Friday, March 02, 2007


Hi Everybody,

I'm writing this in an airplane somewhere between Managua and Miami,
somewhere between the earth and the sky, somewhere between the third
world and the capital of the world, somewhere between Carolina and

One of the few technical terms in anthropology that I feel has any
value is the word "liminal". (There are quite a few technical terms
in anthropology, but I feel most of them serve mainly to make their
users sound smart or announce the theoretical orientation of the
author.) The word liminal is used a lot when describing coming-of-age
rituals. In many of these ceremonies, boys or girls are ritually
separated from their identities as chidlren, and spend some time in an
intermediate, identity-less state when they sometimes must pass
through certain dangers, before being re-integrated into the community
as newly-formed women or men. The in-between time, when the initiates
are neither children nor adults, when they face uncertainties and
dangers, is called a liminal state.

In this last week I have felt like this. Like someone preparing to
join a particularly strict religious order, I gave away or sold all my
worldly possessions except those which fit in my suitcase (goodbye,
motorcycle!). I finished fulfilling the promises I made over the last
year, as much as possible. I paid good-bye visits, and gave and
received a few small gifts. On Tuesday night there was afarewell
religious celebration in the house of a friend of mine in the
campo--about forty people crowded into the little house and we sang
happy songs and clapped. People also made really nice speeches, and I
tried to, too, but broke up in the middle like I always do. (I'm such
a sap!) This morning I handed the key of my rented house back to the
landlord (goodbye, house!), and I was cut free from my identity as
Carolina, the tall, blond, motorcycle-riding gringa who isn't afraid
to go around all alone and hates young men.

So now I'm winging along, facing the dangers of airplane and the
uncertainties of U.S. customs procedures. Well, at least I don't have
to forage in a wilderness or ingest hallucinogens or undergo genital
mutilation. I am greatly looking forward, however, to receiving
instruction from my elders (the professors on my dissertation
committee) and the camraderie of my fellow students.

And I cannot express how much I'm looking forward to being Home. To
settling down to living, not just visiting, with my husband. To being
in regular contact with family and friends. To wearing clothes that
make me feel pretty, instead of aggressively sending the signal that
I'm uninterested and unavailable (not that this ever apparently
deterred many of the obnoxious looks and comments). To sitting, and
thinking, and reading, and writing, in a real library, with other
people who are doing the same thing. To the subway and the park. To
high-speed internet! Even, a little bit, to the cold. And especially
to not feeling like a visitor and a foreigner.

Being in a new place, even if it's also an old place, always takes
some adjustment. But by now I know what to expect--emotional ups and
downs, nostalgia and disorientation, sometimes feeling disconnected
from everything. And these, too, shall pass as I become re-integrated
back into my social role.

I don't know if I will continue to blog or not, now that I'm going
home. Anyone who misses my irregular spurts of wisdom should be in
direct touch!

Best wishes to you all,

P.S. I'm sending this on Friday afternoon. I made it back, but all
my checked luggage is still in a liminal state, somewhere between
Miami and New York. Fortunately, however, all my data is here with me
since I prudently packed it in my carryon bag.

No comments: