Field work

As a soon-to-be Anthropologist, I quickly had to get used to doing field work. One could say, this is the lifeline of Anthropology. Our field work is what validates our research statements, our theory development and our Academically claimed facts.

Field work was a major part of the implementation of my video project. All the data I was looking for, was to be collected in the field. And this is where I encountered some quite interesting things.

Please scroll through the blog to read about all of these encounters and the way how they influenced my final project.

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The event: Suriname-London Party

In Suriname we have a famous radio presenter. He is famous because of his unique way in announcing events. It is with a lot of excitement and energy. You immediately feel inspired to attend the event. And that’s how I felt…it was finally the day of my event. Sunday April 16, 2017…

The day started off early in the morning, with my husband and I heading to London. This time we had a lot of luggage including spices and all. Once we reached the apartment, it was time to start the preparations for the food. It was going to be a Surinamese buffet with Surinamese-Javanese dishes. Hence my Javanese sarong to fit the theme of the night.

At 5pm it was time for the first guess to arrive. I was nervous, as this was going to be the first time meeting them face to face. And surprisingly, or maybe not…, it felt like meeting old friends. We hugged and kissed and the tone for the night was set. Everyone felt comfortable, relaxed, the drinks were flowing and the food was tasty…the perfect ingredients for a successful evening.

And of course we spoke about our own identity search, our way of adjusting to the English culture and our longing to the home country. The advantage of the night was that I got the perspective of the Dutch and the Surinamese people. And funny enough there were some clear differences in the search for the own identity. The Surinamese people tent to express a stronger need in finding their own identity. They also expressed much more of their nostalgic feelings towards Suriname. While my Dutch friends expressed their need for a much more emotional bounding amongst the Dutch people in England. According to them most Dutch people, living abroad, are focused on their career.

The evening gave me a great feeling of belonging. No matter where you are, to feel complete, you will always long for what is known to you. So it is ok for me to live in two different worlds. However, the art is to make them one whole, instead of keeping them separate! And that’s when my identity search will be complete. So I am in the process of infusing these two worlds I’m currently living in. And whenever I am moving back to another ‘world’, my place of origin will always be the foundation in expressing my own identity. And my ability to integrate with other cultures will be a reflection of my strength and courage to extend and stretch my identity. I came to realize that an identity is not something static, but more so something dynamic…as you grow, your purpose in life becomes more prominent, leading to the desire to keep on exploring your identity.

I have used some quotes as inspiration to support my own conclusion…

 

And a typical Surinamese old saying is:

“No sidon na bakra sturu fu seri yu nengre bangi.”
This literally means: do not sit on the sofa of a white man while looking down on your own Afro-Caribbean sofa.

The moral of this saying is: No matter where you stand in life, never forget where you came from. Never deny your place of origin.

click on the link below to watch the final version of the video project

The purpose of the symbolic camera

In my blog on Visual anthropology I already explained the process I went through in making the symbolic camera.

Please visit http://www.switilibi.wordpress.com for this post.

In this post I want to reflect on the relevance of the symbolic camera in building the collaboration for my project. I also want to reflect on the way how the symbolic camera inspired me to give form to my project theme, and bring it to life.

Building collaboration was key in making my project successful. It was also an opportunity for me to put myself out there and get used to exposing myself. The first collaboration was finding someone to assist me with filming. I wouldn’t be able to do all the filming by myself, as a major part of the film was about me. So, I carefully screened the list of potential persons, willing and capable enough to help me out. My husband was one of them on the list. You might think, no need to establish a collaboration, yet, it was important to get him committed to my project. So I introduced my symbolic camera to him, and asked him to tell me if he could guess my story…AND HE DID! It was so touching to realize how much of myself I had exposed in the symbolic camera, and how my husband was able to relate to my feelings. The camera brought us closer to each other, and it almost became his story to. That was the first step in collaborating with him. The next step was to get him interested in using the camera… On my first shooting I playfully filmed him and seduced him with the camera, till he became interested in using it. And with that, the first collaboration was SET!

The next person was my fellow student Joe Spence. During the lectures I noticed his passion for filming. He did the best composition of 12 shots in a 1 minute video. A challenge we all have been struggling with! So I quickly made up my mind to ask him for help. I am not going to lie…it took a doses of courage to approach him, as he came across as someone who is not very open. But, once I approached him, it was the best collaboration ever, I was able to establish. Joe added a great value to the process of my video project. He taught me a lot of tricks, and his feedback was always constructive. He clearly had an eye for film. Soon I was discussing my different scenes with him, and asking for his feedback on my edited versions. During one of our conversations, I discovered he was also touched by my symbolic camera and the story behind it. It was easy for him to relate to it and picture the way the video should be. Again, great collaboration established here!

