I am a cultural anthropologist and I have never been to Africa. I have to admit that this has always caused me to feel inadequate as far as being an anthropologist goes. I have no stories of terrifying plane rides, recurring malarial symptoms nor do I have a wall full of tribal masks gifted to me by important chiefs. You have to understand that these are the standard trappings and tales that all of my Africanist friends have acquired. At anthropology cocktails parties, I am often the odd woman out. Perhaps only the North Americanists who don’t study Native Americans have it worse than me.
You see, I study Italy and France. No, this wasn’t a ploy to find a way to travel and live in two countries with amazing food and wine. Really, I have always been drawn to Italy and France and food and wine have been in my blood (figuratively) forever. While my work is interesting and gratifying, I often feel guilty because I am not helping save the world like many of my colleagues. I used to think that they were drawn to Africa because of its exoticism, because Africa is the field par excellence.
Lately, I can’t shake the feeling that Africa is calling my name, and, no, my name sounds nothing like Florence Nightingale. Africa is seductively whispering to me: it is telling me to come and face myself, to figure out who I really am in relation to the world. You have to understand that part of my motivation for becoming an anthropologist (not just studying the academic discipline) was to face all the awkward, uncomfortable social situations I could possibly encounter. I have a feeling that going to Africa will cause me to lose myself and question my points of reference. Through this process I think I will gain a better understanding of my place in the world.
Now, I just have to find a way to get to Africa and do something useful there.