However, my commentary was lost (likely buried in a chain of emails) and not published. To not be a complete loss, I am posting it here. While this version reads better when paired with the article… Continue reading Passing the Flame: Narrative Trajectories of Trauma

Between Two Worlds

“It was, according to my father, a test to believe in the Sky Chief, the Kollinsuitan, the Amotqn, the God. And his son Jesu. Jesu Christe. Converting Indians to Christianity in the name of Jesus… there were some casualties. Big time.” “Nick Si John, that’s what the rolls call him. The rolls were the official… Continue reading Between Two Worlds

Contesting Identities: Historical Trauma, Loss, and Cultural Authenticity

“Where do the Coeur d’Alene people come from?” asked Richard. Richard, the Coeur d’Alene Nation's cultural resource manager, was interviewing me about my research proposal. It was 2001, and I was beginning an ethnographic project with a Coeur d’Alene family on intergenerational relations and identity. I was new to anthropology. Intimidated. I wondered why he… Continue reading Contesting Identities: Historical Trauma, Loss, and Cultural Authenticity

No One Wants to Be “That” Mother: Middle-Class Ideas of the Good Life

By Emma Jelstrup Balkin In this guest essay, Emma, a graduate student at Macquarie University, discusses her research on how neoliberal economic models impact middle-class parents in Australia. “It’s really tough… and no one really understands what I’m going through.” I’m interviewing Laura, a single mother of three children. Her six-year-old daughter Marnie has become… Continue reading No One Wants to Be “That” Mother: Middle-Class Ideas of the Good Life

Winds and Wakayarum

From bellowing gusts to thin wafts of air, people across cultures implicate the wind for causing illness and misfortune. Avoid drafts American grandmothers advise. In Ethiopia, the wind induces joint and bone pain. Vigilant Nankani mothers in Ghana cover infants (particularly their faces) and sequester newborns inside. They need protection from dubious winds. Some cultures… Continue reading Winds and Wakayarum

Parenting, Love, Loss

First thing Monday morning Joe intercepted me. He exclaimed I had to visit an infant he saw over the weekend. “What’s happening?” I asked. “A child,” he replied. “It’s not good, I can’t explain it. You just have to see it.” I didn’t press him. We hurried to a small village next to Sirigu. Word… Continue reading Parenting, Love, Loss

The Gender of Place

“Give me back my notebooks,” I yelled. Akayuti snatched them from my hand as I exited her room into the courtyard of the family compound. The women of the house materialized and encircled us as if watching a street-fight. The men gathered but kept their distance, backing against the meter-high wall marking the inner section… Continue reading The Gender of Place