Finding a group of Surinamese people was a collaboration I was not able to establish just by exposing my symbolic camera. I had to go beyond exposing the camera. This time, I had to use the insight story, or better said, the story behind the symbolic camera. And as I was using social media as the primarily tool to connect with Surinamese people, I realized the story behind the camera, was not just my story, but a lot of these Surinamese people could relate to the story. It resonated with them, and this was the main reason for them to show willingness to collaborate with me.

Amazing, how such a small amateur self-constructed camera could create a lot of commotion and opened doors I would have never opened by myself!

 

The spices project

Creative Anthropology is another module which allows me to challenge my creative side. For my assignment, I had the option to choose between a critical or creative pathway. And of course, as I love to push myself, I choose for the creative pathway.

I bet you can guess what my creative pathway was about…

Yes, indeed, it was about food…again. But this time I focused on spices, and the journey of these spices throughout the various continents in the world. While reading the ethnography, I couldn’t help, but develop a strong believe that the spices could have agency. There was an interesting dynamic going on between the spices and humans. both seem to influence, and mesmerize each other, pushing one another into various believes and behaviours. I choose to do a post on this project, because I did recognize some interesting facts, related to my own identity search. But first, have a quick look at my spice box, which I made to visualize the journey of these spices…

Following the journey of the spices, made me realize how much human needs (actually mostly greed) has formed the identity of the spices. The characteristics, features, or as some said the ‘powers’ of the spices were either uplifted or downgraded by humans. The value of each spice was depending on the believes, the benefits to humankind, the economical value of the spices, etc… It might sound a bit odd, but this is the same way how the value of the colonies has been determined. And based on the value of the colony, the cultural identity was formed in the colony. The higher the colony was in demand, the more colonist were attracted to move to the colony. Social life, cultural practice, religious practice, etc…would depend on the economical standards within that colony…

Interesting enough, the journey of the spices was also marked by the Colonial history… Political Economy theorists Eric Wolff and Sydney Mintz, both described in their books the impact of Capitalism on the history of people in the ‘Third world’. I wonder if I should take their theory in consideration while on the journey of my own identity search…

Journey to London, preparing for the Suriname-London party

Heading to London, in search for Surinamese people….20170326_121838

We are on our way to meet with someone in London. Her Name is Ellen Milan, she is from Surinamese descent, lived in Holland and is now living and working in England. She is my contact person to help me getting in touch with other Dutch-Surinamese people.

The purpose of this meeting was to get to know each other, and discuss the plans for an event. I came up with the idea of hosting an event in London. The event is going to be about Dutch and Surinamese people meeting each other and talking about their personal experiences of living in London. I was going to prepare a Surinamese buffet, and while chatting, eating and drinking we will get to know each other, advise each other, encourage each other etc…etc…etc…

Main thing was, this was going to be the highlight of my film…”Me finally meeting other Surinamese people, and trying to learn from them about their identity search”.

Prior to meeting Ellen, I got in contact with other Surinamese people living in England, through Facebook. I then established a WhatsApp group with all of us in it, and I’ve also asked them to fill out a questionnaire for me. The information distracted from the questionnaire was useful in giving my storyline more body. However, due to various reasons, these people were not able to attend the event as planned by me and Ellen. So, I went on Facebook again, searching for other Surinamese people, and this time I opened it up to Dutch persons as well. We as Surinamese persons have a long and intensive history with the Dutch, so I might as well include them. And that is how I finally got a group of at least 10 persons, interested enough to be part of the event.

The preparations can start for the event…

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Getting the spices for the cooking was priority number 1. Since Suriname was too far away from England, Holland was the next logical option to get all the spices we needed. This was again another proof of our inseparable bound with the Netherlands. Anything Surinamese, you can get it in Holland. So I contacted my sister to sent me a parcel with all the spices needed…

The International cuisine lunch

March 27th, 2017

The University of Kent is organizing an International Cuisine lunch. Students and staff are invited to have a taste from each other’s kitchen…

Since I am obsessed with food and cooking, I was the first to respond to the call for students to represent their cultural cuisine.

However, on the day of the lunch, the attendance was very poor. There was not much interest in the event. But for those who attended this was a lavish feast! We got to eat a lot more food! Below is some pictures of the event…

The relevance with my project was obvious! I had the opportunity to meet with other students with a different cultural background, and I got to taste their food, and talk about their culinary experiences in England. My most curious question was ‘How they manage to keep their own identity, and if they are also juggling between two different cultures?’. It was almost relieving to hear that they are going through the same situation like I do. I suddenly felt understood, and I was able to bound with them. Passionately we spoke about our food from home, our struggles to reflect the same taste in our food here in England, and our nostalgic thoughts about our home country.

