Thanksgiving, and ‘Eid el-Adha, have passed, and thus another November (generally my least favorite month, followed by February). Kelsy and I spent our Thanksgiving day doing data entry for a research project we’ve been recruited for. As a theory person, I generally look at numbers and mock them. Now that I’ve been exposed to such tedium, every time I look at statistics I will think, “Oh! but the poor grad student who had to do all the data entry for that!*” New found sympathies abound!
While I’m not clear on the Bigger Picture of the project, it involves investigation of smuggling and the Somali and Ethiopian refugee communities. I am learning a lot, namely that White Guilt is a nagging thing that never goes away, and that I am beyond privileged, and that I don’t deserve it, and why did I get security and education and CITIZENSHIP, and these people got nothing? (so THIS is why humanitarians become raging alcoholics.)
Thanksgiving Day gave me pause to consider the bountiful blessings bestowed upon me (yes, that alliteration is annoying, but I DON’T CARE). Here in Cairo I can live like a princess for a mere pittance, and moreover, more importantly, I have a really amazing community (comparable, even, to the diaspora of friends in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and DC) composed of Americans, Canadians, Germans, Greeks, and self-hating Egyptians¹. And, I have CATS². I am 100% content, and not a day goes by where I don’t sit back for an introspective moment and bask in this Glowing Moment of My Life.
But I want to get back to this issue of theory and practice. I can talk all the jive I want about how I need theory to engage in my Academic Future, but though this is certainly true I know I also use it as a crutch to avoid the Harsh Realities present in my field. Most of my colleagues are really engaged in their communities-of-interest, and I’m not, and I know it’s because, to a certain extent, there’s a crippling despair hanging over the whole thing. Hannah Arendt, who is essentially the founding mother of my thesiswork and, along with Spivak and Butler’s Who Sings the Nation-State? and Anderson’s Imagined Communities, inspired me to pursue my current discipline(s), spoke of the refugee as threatening the very fabric of the nation-state system. For me, the fact that the Nation-State and “international community” (the puppet of the Nation-State, essentially) are incompetent (at best) and yet hold all the power in electing who receives citizen-ship, is beyond frustrating, and speaks to my own powerless-ness (and incompetence, for that matter) as someone in a very small, very elite community (Academe). It’s one of those things that consistently keeps me on an existential plane of wondering, “is this right? Why do I care? Why don’t I care enough?” Somedays, I wonder if I should be doing more, and other days I wonder if I should just give up and stop caring. But I know what I’m good at, and I know that I’m happy, and this is enough to convince me that I’m Doing the Right Thing (BUT AM I??).
I don’t mean to bomb the blogosphere with existential wanderings and bleak statements, but November, though I hate it, is above all my favorite time for introspection. YOU’RE WELCOME.
*Actually, I need to give Kelsy all the credit for this statement. She’s the one who said it. I’m just repeating.
¹Up for discussion: is self-hatred always the province of the upper echelons?
²One of whom is sick right now so SAY YOUR PRAYERS FOR THE LITTLE DUDE. Please and Thank you. 😦