And I left the event feeling satisfied, not just ‘tommy-satisfied’, but mostly mentally and emotionally satisfied. I found fellow-students, struggling with their own identity search! Yeahhhh…I am no longer the only ‘alien’…

 

Filming at the local farm shop ‘Macknade’

Today I felt like being in heaven!

I was filming in my favorite shop… This shop is a haven for all addicted to cooking. It was also my first time filming in public. I was nervous. It was going to be my husband, filming me and my friend Max Kimber, while doing the shopping at Macknade.

First I had to request permission from the Macknade management. This was my first time negotiating for a collaboration outside of the University setting. I didn’t know what to expect, and before contacting them I was visualizing all kind of scenarios of how they will respond to my request. Finally, I sent them an email, explaining the project, and requesting a meeting to be able to explain in person what the filming will be about. I believe personal contact delivers better results and response. I immediately received an invitation for a meeting with the store manager. Turns out, she was a nice lady, very much interested in project and more then willing to help out a University student. She was intrigued by the theme of finding the identity through food…And she agreed the video might be a nice way to do some promotion for the store.

So there you go…with a lot of politeness,  tact and enthusiasm, you can get a long way…

On the day of the filming, they had everything prepared for me. There were signs in the store, alerting customers about the filming. The store manager advised us to come near closing time, as the store would have less customers. She informed the personnel, and everyone was more then willing to assist.

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My friend Max, was a very good actress and new how to make it all seem real. The storyline was, me taking her out for some grocery shopping in preparation for a meal. This would be a meal inspired by the European spices and dishes. While doing the shopping she was explaining me about the different vegetables, spices and fruits, and I was telling here about the commonalities and spices I recognize from back home.

Exceeding my own expectations, the filming went very well, and we had enough footage to edit the video. This new experience was fun, but above all, it was my first step to overcome my fear for the camera, and use it as a tool of communication.

 

Me in Baaka Konde – The Western world

I named my video project ‘Finding me in ‘Baaka-konde’, and I chose to use a combination of the English language and one of the native languages in my home country Suriname. I choose to do so, as I wanted to reflect on the purpose of the project. The video is about me searching for my own identity, while living in 2 separate worlds. Sounds complicated, but it is also a complicated journey.

A little bit of history…I am from Surinamese descent, born and raised in Suriname (which is a small country in South America), moved to Sint Maarten and lived there for 5 years. Both countries are former Colonies from the Netherlands, so I obtained the Dutch Nationality.  6 months ago I moved to England to further my studies in Anthropology. Being from Surinamese descent, speaking Dutch as my official language and living in a predominantly English speaking country, with a different culture and different weather conditions, makes me feel like an ‘alien’…

To provide myself some comfort, I am living in 2 different worlds on a daily basis. At home I am living and breading Suriname, and at work, at the University and with friends I am switching into the English lifestyle mode… This almost became my survival strategy…leading into the pressing question “What is my real identity?”

To be honest, this search for an identity started with me leaving Suriname. It was a nagging curiosity for the unknown which drove me into wanting to find out more about myself. I strongly believe that ones identify is formed through the exposure of the unknown. So, I packed my bags and left, went on a journey to find out more about myself… And that’s where the theme of this video project actually originates from.

Searching for my identity in England might sound weird, but actually it is the most logical place for every Surinamese person to know their origin. England has been the first Colonizer from Suriname. It was after at least 2 battles, that England finally gave up Suriname to the Dutch (1667). Yet, the English have marked Surinamese history in such way that the elements of this history are still visible in Surinamese daily life and the native language ‘Sranan Tongo’. So, once I was here, I slowly started to recognize things from back home, and it all made sense…

Suriname, situated in South America, being a former colony from Holland, and therefor the only Dutch speaking Country in South America, has made us as Surinamese people automatically ‘the misfit’. The cultural diversity of the Surinamese people is a results of the immigration history after abolition of slavery in 1863. Therefor, we as Surinamese people are able to relate to almost all cultures. It is difficult to distinguish the typical Surinamese tradition, as it is a mixture of African, Amerindian, Indian, Javanese, Chinese, Lebanese, Jewish and Dutch-English European.

As a matter of fact, Suriname as a country is also struggling to find their own identity and their place within the world. Geographically we are part of South-America, culturally we are part of the Caribbean, and historically we are related to Dutch-Europe.

And now I am wondering whether my identity search has to do with the identity search of my home country…

A collage of the people of Suriname…